Thursday, May 05, 2022

He believed that democratic politics tended to fail because official liberty of thought—free speech and so forth—did not produce real freedom, as naïve liberals hoped, but a new form of conformism and clannishness. Tocqueville judged that Americans, who were theoretically free to speak as they wished, showed less independence of mind and freedom of discussion than the people of any other country he knew of: The quiet self-certainty of fellow citizens stifled dissent with a reach and power that a censor’s office could only envy. In a democracy, he judged, “tyranny … leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul.” A dissenter feared that he would be shunned as “an impure being” and abandoned even by his friends. Democracies drifted or lurched into effusions of radical energy or the doldrums of modest, anxious ambition and anxious, middling views.

In times without great principles or goals, people might turn inward, looking after their own material interests, and enter a kind of solitary confinement: “a multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing.” In this condition, democrats would happily accept “a network of petty, complicated rules” administered by “schoolmasters.” Tocqueville called this enervated condition democratic despotism, the soft, passive twin of majority tyranny. Democracy might come with an executioner’s blade or with soothing tones, and either way it could obliterate people like Alexis de Tocqueville.

The subhead: "American government succeeded, Tocqueville thought, because it didn’t empower the people too much." Burying the lede. Purdy didn't write the title, but he's more conflicted than he wants to admit. 

Kant, de MaistreLibertaet, and academia; 

Tocqueville, Lawrence (Hawthorne and Spielberg) and Weber, and academia again.

No comments: