De Tocqueville on Democracy and Power - RR144S33

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Lesson[edit]

Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: 33. De Toqueville on Democracy & Power
Course: Course - American History to 1865
Subject: Subject:History
Lesson#: 33
Length: 0:35:00
TapeCode: RR144S33
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format
American History to 1865(12).jpg

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission.


Now as we conclude our study of De Tocqueville, and his analysis of Democracy in America, we find that De Tocqueville had certain important thing s to say on democracy and power. He declares that because of this rampant individualism, this social atomism that results, democracy favors a concentration of power. There are in a democracy no secondary powers. This of course ties in with the problem we were just dealing with. In a culture where there are many secondary powers, the authority of the clergy, the authority of the aristocracy, the authority of various agencies and associations, power is decentralized. It is diffused. The father has a great deal of authority, the employer, the priest or the pastor. The head of the family clan.

Authority being diffused therefore cannot accumulate in any one point. However, wherever the doctrine of equality prevails, it dissolves all powers, all authorities save that of the state; so that, individuals are unwilling to submit to authority even when it is a rightful authority over them. The ties are too loose. They will not readily take correction, he says, from parents. Nor from employers, nor from their superiors in church or any institution. And as a result, all these secondary powers being weakened, power is no longer diffuse, decentralized, but it exists only in the state. And the weaker the tie between person and person grows, the stronger of necessity must power concentrate in the state.

Now to put this in philosophical terms which in theological terms which De Tocqueville does not, we must say that in all societies there is power of an equal ratio; that power is not eliminated if it is denied to one area, but it simply accrues to another. If we deny the power of God, we do not eliminate the power of God, we then simply transfer it to a human agency. And, De Tocqueville would say, it all accumulates in the state progressively as all these other agencies are dissolved. There is too little to tie man to man. [00:03:33]

Each on rebels against government, direction, from...[edit]

Each on rebels against government, direction, from anyone immediately his superior. His feeling as he looks at his father, his employer, his pastor or priest, will be: “I am as good as you are, why should I obey you?”

And because the loyalties are not there also, in either direction, all that power accrues straight up to the state. And man is lost in the crowd. A crowd of what modern sociologists have called lonely people. A very interesting study written not too many years ago by a team of sociologists was entitled the Lonely Crowd. All together, and yet isolated from one another by their rampant individualism. And hence as the crowd has become lonely, it has become more and more ready to follow the crowd, to be group directed. Man is no longer god directed, conscience directed, but group directed, so individualism has led to an anarchism and a totalitarianism at one and the same time. The smaller man gets, the bigger the state gets.

And man gets smaller and smaller as he eliminates all these secondary authorities on the human scene.

De Tocqueville wrote concerning the concentration of power in America: “The Americans hold that in every state the supreme power ought to emanate from the people, but once that power is constituted they can conceive as it were, no limits to it; and they are ready to admit that it has the right to do whatever it pleases. They have not the slightest notion of peculiar privileges granted to cities, families or persons. Their minds appear never to have foreseen that it might be possibly not to apply with strict uniformity the same laws to every part and to all the inhabitants.”

Then he went on to say: “These same opinions are more and more diffused in Europe. They even insinuate themselves among those states which most vehemently reject the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Such nations assign a different origin to the supreme power that they ascribe to that power the same characteristics among them all, the idea of intermediate powers is weakened and obliterated. The idea of rights inherent in certain individuals is rapidly disappearing from the minds of men. The idea of the omnipotence and sole authority of society at large rises to fill its place. These ideas take root and spread in proportion as social conditions become more equal and more alike. They are engendered by equality, and in turn they hasten the progress of equality.” [00:07:14]

And he said: “This in France especially,” (His home country) “Is becoming extremely powerful.”

Then he says, because in democracies as we have seen, while marriage is not in terms of property but persons, social status is in terms of property. The society tends to become more and more afraid of violent disturbances that might affect the security and property. As a result, after a certain point, De Tocqueville said, democracy will stress order and obedience at the cost of freedom. And men will be ready to give to the central power more and more power to compel obedience and to limit freedom in order to protect property.

Now here again De Tocqueville was remarkably prophetic, because there are many conservatives who have been ready in the name of law and order to see freedom curbed. Because it threatens property, it threatens the security that they feel is basic. And so security and freedom are pitted one against another, as though it was the freedom that caused it rather than the moral collapse. Moreover he said, in a democracy, there is a resentment against the smallest privilege that anyone else has. Men resent somebody living better than they do, they resent someone else having better clothing, better circumstances, more money than they do. And as a result, through legislation, they seek to equalize the differences between people, to tax and take away from the haves to give to the have not’s, because equality becomes so important in a democracy. And as a result every central government worships uniformity. ‘Put them all on the same level’ as though this were a desirable goal.

So, De Tocqueville concludes, “The democratic age is leading to centralization, as the natural form of government. As long as the democratic spirit prevails, there will be more and more concentration of power, and more and more isolation of the individual.

The love of equality, thus, leads to the centralization of the state as the supreme power. And De Tocqueville said, “Stress equality, and you will always get despotism.” The one follows from the other. [00:10:38]

Europe, he said, is seeing such a trend, very markedly...[edit]

Europe, he said, is seeing such a trend, very markedly. And in commenting on this, he wrote: “Europe has endured in the course of the last half century many revolutions and counter revolutions which have agitated it in opposite directions. But all these perturbations resemble each other in one respect; they have all shaken or destroyed the secondary powers of government.” By this he means that all these lesser powers in society, which are a real government, are destroyed, whether it’s a conservative or radical regime; the net result is the secondary powers are destroyed.

The local privileges which the French did not abolish in the countries they conquered, have finally succumbed to the policy of the princes who conquered the French. These princes rejected all the innovations of the French Revolution except centralization. That is the only principle they consented to receive from such a source. My object is to remark that all these various rights which have been successively wrested in our time from classes, corporations and individuals, have not served to raise new secondary powers on a more democratic basis, but have uniformly been concentrated in the hands of the sovereign. Everywhere the state acquires more and more direct control over the humblest members of a community, and a more exclusive power of governing each of them in his smallest concerns.

As a result, he said, education is now becoming a statist concern. And of course, about the time he was writing it became a state concern in the United States. It was already in Prussia, from whence we got the ideas here. It was spreading throughout Europe, and he saw this as one of the most dangerous things because it would be destructive not only of education but of the family.

Moreover, he said: “If education falls into the hands of the state, before long religion will also. Religion is in danger of falling into the hands of the government. But this is not all, it will not stop there. Centralization requires more and more control so that the private life of the individual will in time be invaded by the centralized state.” This is why we need to listen to De Tocqueville, because you can see how tellingly he saw the problem. No one else as clearly predicted the totalitarianism which in the 20th century is steadily taking over the whole world. [00:14:17]

He said moreover, there will be a control of manufacturing...[edit]

He said moreover, there will be a control of manufacturing. Of the state he said that not only is it the principal manufacturer, but it tends to become more and more the chief, or rather the master of all manufacturers. As private persons become more powerless by becoming more equal, they can effect nothing in manufactures without combination. But the government naturally seeks to place these combinations under its own control.

In other words, you will see huge corporations forming because, the stronger the government gets the stronger business has to get in order to counteract it. But this will not work, they will place these powerful corporations under their control, they will regulate them. Today of course with the monetary situation, it is become increasingly difficult for corporations even to bring money home from sales. What has been the result of this process, what has industry done to counteract it, does anyone know what their recourse has been? Yes, supposing you are selling cars abroad and you find that you can sell them, say, in a country but that country says you cannot take more than so much of your cash outside of our territory, so you find you sold it there, but you can go over there and spend it but you can’t bring it here. [00:16:15]

Yes. Investing and going a little further. No, the multinational corporation. Yes. So, you can’t bring your money home when you sell a Ford, you start a Ford plant there. And as a result, with these multinationals, they have worked to try and get around the impossibility sometimes of getting money to cross borders. So now there is a tremendous hue and cry, both by conservatives unfortunately, and the radicals, about these multinationals as though there were something wicked and sinister about them. But it is only the effort of business to protect itself against the impossibility of carrying on trade abroad, because money does not readily cross frontiers today.

Moreover, and this is a very significant fact because it tells us so much about why Europe is unable to do much to reverse the present trend. You recall we discussed the power of the voluntary associations in the United States. De Tocqueville says that even now in Europe there are controls of these private associations, very few in Europe as compared to the United States, but the European governments have stepped in and are controlling them, because they are afraid of them. They do not want them to flourish.

The progress of equality, De Tocqueville said, “Will lead to tyranny unknown under kings in by gone days.” And so he declared, “There are great oppressions ahead.” [00:18:30]

It will be perhaps a different kind of tyranny, in...[edit]

It will be perhaps a different kind of tyranny, in some countries it will be more gentle outwardly, and he said: “It would degrade men without tormenting them, but it will not necessarily torture. We shall see,” He felt, ‘As equality progresses, the progressive destruction of man, by the state. Moreover he declared, there will be increasingly as the state controls education, controls industry, controls the individual, intervenes in his private life, and becomes the all powerful snoop to use the modern word, it will work to keep people in permanent childhood.

Keep them like children. Children after all need to be controlled. And of course this characterizes our age. This is why the most popular styles in the past decade have been those which have emphasized both for men and women, extremely youthful styles, styles that emphasized the childish. Immaturity; looking perpetually young. And this is an ironic reversal. There was a time when youth wanted to look old, well before its time. Yes. I was just going to speak about that! Yes, one of the most common arguments between any boy and his mother was: “When can I wear long pants?” because as long as you were considered just a boy, you wore knickers. And you reached that point where for several years you were just kicking against the idea of wearing knickers, and if one boy came to school with pants, why every home exploded with arguments, as all the boys insisted: “I want long pants, Johnny so and so is wearing long pants.” [00:21:17]

It was a real problem, because the goal of course was...[edit]

It was a real problem, because the goal of course was maturity. And of course again the goal was to be old enough a little earlier so that you could show the sign of manhood, to wear a beard. And among the Mennonites to this day it’s a strict rule, no one who is not married and supporting his household has a right to a beard, it’s a sign of a man, it’s a sign of age, of maturity. But today on the other hand, instead of age being something respected, and grays hairs to be something accumulated with honor and dignity and pride, the reverse is the true.

And permanent childhood is as it were, the goal. And so we become also children in the process, problems. We need the state, we cannot handle our own affairs, and the federal government or some agency thereof takes care of us, more and more. There is De Tocqueville said, no hope for aristocracy in the days ahead. He was speaking as a French aristocrat. And so he wrote and I quote: “Thus, the question is not how to reconstruct aristocratic society, but how to make liberty proceed out of that Democratic state of society into which God has placed us.”

Not to try to turn back the clock to an order of feudalism, or monarchism that is hopelessly finished. Does not belong in our modern world, can never be reconstructed. But to recognize the democratic temper is here, it will prevail for some time, but to think seriously of all the problems it creates and to come up with some constructive answers.

This is the purpose of Democracy in America by De Tocqueville. [00:23:40]

He came over here not to write just a book for tourists...[edit]

He came over here not to write just a book for tourists, but to study the American prison system and to write on that, which he did. But also write his book so Europeans and Americans could see some of the problems concerning the future as he saw them, and then work constructively to remedy them.

Then however, he closed on a hopeful note. He said and I quote: “Printing has accelerated the progress of equality; and it is also one of its best correctives.” That is, because of printing the idea of equality has been promoted it has been made more easy, byt it can also by means of printing, by education through the word, also become the means of creating a new society, as men are educated to that which is perhaps a possibility for the future. Then, as he spoke about the element of hope, he said: “The men who live in the democratic age upon which we are entering have naturally a taste for independence. They are naturally impatient of regulations; they are wearied by the permanence, even of the condition they themselves prefer.

They are fond of power, but they are prone to despise and hate those who wield it, and they easily elude its grasp by their own mobility and insignificance. These propensities will always manifest themselves, because they originate in the ground work of society which will undergo no change. For a long time they will prevent the establishment of any despotism, and they will furnish fresh weapons to each succeeding generation which shall struggle in favor of the liberty of mankind. Let us then look forward to the future with that salutary fear which makes men keep watch and ward for freedom. Not with that faint and idle terror which depresses and enervates the heart.” [00:26:20]

And then his final word...[edit]

And then his final word. “Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or entirely free. It is true that around every man a fatal circle is traced, beyond which he cannot pass. But within the wide verge of that circle he is powerful and free. As it is with man, so with communities. The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal, but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or to wretchedness.” De Tocqueville’s last comment.

But let us add something further. A point which is basic to this course. We have been analyzing the war of independence, basic documents for history, the Neapolitan War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, and we have done this with an eye to seeing the problems that have arisen historically. Not to emphasize just how great this country is, though I hope you have seen that in the process. But, our perspective has to be different from the radical perspective which looks on our past with contempt. Or, the conservative perspective which says that all we need to do is to get back to the constitution, and all will be well, as though the answer is in the document rather than in Christ. No. What I have tried to deal with as we have covered this period of history, is a perspective on history, a philosophy of history, that is Christian and which the puritans saw. In fact they viewed American history in terms of this fact, and this work. [00:29:04]

Pilgrimage. Pilgrimage. History is a pilgrimage which began with the fall of man, and continues to the second coming. And in that pilgrimage man is a pilgrim, and nations are pilgrims, and as pilgrims they have no abiding place as it were in time, so that we cannot say that the reformation was the golden spot, or the early church was the great point, and we need to get back to that, or the 1776 or 1781 represented the ideal. No. We recognize how much good there has been in the past, we respect it, but we move on growing and building in terms of those things, because history from the Christian point of view is a pilgrimage.

It does involve moving on, it does involve growth, it does involve change because we live in time. And each of us change from year to year, the changes can be good or they can be bad, but if our life is a pilgrimage and our national life is a pilgrimage, then in terms of God we seek ever to grown however much we may stumble for a time.

Now De Tocqueville in a sense has seen it as such, and because he has seen history as a pilgrimage he has tried to give us guidelines here. He has very definitely raised problems. He has not given us answers to them. De Tocqueville while a devout man did not share our faith and our theology. Therefore he could not come up with the answers to the same degree that we can today, both because we have a more Biblical theology, and because we have the advantage of De Tocqueville and a good many years, so that we have seen a great deal more worked out. But we need to see history always as a pilgrimage. [00:31:33]

And as De Tocqueville said, we are not to view the...[edit]

And as De Tocqueville said, we are not to view the future with fear, timidity and terror, but with a recognition that providence, God almighty, governs it. And that in terms of his word, in terms of his purpose, in terms of the certainty of a great triumph on earth there is so much to be done. The problems are very real, we do not know the answers as I hope you got clear tonight because I certainly didn’t have them. Emphatically. But God does. And that is why for us there is hope in history. One cynical philosopher a few years ago, in one university declared to his class: I didn’t hear it, it was told me by a student, that one of the problems of modern man was that under the influence of a Christian past, a religious past, when he comes up to a problem he assumes there are answers. And he said, this is a myth that problems of a necessity have answers. Well, at that point we would have to say emphatically he is wrong. That in God’s world, problems have answers. We may not have them, but they are nonetheless there.

And the certainty is that because God is God, we will come up with answers, if not in our time, then in our children’s and our children’s, children’s time. Are there any questions now about what we have covered?

[Audience Member] What was De Tocqueville’s religious affiliation?

[Rushdoony] He was a Catholic. He was a Frenchman and in his day there was practically nothing else in France. He was a Catholic who was most appreciative of Christian Protestantism, and he felt as we saw the other night that Catholicism was nowhere as good as in the United States, it was at its best here. Any other questions?

Well, tomorrow morning then, we will have the examination. Now I believe we will be meeting in the… Which room? The Gold room. [Tape Ends] [00:34:50]