Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tocqueville on the careless usufruction unworthy of a free man

"It profits me but little . . . that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life, and if it so monopolizes movement and life that when it languishes, everything languishes around it, that when it sleeps everything must sleep, and that when it dies the state itself must perish.
     "There are countries in Europe where the native considers himself as a kind of settler [(colon)], indifferent to the fate of the spot which he inhabits.  The greatest changes are effected there without his concurrence, and (unless chance may have apprised him of the event) without his knowledge; nay, more, the condition of his village, the police of his street, the repairs of the church or the parsonage, do not concern him; for he looks upon all these things as unconnected with himself and as the property of a powerful stranger whom he calls the government.  He has only a life interest in these possessions, without the spirit of ownership or any ideas of improvement [(Pour lui, il jouit de ces biens comme un usufruitier, sans esprit de propriété et sans idées de amélioration quelconque)].  This want of interest goes so far that if his own safety or that of his children is at last endangered, instead of trying to avert the peril, he will fold his arms and wait till the whole nation comes to his aid."

     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America I (1835).I.V.13 ("Political effects of decentralized administration in the United States"), trans. Henry Reeve, with revisions by Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradley ((New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), vol. 1, p. 92);  Œuvres, ed. André Jardin (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade), II (De la démocratie en Amérique), ed. Jean-Claude Lamberti and James T. Schleifer (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1992), 103-104.  Tocqueville continues as follows:

"This man who has so completely sacrificed his own free will does not, more than any other person, love obedience; he cowers, it is true, before the pettiest officer, but he braves the law with the spirit of a conquered foe as soon as its superior force is withdrawn; he perpetually oscillates between servitude and license.
     "When a nation has arrived at this state, it must either change its customs and laws, or perish; for the source of public virtue is dried up; and though it may contain subjects, it has no citizens.  Such communities are a natural prey to foreign conquests" (92-93). . . .

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