Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 19, 2014

Gary D. Glenn
Pages 7-19

Tocqueville's "Democratic Despotism" and Pope Benedict's "Dictatorship of Relativism"

The thought of these philosophic thinkers structures this study. Both perceive an affinity between democracy and “unlimited government.” Tocqueville’s thought sometimes reflects Catholic sensibilities and themes. Benedict’s thought reflects Catholic orthodoxy. Both thinkers, separated by 170 years, emphasize respectively “despotism” and “dictatorship,” which they think democracy is open to, endangered by, and tends towards. While Tocqueville sees the danger as “democracy,” and Benedict sees it as “relativism,” they are describing the same phenomenon. “Democratic despotism” results from attenuating the “habits of restraint” undergirding democracy; and the “dictatorship” embodies the despotism in our time.