/ “The Thing is New”: Sovereignty and Slavery in <i>Democracy in America</i>

Jennifer Greiman

in Democracy's Spectacle

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780823230990
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823241156 | DOI:

Series: American Literatures Initiative

/ “The Thing is New”: Sovereignty and Slavery in Democracy in America

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In a footnote appended to Democracy in America's most famous chapter, “Tyranny of the Majority,” Tocqueville offers two anecdotes whose relationship to each other appears to lie in the illustration of his claim that democratic government in the United States is by no means too weak, “as many Europeans make out,” because the authority and operation of government are not necessarily limited to the state. Democracy's autoimmune response appears to be in full operation in both of these stories, as ostensibly “popular” agents take power upon themselves, acting in place of — even against — the authority of the law and the state in order to prevent the exercise of rights specifically associated with democratic citizenship. Tocqueville's description of the “strange melancholy” that haunts subjects “in the midst of abundance” reads like democracy's hangover.

Keywords: Tocqueville; sovereignty; slavery; Democracy in America; democratic government; power; democracy

Chapter.  16712 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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