Alexis de Tocqueville saw the essence of democracy and the future of Western civilization in America. The rise of democracy, defined as the equality of social conditions, constituted for him the most fundamental feature of modern history. Indeed, he understood the gradual transition from aristocratic to democratic societies—the slow and irresistible leveling of social conditions—as a providential fact: a long-term, universal and inevitable mutation. He also observed that the progress of equality is accompanied by two additional long-term and general developments: the emergence of individualism—a tendency among citizens of democratic nations to retreat from public into private life—and, as a consequence, an inclination toward centralized government. Tocqueville believed that these last two phenomena, however, cannot be considered providential because they are not beyond human control. He was keen to preserve some measure of human agency in the unfolding of history, which, according to him, remained open ended. Thus, Democracy in America presents various possible scenarios regarding the end of history: (1) The last man: stagnant societies of individuals motivated exclusively by self-interest, absorbed in petty material pursuits, and therefore incapable of anything great and noble; (2) Soft despotism: a new type of despotism, benevolent and protective while no less powerful and inimical to freedom; (3) Political freedom: equality can lead to liberty when, as in early nineteenth-century America, a constitution establishes a balance of powers, institutions of local self-government are strong, and a spirit of association prevails in civil as well as in political life.