de Tocqueville Commentary

Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America, a commentary Part 1

At the time when European peoples descended upon the shores of the New World, the features of their national character were already well fixed; each of them had a distinct physiognomy. And since they had already reached the level of civilization that leads men to self-study, they have handed down to us a faithful picture of their opinions, mores, and laws. The men of the fifteenth century are almost as well-known to us as those of our own. So America shows us in full light what the ignorance and the barbarism of the first ages concealed from our view.ref

Alexis de Tocqueville renders a fascinating portrayal of American character. The moment European peoples stepped foot onto shores of land and air of which they never saw nor smelled defined for generations what being American truly is. Although escaping from European monarchy religious oppression, the peoples instinctively brought with them old European intellectual traditions as well as adoption of new ones that emerged such as the Protestant Reformation of the 1500′s.

The tragic notion about this paragraph quoted is how do Americans reclaim this character? It seems as if general tones of anti-authoritarianism have enabled vast empires to crumble. There has to be a change in the national character through institutionalized intellectual biases. The culture of the United States was so radically changed through affluence and apathy for defining principles of character that were boldly proclaimed so long ago. Radical rebellion within the 1960′s supported what can be considered universal qualities of human character. Such as open-mindedness, free expression, love, etc. However the very acts became so extreme that they could not be contained within traditional restraints. They became foreign or drastically new territory for the American character, for especially the youth. These turned into the 1960′s civil rights/hippie/anti-war/militants which fought hard against authority and traditional liberalism in schools, media, society in general.

The extreme interpretation and outward expression, of what was, is and should be tempered common and national character principles or what manifests through restricting individual passions, was attractive to a wide range of individuals. Its easy to see the attractive nature of being outside of the norm, but life should be about doing things in moderation, this moderation is achieved by challenge. However this 1960′s movement effectively went against long held establishments of societal norms, and it didn’t stop and it was not sufficiently challenged by the supposed gatekeepers of the most sacred of institutions. Academia was especially challenged eventually the teaching staff gave up, there was no fight in them, and the youth who later gained control of the institutions they challenged, then set and determined the agenda with that mind-frame. It became propagandized, this societal trend of non-instructional teachers. It was found later through this non-instructional mentality development that it was rather easy to go with the flow so to speak. As mass erosion flowed what was built behind it was foundations that changed the intellectual landscape from the 1960s forward within American academia. What was merely a youth movement inspired by typical notions however was not sufficiently challenged by academia, and there has become such an undeniable blindness of the faithful representation, or history of the “picture of their opinions, mores, and laws” as de Tocqueville put it.

We have forgot who “their” is. The notion is common for selfish man especially when institutions don’t hold the weight of the past properly. The blindness of history comes from the celebration of the present. This is the source of mans reason which determines history based on contemporary contexts.

The next paragraph goes on to say;

Close enough to the era of the founding of the American societies to know their elements in detail, far enough from that time to be able already to judge what these seeds produced, men in our time seem destined to see further into human events than their predecessors. Providence has put within our reach a light that our fathers lacked and has allowed us to discern the first causes of the destiny of nations that the obscurity of the past hid from them.ref

Oh if de Tocqueville only knew now, how the national character of the United States has changed. I suppose he would be rolling over in his grave, if he knew that the child, or society played while the parent, or institutions of Constitutional discipline didn’t even lift a finger.

The destiny was so clear back then, yet so far away seemingly today. This is why movements are springing up of people who have always been there, waiting, sleeping and now educating and taking effective action!

Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America, a commentary Part 2

Town liberty therefore escapes human effort so to speak. Consequently it is rarely created; in a sense it arises by itself. It develops almost in secret within a semi-barbaric society. The continuous action of laws and of mores, circumstances, and above all time succeed in its consolidation. You can say that, of all the nations of the European continent, not a single one knows town liberty.

The strength of free peoples resides in the town, however. Town institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to knowledge; they put it within the grasp of the people; they give them a taste of its peaceful practice and accustom them to its use. Without town institutions, a nation can pretend to have a free government, but it does not possess the spirit of liberty. Temporary passions, momentary interests, the chance of circumstances can give it the external forms of independence; but despotism, driven back into the interior of the social body, reappears sooner or later at the surface.ref

The town system. The most intimate form of institutional government because the people are still physically close to its center, the center being where policy is made. Thus liberty accelerates because the power can literally be exorcised by the presence of individuals who exorcise that control by being physically close. It is from the many autonomous towns spread about within early America, from East to West and North to South. With their particular mores and social milieu, interconnect through trade that celebrates an overarching common character.

The trade, or economic activity, between the towns form common national centers of power and influence ultimately transform into the United States. A natural line emerges during the 1800′s as town liberty spawns across America. Towns seem to fade away and now whole divisions based on North and South creep. Centralization and thus systems or institutions which are antithetical to town liberty advanced in the South, because people chose not to accept free government for all.

You can see de Tocqueville warning future America of a type of despotism that fades back and lurks, formulating in the background of the “social body” and expressing itself at the surface differently then before. This is of course the intellectual strain of community based government that was communism which expressed socialism in its purest form as per Engels and Marx. Then evolved Fabian socialism and of courses since the 1900′s and Woodrow Wilson, FDR, etc we are well aware of Progressive socialism.

%d bloggers like this: