ABSTRACT

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) understood the critical importance of associational life for a free and prosperous democratic nation as well as any modern thinker. However, from Tocqueville's perspective, the right to associate with one's peers in pursuit of purposes not established or tightly regulated by the state and its subsidiary agencies exists in permanent tension with the prerogatives of the ‘people’, which seem to press ever more aggressively for complete sovereignty over social life. This chapter considers possible mechanisms to check this drift towards democratic despotism using Tocqueville's reflections in Democracy in America as the starting point. It argues that Tocqueville's view of culture as a bastion of associational freedom, while a welcome counterweight to reductively institutionalist approaches, pays insufficient attention to the protective function of institutions and laws, specifically how the institutional structures and laws of a democratic nation may either fortify or undermine the integrity and independent prerogatives of non-territorial associations. On a more constructive note, the chapter suggests that a hybrid form of federalism, incorporating non-territorial associations into the territorial pact or foedus, may take us further than Tocqueville's predominantly cultural approach in protecting free associations of citizens against the despotic tendencies of democratic governments.