Tocqueville effect

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The Tocqueville effect (also known as the Tocqueville paradox) is the phenomenon in which, as social conditions and opportunities improve, social frustration grows more quickly.


  • The hatred that men bear to privilege increases in proportion as privileges become fewer and less considerable, so that democratic passions would seem to burn most fiercely just when they have least fuel. I have already given the reason for this phenomenon. When all conditions are unequal, no inequality is so great as to offend the eye, whereas the slightest dissimilarity is odious in the midst of general uniformity; the more complete this uniformity is, the more insupportable the sight of such a difference becomes. Hence it is natural that the love of equality should constantly increase together with equality itself, and that it should grow by what it feeds on.
  • It is a curious fact that the more democratic a country becomes, the less respect it has for its rulers. Aristocracies and foreign conquerors may be hated but they are not despised.
  • Here is the theory invented by Tocqueville. ... The lighter a yoke, the more it seems insupportable; what exasperates is not the crushing burden but the impediment; what inspires to revolt is not oppression but humiliation. The French of 1789 were incensed against the nobles because they were almost the equals of the nobles; it is the slight difference that can be appreciated, and what can be appreciated that counts. The eighteenth-century middle class was rich, in a position to fill almost any employment, almost as powerful as the nobility. It was exasperated by this “almost” and stimulated by the proximity of its goal; impatience is always provoked by the final strides.
    • Émile Faguet, Politicians and Moralists of the Nineteenth Century, Boston: little, Brown; 1928, p.93
  • Overwhelming and astounding inequality, especially when it has an element of the unattainable, arouses far less envy than minimal inequality, which inevitably causes the envious to think: I might have been in his place.
  • The best means of protection against the envy of a neighbor is to drive a Rolls-Royce instead of a car only slightly better than his...overwhelming and astounding inequality arouses far less envy than minimal inequality.

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