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Les États-Unis, une démocratie désaxée

NEW YORK – Alexis de Tocqueville, un aristocrate libéral français, se rendit en 1831 aux États-Unis pour, selon toute apparence, y étudier son système pénitentiaire « éclairé » (placer les condamnés en isolement cellulaire individuel comme des moines pénitents était la dernière idée en vogue). De ce voyage naquit l’ouvrage le plus connu de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, dans lequel il faisait part de son admiration pour les libertés civiles américaines et comparait à leur désavantage les institutions de l’Ancien monde à la première démocratie réellement libérale de l’histoire.

Mais il exprimait également de fortes réserves. Le plus grand danger pour la démocratie américaine, estimait-il, est la tyrannie de la majorité, le conformisme intellectuel suffocant de la vie américaine, la répression des minorités et des voix dissidentes. Il était convaincu que l’exercice sans limites du pouvoir, fut-il le fait d’un despote ou d’une majorité politique, ne pouvait que déboucher sur un désastre.

La démocratie, au sens de la règle de la majorité, nécessite des contre-pouvoirs, comme tout autre forme de gouvernement. C’est la raison pour laquelle les Britanniques ont associé l’autorité des politiciens élus à celle des privilèges aristocratiques. Et également la raison pour laquelle les Américains tiennent tant à la séparation des pouvoirs inscrite dans leur Constitution.

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