Thursday, March 20, 2014

The importance of equality and uniformity to the centralization of power

     "Every central power, which follows its natural tendencies, courts and encourages the principle of equality [(l'égalité)]; for equality singularly facilitates, extends, and secures the influence of a central power.
     "In like manner it may be said that every central government worships uniformity [(l'uniformité)]; uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details, which must be attended to if rules have to be adapted to different men, instead of indiscriminately subjecting all men to the same rule [(s'il fallait faire la règle pour les hommes, au lieu de faire passer indistinctement tous les hommes sous la même règle)]."

     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America II (1840).iv.3 ("That the sentiments of democratic nations accord with their opinions in leading them to concentrate political power"), trans. Henry Reeve, with revisions by Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradley ((New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), vol. 2, p. 295); 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), 814.
     These two paragraphs on the tendency of democratic states to arrogate to themselves all power, destroy all mediating institutions, and reach ever further into the private lives of their citizens, refer only obliquely (via the gloss "different men") to another major theme of these chapters:  that only aristocracies oppose these tendencies naturally (rather than artificially, i.e. by design or art).  For only aristocracies are naturally equipped to treat different things differently.
     But of course Tocqueville's "chief object in writing this book has been to combat [such tendencies]" (vol. 2, p. 293), not obstruct the progress of democracy; and thus to stress "that, in the democratic ages which are opening upon us, individual independence and local liberties will ever be the products of art" (296).  Because "no legislator is wise or powerful enough to preserve free institutions if he does not take equality for his first principle and his watchword", "the question is not how to reconstruct aristocratic society, but how to make liberty proceed out of that democratic state of society in which God has placed us" (322).  The applicability of that statement is there limited to "the ages upon which we are entering" ("dans les siècles où nous entrons", 322/840), but on p. 324/842 Tocqueville seems to go further:  "I firmly believe that an aristocracy cannot again be founded in the world" ("Je crois fermement qu'on ne saurait fonder de nouveau, dans le monde, une aristocratie").
     Yet doesn't the first of Tocqueville's checks (324.1) open the door to what we know today as the professional lobbyists?

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