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Tocqueville Anticipates America Under Mr. Obama and the Democrat Party Part 1

July 17, 2012 by American Freedom No Comments

Introduction

Below are quotes taken from Alexis de Tocqueville without comment by me.  Tocqueville was born in 1805 in the Normandy region of France, and died in 1859.  He visited the United States in the years 1831 – 1832.  He traveled widely and visited every part of the settled United States.  He took copious notes, and upon his return to France, he began writing two volumes known to us as Democracy in America.  The first volume was published in 1835 and the second in 1840.

These volumes are the finest assessment of the characteristics of democracy in its variety of political constructs ever written.  They also comprise the best book ever written about the United States – how we lived and loved, how we conducted government, how we engaged in commerce, how we went to church, the dismal tragedy of slavery; and what we would become.

It took about 160 years, but Tocqueville’s prophesy has painfully come true.

He anticipated the future that democracies would face saddled as they are with their urge to level everything; to insure a equal outcome for everyone – the cost of which is very high.  You will see this mirrored exactly in the Progressive campaigns of the last century, and even more particularly in the comments, proposals, and disposition of our current president.

These two books are long, but well worth the time to read as a project for understanding not only the nature of what our country was in the first half century of its existence, but also what Tocqueville anticipated our country would become if we were not very careful to prevent it.  (Unfortunately, we have not been careful.)

If you cannot take the time to read his complete work – which runs almost 700 pages – please take 20 or 30 minutes to read and ponder some of his conclusions I have quoted below.  These passages from the closing parts of his second volume prophesy with amazing insight what our government has become, and what we have become.  Print these pages then study them again; then keep them for later perusal.

As Tocqueville will anticipates, we have finally lost our humanity, we no longer need to exercise our own will; and have largely become proletarians (whose inactions have so frustrated the Marxists) who are reminiscent of the idle person described by Plato in The Republic, book VIII.

He, “…lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that.  His life has neither life nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.” [The Republic; The Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut.  Translated from the Greek by Benjamin Jowett.]

Tocqueville

During my stay in the United States I had remarked that a democratic social state like that of the Americans could singularly facilitate the establishment of despotism. And I had seen on my return to Europe how most of our princes had already made use of the ideas, sentiments, and needs to which this same social state had given birth to extend the sphere of their power.

That led me to believe that Christian nations would perhaps in the end come under an oppression similar to that which formerly weighed on several of the peoples of antiquity.

A more detailed examination of the subject and five years of new meditations have not diminished my fears, but they have changed their object.

In past centuries, one never saw a sovereign so absolute and so powerful that it undertook to administer all the parts of a great empire by itself without the assistance of secondary powers; there was none who attempted to subjugate all its subjects without distinction to the details of a uniform rule, nor one that descended to the side of each of them to lord it over him and lead him.  The idea of such an undertaking had never presented itself to the human mind, and if any man had happened to conceive of it, the insufficiency of enlightenment, the imperfection of administrative proceedings, and above all the natural obstacles that inequality of conditions gave rise to would soon have stopped him in the execution of such a vast design.

One sees that in the time of the greatest power of the Caesars, the different people who inhabited the Roman world still preserved diverse customs and mores: although subject to the same monarch, most of the provinces were administered separately; they were filled with powerful and active municipalities, and although all the government of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the emperor alone and he always remained the arbitrator of all things in case of need, the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.

It is true that the emperors possessed an immense power without counterweight, which permitted them to indulge the outlandishness of their penchants freely and to employ the entire force of the state in satisfying them; they often came to abuse this power so as to deprive a citizen of his goods or life arbitrarily: their tyranny weighed enormously on some, but it did not extend over many; it applied itself to a few great principal objects and neglected the rest; it was violent and restricted.

It seems that if despotism came to be established in the democratic nations of our day, it would have other characteristics; it would be more extensive and milder, and it would degrade men without tormenting them.

I do not doubt that in centuries of enlightenment and equality like ours, sovereigns will come more easily to gather all public powers in their hands alone and to penetrate the sphere of private interests more habitually and more deeply than any of these in antiquity was ever able to do.  But the same equality that facilitates despotism tempers it; we have seen how, as men are more alike and more equal, public mores become more humane and milder; when no citizen has either great power or great wealth, tyranny in a way lacks an occasion and a stage.  All fortunes being mediocre, passions are naturally contained, imagination bounded, pleasures simple.  This universal moderation moderates the sovereign itself and holds the disordered sparks of its desires within certain limits.

Democratic governments can become violent and even cruel at certain moments of great excitement and great peril; but these crises will be rare and transient.

When I think of the small passions of men of our day, the softness of their mores, the extent of their enlightenment, the purity of their religion, the mildness of their morality, their laborious and steady habits, the restraint that almost all preserve in vice as in virtue, I do not fear that in their chiefs they will find tyrants, but rather schoolmasters.

I think therefore that the kind of oppression with which democratic peoples are threatened will resemble nothing that has preceded it in the world; our contemporaries would not find its image in their memories.  I myself seek in vain an expression that exactly reproduces the idea that I form of it for myself and that contains it; the old words despotism and tyranny are not suitable.  The thing is new, therefore I must try to define it, since I cannot name it.

I want to imagine with what new features despotism could be produced in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.  Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country.

Above these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate.  It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild.  It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves.  It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for the security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?

So it is that every day it renders the deployment of free will less useful and more rare; it confines the action of the will in a smaller space and little by little steals the very use of it from each citizen.  Equality has prepared men for all these things; it has disposed them to tolerate them and often even to regard them as a benefit.

Thus, after taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole, it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Our contemporaries are incessantly racked by two inimical passions: they feel the need to be led and the wish to remain free.  Not being able to destroy either one of these contrary instincts, they strive to satisfy both at the same time.  They imagine a unique power, tutelary, all powerful, but elected by citizens.  They combine centralization and the sovereignty of the people.  That gives them some respite.  They console themselves for being in tutelage by thinking that they themselves have chosen their schoolmasters.  Each individual allows himself to be attached because he sees that it is not a man or a class but the people themselves that hold the end of the chain.

In this system citizens leave their dependence for a moment to indicate their master, and then reenter it.

Subjection in small affairs manifests itself every day and makes itself felt without distinction by all citizens.  It does not make them desperate; but it constantly thwarts them and brings them to renounce the use of their wills.  Thus little by little, it extinguishes their spirits and enervates their souls, whereas obedience, which is due only in a few very grave but very rare circumstances, shows servitude only now and then and makes it weigh only on certain men.  In vain will you charge these same citizens, whom you have rendered so dependent on the central power, with choosing the representatives of this power from time to time; that use of their free will, so important but so brief and so rare, will not prevent them from losing little by little the faculty of thinking, feeling, and acting by themselves, and thus from gradually falling below the level of humanity.

…social power constantly increases its prerogatives; it becomes more centralized, more enterprising, more absolute, more extensive.  At each instant citizens fall under the control of the public administration; they are brought insensible and almost without their knowing it to sacrifice new parts of their individual independence to it every day, and the same men who from time to time overturn a throne and ride roughshod over kings bend more and more without resistance to the slightest will of a clerk.

I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great, unique privilege that remains to them.  Democratic peoples who have introduced freedom into the political sphere at the same time that they have increased despotism in the administrative sphere have been led to very strange oddities.  If one must conduct small affairs in which simple good sense can suffice, they determine that citizens are incapable of it; if it is a question of the government of the whole state, they entrust immense prerogatives in these citizens; they make them alternatively the playthings of the sovereign and its masters, more than kings and less than men.

I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government in a people where conditions are equal than in any other, and I think that if such a government were one established in a people like this, not only would it oppress men, but in the long term it would rob each of them of several of the principal attributes of humanity.

It is in fact difficult to conceive how men who have entirely renounced the habit of directing themselves could succeed at choosing well those who will lead them; and one will not make anyone believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever issue from the suffrage of a people of servants.