The Dangers of Unlimited Power

The structure of a government alone cannot ensure democratic rule. In the early 1830’s the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville made a tour of the United States and then published a work in two volumes entitled Democracy in America that is still read today for its wise insights into democracy, how it can flourish or be jeopardized. Here is one passage from Volume I on the dangers of unlimited power:

“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.”

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