For Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1840), despotism is the natural product of an individualistic society. If each man retreats within his own circle, to his close family and friends, the bond between each individual is weakened. It is then easy for a tyrant to destroy those bonds and rip up the fabric of the democratic society.
Tocqueville argues that so-called 'self-interest rightly understood' is the key to overcoming this despotism. Has anyone ever noticed, however, how similar this sounds to Michael Oakeshott's criticism of contemporary society? His view in the celebrated essay 'Rationalism in Politics' in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (1962) was that western society has gotten off track because it has forgotten what practical knowledge is and has substituted learning by cribsheet for learning by doing. Tocqueville believes that man's sense of public good is focused when his self-interest comes into conflict with that of another individual. Civil associations and public institutions are the product of a contest between interests. They are, to a certain extent, the solution to what rational-choice theorists call collective action problems.
Tocqueville is clear then that free institutions are a product of experience not prescription. The solution is not some grand plan laid down by the interested parties prior to a conflict. It's very much a consequence of the conflict. What is this but an ode to practical knowledge? Granted, it's not Oakeshott's praise for a 'mix of the modes'. But perhaps Tocqueville discovered within the nation most often associated with rationalism in politics, the conditions most suited to stopping it.