In the final evolution of democracy that we examine, Tocqueville believed the American people lived in an almost idealistic society that he saw was going to soon rapidly overtake the western world by storm.
Excluding those that were outside the system, Tocqueville says the regime established under the constitution was fairly democratic. Our institutions such as voluntary associations, the jury system, and decentralized local governments were great tools of democracy. This combined with some rather aristocratic tendencies in the government such as functions of the Senate, a separate judicial branch, and the appointment of judges rather than their direct election led to a good balance in the American regime that fulfilled the greater purposes of government: to allow liberties to flourish, whether that be political, civil, or personal. While never giving a solid definition, he alludes that democracy is a government where the people have the power through representation and that allows its citizens to have political, civil, and social liberties.
Unlike his historical counterparts, Tocqueville does recognize institutions which meet the standard of democracy. Localized self-government has always been a staple of the American standard and Tocqueville sees this as an ample opportunity for citizens to exercise political liberties “Local institutions are to liberty what elementary schools are to knowledge; they bring it within reach of the people, allow them to savor its peaceful use, and accustom them to rely on it” (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 73). The educational value of local institutions are the key to keeping the thought of preserving liberties, and allow citizens to grasp government themselves, for not everyone can go be in Washington, but they can participate at their local council meetings.
For Tocqueville, this is not a random analysis of American social life. He is quite frank that looking at how local government works in America is a direct explanation of how all democracy works. The township is run by a committee of men who call together town meetings (though a small number of landowners can force the council to call such a town meeting). In these environments, it’s the vote at the town meeting which carries the day. If the elected men want to do something of importance, they have to summon a whole town meeting, and if the town rejects their proposal, the idea is gone. On the other hand, if the people want to do something the councilmen don’t, they can summon a town meeting by themselves and vote for it in a binding process.
These men are up for reelection every year, not only providing a very powerful check on their power, but also highlighting the extent to which the people are involved in local administration. Juries also are a beneficial way for democracy to foster because it provides citizens another direct way to participate in their government, and educates them on freedoms. All of these institutions are things that the government has direct relation to, but the American people have other factors which meet democracy’s call and lead to its successful government. Voluntary associations and civil organizations are great tools of democracy that help curb individualistic tendencies and help foster liberties through participation. A modern society like democracy requires uncompelled collective action. The function of these voluntary associations need not even be explicitly political.
Like local governments, these free institutions have a character of education that enhances citizenship and participation and in the early Union included pursuits of charity, labour causes, and other kinds of kindredship. American gravitation to religion is more powerful than any other association because the mores that religion provides are beneficial to the national culture beyond politics “Despotism can do without faith, but freedom cannot. How could a society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened? And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God” (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 340). Tocqueville believed that in a democratic society where birth did not secure one’s position or title, man would become fascinated in material items. In the search for materialism, they would lose sense of their liberties and sacrifice them for the purpose of gaining worldly lusts.
An institution like religion in America taught that there was more to life than material things and to concentrate on higher things (such as the preservation of liberty), thus creating a solid set of mores for the people. This embodies democracy because the people are at the center of all events. These organizations are inclusive and foster that spirit to continue at all levels, from the government to the household. The great thing about these social organizations is that throughout the American regime they have promoted inclusiveness.