Political Sciences

Tocqueville believes that democracy fosters individualism and materialism. Based on your reading of Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, do you think that individualism and materialism facilitate or hinder the rise of totalitarianism?

Tocqueville believes that democracy fosters individualism and materialism. It means that he questions the principles of democracy. Theoretically, democracy presupposes moral and intellectual habits that should result in equality and love for freedom. However, indeed, democracy turns into individualism and materialism that emerge from democratic despotism and tyranny of the majority. It is evident that democratic principles are vulnerable to the spirits in the community, individual preferences, materialism, and inequality. Not without reason, Arendt relates the origins of totalitarianism to democracy, individualism, and materialism in her work The Origins of Totalitarianism. Totalitarianism and democracy are opposed forms of governing. However, currently, many leaders promote democratic principles that hide totalitarian ideas. Consequently, this essay intends to show that democracy fosters individualism and materialism that facilitate the rise of totalitarianism and sharpen democratic problems.


Democracy as a Result of Individualism and Materialism

According to Tocqueville, democracy fosters individualism and materialism. Therefore, this political system is not supported by many people. For example, the democratic government failed in France. One can relate this failure to such problems of democracy as materialism, individualism, the excessive drive for equality, lack of love for freedom, abuse of freedom, and the high portion of power in the legislative branch. Tocqueville believes that it is possible to overcome them through freedom of the press, freedom of association, well-educated women, religion, administrative decentralization, local self-government, a strong executive branch, and the influential as well as independent judiciary. He writes, “We have gotten a democracy, but without the conditions which lessen its vices and render its natural advantage more prominent”. It is obvious that it is not easy to implement a real democracy without individual and material benefits. All branches of the democratic government are weak as they can easily become tyrannical. Consequently, philosophers try to understand the relationship between democracy and totalitarianism because the opposition is the best way to reveal problems. 

Tocqueville states that democracy, as the state regime, manages to hide its weaknesses related to individualism and materialism. Firstly, democracy gives the most power to the legislature indirectly increasing its influence and providing the re-election of the president. Moreover, it increases the president’s power in the state. As a result, the president’s status can provoke the danger of the tyranny of the majority. Thus, democracy does not resist tyranny and totalitarianism. Secondly, democracy fosters the circulation of wealth with great rapidity. It means that democratic principles benefit those who are the owners of property. Thirdly, Tocqueville regards the excessive love for equality as the dangerous indicator of despotism that can come at the hands of a single person. It should be emphasized that the democratic regime does not deprive the ruler of the absolute power characterized by individualism and materialism. 

According to Tocqueville, democracy should promote the principles of equality and reject superiority. Consequently, superiority is revealed through going against the opinion of people. It can be regarded as the form of tyranny that involves brutality and physical coercion. The current democracy contradicts the established vision of this state regime because the absolute government of a single man results in despotism, materialism, and individualism in the decision-making process. Moreover, Tocqueville believes that individualism and materialism lead to the despotism of the crowd. Consequently, equality has two side-effects that increase the likelihood of despotism and result in materialism and individualism. It means that individualism has a democratic origin and appears because of the people’s desire to get more equal. Thus, the philosopher believes that equality can make people focus on themselves and their interests. It should be added that people can become too individualistic and do not bother to exercise their freedom and fulfill their civic duties. As a result, individualism contributes to the growth of despotism and tyranny. 

Tocqueville states that materialism is the result of the passion for equality as people think that they should have as much wealth as other people. Materialism develops from democratic principles and thoughts of eternity. The effects of materialism are inevitable. Firstly, people are absorbed in their personal pursuit of wealth. Secondly, they neglect to use their political freedom. Lastly, people are ready to abandon freedom to have material prosperity and despotism. 

Tocqueville distinguishes the existence of institutions that help to preserve liberty in the midst of despotism. They include the jury, the Supreme Court, and judges. It is obvious that materialism and individualism are difficult to overcome even when it comes to democracy. People are too obsessed with personal needs and material benefits to struggle for democratic principles. Tocqueville criticizes individualism and materialism as the restraining force of the social state. The philosopher believes that individualism and materialism lead to selfish desires that prevent individuals from following democratic ideas. 

Tocqueville states that religion, the freedom of the press, and the right of association also help to maintain freedom. One should use associations as the way of combating individualism and exercising people’s freedom. The press is connected to associations as the latter use the former as a means of communicating and spreading messages to the public. Religion helps to use freedom in a proper way. Consequently, Tocqueville believes that despotism can exist without faith, but freedom does not survive without faith. 

Democracy fosters individualism and materialism. According to Tocqueville, individualism and materialism are the failures of democratic principles that threaten the future of humanity. Even currently, it is hard to follow the origin of individualism and materialism. Moreover, it is difficult for people to be democrats as the democratic excess results in individualism and materialism. Consequently, the philosopher believes that the problem of America lies in the enormous quantity of democracy that leads to the connection of individualism and materialism with equality and liberty. It is possible to combat this problem bringing people together in the society with common religion and beliefs. Religion is the only means of struggling against individualism and materialism because religious people prefer immortal and eternal aspects of life to physical and material ones. Individualism and materialism are the enemies of democracy that emerge as the opposition to it. Thus, one can struggle against individualism and materialism using the democratic principles. 

Democratization is the process of freeing the individual from the rule of others. It is a way of destroying inequalities through the absolute commitment. Tocqueville believes that radical individualism requires independence; however, the complete autonomy is impossible for human beings. Consequently, the process of democratization turns into individualism and materialism. 

The Peculiarities of Totalitarianism in Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism

First of all, it should be noted that Hannah Arendt connects totalitarianism to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. The feature of Arendt’s totalitarianism is that she relates it to the problems and failures of democracy. Moreover, Hannah Arendt does not regard genocide as the driving force of the totalitarian rule. Consequently, totalitarianism is not the regime based on terror as the latter presupposes the murder and deportation of families and their communities, confiscation of property, exclusion from public life, and abolition of political as well as civil rights. Hannah Arendt believes that total terror leaves few survivors and eliminates the total life-world of people. She regards totalitarianism as a different form of oppression that is related to dictatorship, tyranny, and despotism. This philosopher is considered to be the most controversial and respected theorist of totalitarianism. 

Hannah Arendt defines totalitarianism as the way of connection with the masses as it presupposes a shift in influence and power. The governing body represents true power, and its task is to create the feeling of community. It should also be noted that absolute mass manipulation is done through oppression. In her work, Hannah Arendt states that the totalitarian government can transform classes into masses and supplant the party system. However, the totalitarian government uses not the one-party dictatorship but a mass movement that can shift the center of power. It is evident that totalitarianism aims to rule the world. Hannah Arendt regards totalitarianism as the instrument of violence and total control. Moreover, totalitarianism can be the result of the failure of democratic, authoritarian, monarchist, republican, socialist, national, conservative, and liberal political forces. 

Hannah Arendt claims that totalitarianism uses fear and other violent methods to intimidate or destroy the weak. As a result, it ruins human morality that is an essential component of democracy. Totalitarianism can be the consequence of activities of the very despotic man who makes law. Thus, Hannah Arendt emphasizes that totalitarianism is the concentration of man’s absolute control over the masses and mankind. It is evident that power is in the hands of the man who decides to abuse it. The philosopher states that totalitarianism is an objectivist education that is chosen and enforced by the individual who has the absolute power. Hannah Arendt believes that totalitarianism is a subjective theology characteristic of the totalitarian government. It should be noted that Arendt’s definition of totalitarianism is directly related to the forms of oppression, violent methods of control, and aggressive self-centered education. It means that individualism is the inevitable feature of totalitarianism. 

Hannah Arendt relates the idealization of different causes, the creation of newer forms of logic, and the destruction of morality to the methods of totalitarianism. She considers them extremely aggressive. Moreover, the philosopher believes that imperialism and anti-Semitism influence the development of totalitarianism. Consequently, the age of new imperialism, race-thinking, and anti-Semitism laid the foundation for totalitarianism. Furthermore, the philosopher insists that anti-Semitism and racism were used as the instruments of nationalism and imperialism. However, Arendt claims that imperialism and nationalism should not be equated. Thus, dictatorship is not necessarily totalitarian. It is evident that the totalitarian government is characterized by the effective organization of the masses and strives for global rule. Moreover, the philosopher states that totalitarianism originates in small locations more frequently. It should also be emphasized that the modern totalitarian regime uses terror as the instrument of influence. Moreover, alleged laws of history and the inevitability of war are the reasons for justification of terror. 

Arendt does not only criticize totalitarianism but also determines its advantage. The philosopher thinks that the strength of totalitarian ideology is in its ability to protect from danger and insecurity. Consequently, the success of totalitarianism is the demonstration of the distinctions between fiction and reality that is done through propaganda.  

Individualism and Materialism Facilitate Totalitarianism

Tocqueville’s and Arendt’s studies show that individualism and materialism facilitate totalitarianism. Arendt sees totalitarianism as political oppression that arises when individual interests are contrary to personal ones and when materialism is above collective preferences. Tocqueville believes that democracy presupposes a high degree of equality and respect for people, their virtue, and intellect. However, indeed, this kind of democracy is too idealized and utopian. There is no equality due to the differences in the material benefits. For example, the gap between rich landowners and slaves can lead to violence and cruelty in the forms of revolution and rebellion. Even the law of inheritance demonstrates that materialism and individualism build the barrier between people who strive for democracy. Consequently, totalitarianism emerges from the lack of freedoms and equality.  

Arendt states that totalitarianism is a modern form of tyranny when the power is in the hands of one man, and the government is lawless. Consequently, totalitarianism has individualistic features that empower absolutism. As totalitarianism has the arbitrary power and is unrestricted by law, it works for the benefit of the leader and his personal preferences. Moreover, totalitarianism is hostile to the interests of people as it expresses people’s fear of the ruler. Totalitarianism is opposed to democracy. However, Tocqueville’s work shows that democracy can lead to totalitarianism when the power is in the hands of the despotic and individualistic ruler. The French revolution is a good lesson that demonstrates that going against the majority is regarded as superiority that contradicts the principles of equality. It should also be noted that individualism and materialism lead to tyranny, democratic despotism, and totalitarianism. 

Tocqueville insists that aggression and absolute power are the consequences of totalitarianism that prevent democracy, independence, and equality. The philosopher states that individualism not only promotes the struggle for freedom but also facilitates totalitarianism. As it has already been mentioned, totalitarianism uses the forms of manipulation to control the masses, and they are oppressive. Consequently, individualism is the essential feature of the ruler with the absolute power. Such tool as manipulation was used for governing Stalinist and Nazi cultures that were far from the democratic principles. For example, Adolf Hitler was a master of manipulation as he used speeches, propaganda, and rallies. Thus, the national-socialist party manipulated the poor and weak German society. Tocqueville criticizes individualism as well as materialism and insists that all human beings belong to the same rank and possess the same natural faculties and advantages. 


In conclusion, it is possible to state that democracy is the result of individualism and materialism that are the consequences of the wrong conception of democratic principles. Thus, individualism violates the principles of equality and freedom. Moreover, it is the problem of democracy that leads to totalitarianism. Materialism leads to the gap between people, violates the democratic ideas and also results in totalitarianism. Democracy promotes equality and liberty. However, the problem of democracy lies in the fact that it does not admit such weaknesses as materialism and individualism. 

The peculiarities of totalitarianism are reflected in Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. They presuppose oppression and failures in the democratic ideas. Moreover, totalitarianism results in the liquidation of enemies and following the will of the leader. Totalitarianism is characterized by absolutism, expression of fear, usage of terror, individualistic and material leadership. 

Democracy is too idealized state regime that institutionalizes the equal rights and civil control. Consequently, individualism and materialism facilitate totalitarianism as they demonstrate the gap between owners and subordinates. They create inequality and violate human freedoms.  Moreover, there is no equal sharing of property. As a result, it is impossible to implement democracy when people pursue their material and individual interests. Individualism and materialism lead to tyranny, democratic despotism, and totalitarianism.