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Liberty in Democracy

            In analyzing his perspective on the interplay of democracy and liberty, Tocqueville's use of what Max Weber ended up calling 'ideal-types' is an essential aspect to consider. "He wanted to reveal the essence of democracy", Alan Ryan says, "by heightening some empirical phenomena and neglecting others, in order to achieve a sharper picture of the forces sweeping modern societies toward a more egalitarian future"1. There aren't any actual definitions coined by Tocqueville for the 'key' terms he uses, so in "Democracy in America", we get more of a complex, yet focused, personified picture of America as a democratic system, or, as Ryan puts it, "a film rather than a photograph () a narrative of the movement that generated democracy". Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat interested in an involvement in politics and looking to find democratic answers to France's main social and political issues, regarded the American system as an incredibly efficient model of democracy for its success at balancing liberty and equality in a manner that comes close to the 'ideal' he formulated as follows: "It is possible to imagine an extreme point at which freedom and equality would meet and be confounded together. Let us suppose that all the members of the community take a part in the government, and that each of them has an equal right to take a part in it. As none is different from his fellows, none can exercise a tyrannical power: men will be perfectly free, because they will all be entirely equal; and they will all be perfectly equal, because they will be entirely free. To this ideal state democratic nations tend"2. A crucial specification in the understanding of Tocqueville's philosophy of democracy in this particular context is that when Tocqueville talks about equality, he does not mean "equality of income, education or anything in particular", but "the absence of social obstacles to whatever ambitions an American entertained"3, so a kind of equality that entails freedom of movement in the social sphere, the liberty to pursue one's goals.

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