De Tocqueville on the Family - RR144R32
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Tonight we conclude our studies in De Tocqueville. We saw how De Tocqueville emphasized the dangers in individualism. How individualism was destructive of community life, and of family life. Because it dissolved virtually all relationships and left man as the atomistic individual. To give an example of the difference between an aristocratic culture and as against an individualistic culture such as increasingly we have in the world, let me tell a brief story about an American who visited some years ago in England.
He was invited to the estate of an Englishman, a country gentleman of moderate wealth, and when he arrived at the very lovely old estate, he was, well, greeted is hardly the word, but met at the door by an old butler, who was more than a little cranky. The butler escorted him to his room and unpacked his bags for him, and in the process the American was more than a little shocked by the discourtesy of the butler, and his nosiness, because there was no other word for it, as he was unpacking his bags. It was very obvious to that the butler disapproved of this American, the kind of clothes he had and a good many other things, and made it very, very obvious.
Then, shortly after the butler escorted him to the library room where he was met by the gentleman whom he had come to see. Something about the Americans expression made it clear to the English Gentleman that the butler had been something of a shock to the American, so as the butler left the room he smiled and said: “The old man is a bit peculiar, and not all he should be, but he is a good man, he has served us all his life and his father and grandfather before him served our family.” And for him, that was enough.
The American reported that as the day wore on and the next day, he soon realized that this old butler was even more cantankerous and difficult to get along with for the cook, for the maid, and for the various workmen on this country estate, which was a farm property. As a result it seemed to him more and more unreasonable that any man would retain in his employment a person who was so obnoxious, and so cordially disliked by everyone on the place. [00:03:37]
Because it was obvious to him that everything about...
Because it was obvious to him that everything about this butler irritated everyone else on the property. But before he was through with his day he had changed his mind. What was it? The thing he came to realize was, that while everybody felt annoyed and irked and irritable with regard to this butler, the basic fact was this was secondary to another feeling. They respected the gentleman, the owner of the property, because he was loyal to his employee. And they felt especially loyal to him, because they felt: “He is sticking with the old man though he is dotty, and he certainly will stick with us.” And as a result this gentleman was getting very poor service, very discourteous service from the butler, but a high degree of service and loyalty from everyone else. He would’ve eliminated an annoyance to all of them if he had fired the butler, but he would have lost something in his relationship to all of them Now I cite that story as illustrative, and it could be repeated a hundredfold from various documents and books, of arrangements that are aristocratic, or better, feudal, whereas in an individualistic culture things are atomistic.
You cannot find anywhere in our individualistic culture anyone putting up with anyone like that old butler. But neither on the other hand would you find the kind of loyalty which existed between this employer and his employees. Thus, the modern perspective which we are all the product of, which saturates our mentality, has severe liabilities.
Now I have reviewed this little point and cited its illustration because we are going to deal now with De Tocqueville on the family. And this is in a sense a continuation of his analysis of individualism. Individualism De Tocqueville makes clear, has a devastating effect on the family. As a matter of fact De Tocqueville goes on to say, very plainly, the family in any historic sense is non-existent in the United States. [00:06:19]
The family as it has always existed, an intensely strong...
The family as it has always existed, an intensely strong entity in which it cares for its members in which it makes provision and ties them together with strong bonds, the family in which the children feel a deep loyalty to the parents, and the parents to the children, is gone. Individualism has destroyed, De Tocqueville felt, what once was basic to family life. So that, in individualistic societies we do not really know the family as it once existed and the strength it once had. Only a few vestiges of the old family life remain in the first years of childhood, when the child being very young is intensely dependent upon his or her parents, and feels a very great trust, and love and loyalty to them, and they to him.
However, De Tocqueville says there is very early an independence, a rebelliousness, and a very quick separation from ones parents. Of course when De Tocqueville wrote this is even more true than it is now, in that at that time it was not uncommon for boys to leave home from nine on, and girls to marry in their very early teens, sometimes, on frontier situations, but even if they did not marry as in most of the east they married far later than they do today, the relationship was not as strong as it had once been in a more feudal type of culture. Family structure is aristocratic. If the family is truly the family. The father has an authority, a very pronounced authority. The mother also has a very pronounced authority, and the children are expected to obey and recognize that authority, and render the obedience that is required in a student. [00:08:51]
The family therefore flourishes best in an aristocracy...
The family therefore flourishes best in an aristocracy. In the United States however said De Tocqueville some sons addressed their fathers as equals, and very familiarly. It is not uncommon and you are no doubt aware of instances where parents insist that their children call them by their first name. I know of a number of situations like that where a mother and a father very soon insist that their children speak in that way, familiarly, to them.
The result is that if there is no love, there is no authority. And apart from a feeling of love authority very quickly dissolves in the parental relationship. On the other hand, De Tocqueville because he is extremely fair minded points out that in the European family structure, the laws of inheritance gave everything to the eldest son. As a result, he said, the laws of inheritance there divided the sons. In other words, whereas in a democracy the relationship between parents and children tended to be very weak, in the aristocracies of Europe because of their inheritance laws, the relationship between children tended to be very weak, because there would naturally be a resentment towards the eldest son inheriting the estate, taking all. [00:10:50]
And this happening in many of the countries because...
And this happening in many of the countries because of the laws, irrespective of the fact, whether he was a good son or not, in some cases a son whom the father totally detested as worthless, but still inheriting everything. Thus, De Tocqueville said, these laws of inheritance tended to destroy the strength that aristocracy gave to a family. On the other hand, in a democracy because there is no such inheritance law to create a division between the sons, there is far more love between brothers and sisters than there is in an aristocracy.
Thus, De Tocqueville said, in America, brothers and sisters feel far closer to one another than they do towards their parents. Moreover, De Tocqueville said, it is not all lost. In an aristocracy there is an obedience and a respect for a father. In a democracy while this is often gone, while there is an affectionate regard for the father, there is often more moral strength in what the father says than in an aristocracy. And so, he declared and I quote; “Democracy loosens social ties, but it draws the ties of nature more tight. It brings kindred more closely together while it places the various members of a community more widely apart.” Thus, he said, “Where there is any love, they are closer together than they are in an aristocracy.” But of course the reason for this in America is because of the religious background. So without that religious background not even this closeness would normally exist in a democracy. The family would tend to fall apart.
Moreover as De Tocqueville turns to the education of girls, he writes at great length about the remarkable freedom that girls have in America. Far, far more free than anywhere else in the world. In fact, he said, “Their education, the freedom, their independence of mind is quite remarkable. So much so that the girls are usually as capable in almost every area of normal intellectual and management capacity as men are. What De Tocqueville did not say but could have readily said had he known, in the colonial period the ability of the women in some cases was very remarkable, especially in New England. Among the New Englanders the men who went to sea were often gone a year, 2 years, sometimes 3 years, and during that time the woman ran the family business, whatever work they were engaged in, managed the household, and in every way learned to function. Sometimes if they had a shop or a business the wife ran it. As a result the American woman had gained in the colonial period a very remarkable ability to manage their lives their families businesses, almost anything, including farms. [00:14:50]
He went on to say with regard to girls in America,...
He went on to say with regard to girls in America, these were unmarried women, young unmarried women. “I have been frequently surprised and almost frightened at the singular address and happy boldness with which young women in America contract to manage their thoughts and their language, amid all the difficulties of stimulating conversation. A philosopher would have stumbled along every step of the narrow path which they trod without accidents and without effort. It is easy indeed to perceive that even among the independence of early youth, and American woman is always mistress of herself. She indulges in all permitted pleasures without yielding herself up to any of them. And her reason never allows the rings of self-guidance to drop, though it often seems to hold them loosely. In France, where remnants of every age are still so strangely mingled in the opinions and tastes of the people, women common receive a reserve, retired, and almost conventual, that is like a nun, education. As they did in Aristocratic times. And then they are suddenly abandoned without a guard and without assistance among all the irregularities inseparable from democratic society. Americans are more consistent. They have found out that in a democracy the independence of individuals cannot fail to be very great.
Youth, premature tastes ill restrained, customs fleeting. Public opinion often unsettled and powerless, paternal authority weak and marital authority contested. Under these circumstances believing that they had little chance of repressing in women the most vehement passions of the human heart, they held that the purer way was to teach her the way of combating those passion for herself. As they could not prevent her virtue from being exposed to frequent danger, they determined that she should know how best to defend it. And more reliance was placed on the free vigor of her will, than on safe guards which have been shaken or overthrown. [00:17:10]
Instead then of inculcating mistrust of herself, they...
Instead then of inculcating mistrust of herself, they constantly seek to enhance her confidence in her own strength of character.”
And so, he says, a remarkable independence, a disciplined mind and character and an ability to resist temptations, to be able to see one’s way through problems is characteristic of the American woman to an unparalleled degree. But he said, ironically the minute a girl marries, in America, she loses her freedoms. She loses all her rights. She is reduced to a kind of slavery, so that American women who are so very independent gain nothing from marriage except an irrecoverable loss of independence. They are very severely restricted by law, and are easily destroyed as far as any assets they may have by any man who marries them.
De Tocqueville says girls are aware of this in America, and as a result they do not marry young. And they choose their husbands carefully because they know fully the dangers of being a wife in the United States. The result is they make strong wives, and he has some moving stories of girls with education and ability in frontier cabins, living under the most primitive of circumstances. And yet, keeping up with all the responsibilities of life on a savage environment, where they live the most wretched hand to mouth existence. There is no denying that De Tocqueville had a very high regard for American women.
Moreover, he comments on the very high morality in America, and of the very high morality of women. He says: “in England as in all other countries in Europe, public malice is constantly attacking the frailties of women. Philosophers and statesmen are heard to deplore that morals are not sufficiently strict, and the literary production of the country constantly lead one to suppose so. In America all books, novels not excepted, suppose women to be chaste, and no one thinks of relating affairs of gallantry.
Now this is a very interesting fact, and there was a great deal of prejudice in the United States against foreign novels, because in foreign novels all kinds of sexual sins were regularly recounted with reference to girls, and in America if you had a heroine she was always chaste. She was never guilty of adultery or of fornication. [00:20:32]
And on the rare occasions when such a thing was even...
And on the rare occasions when such a thing was even hinted at, it was always with tragic overtones. How many of you by the way have ever read The Last of the Mohicans? Yes. You remember the two sisters there, did you catch the hints about the one, I think her name was Cora? Yes, well, the one of the two sisters had apparently had some kind of involvement, you are never told what it was. It’s a hush, hush thing, so that Cooper in writing it never even refers directly to it, it is barely hinted at that maybe there is a problem there and a stain on her moral character.
And so of course he has her killed off in the end. Her life is tragic from the stain until the end. This was the only way you see, to deal with such a situation. You didn’t reward sin. And yet she is made in the process a very heroic woman in between. But at the last she dies. Now this was commonplace in America. The audiences or the readers rather did not tolerate any kind of treatment of women as unchaste in the novels. Now in this respect they were dealing with reality. The morality in this country, the sexual morality was of a high character, and there was, as De Tocqueville recognized no double standard. [00:22:25]
In aristocracies, De Tocqueville said, there are severe...
In aristocracies, De Tocqueville said, there are severe liabilities. If you are the son of a Lord or a gentleman and you fall in love with a girl who is not of noble blood you cannot dream of marrying her. That is unthinkable, you know it and she knows it. So, what is the result? The only kind of relationship you have is an adulterous or illegitimate relationship. And as a result this kind of thing becomes standard and accepted. Inequality leaves on an illegitimate relationship as possible. But, in a democracy he says, all are possible mates. There’s no one who is not good enough for you, or for whom you are too good as far as social classes are concerned. You do not marry them because you do not like them and you don’t feel that while they may be just as good a person as you are, your tastes, your background make you somewhat different, and so you reject them for that reason. Not because you think you are superior and above them
As a result, because everybody in a democracy everybody is a possible mate to everyone else, A democracy of conditions results. So that, at that time, there was a democracy of morality, everyone was Christian, whereas if you destroy standards there is a democracy we would say of sin. Having one common standard, you either require everyone in the country to be moral, and you look down on anyone, male and female, who is immoral, or, if there is a collapse of morality it is an across the board thing. [00:24:36]
He comments that...
He comments that: “The problem too, in aristocratic countries, is, that the purpose of marriage is to unite properties.” Now this type of marriage is not and unusual thing, it has been commonplace throughout civilization, and we can go back into ancient times and we find that, for example in Ancient Egypt the Pharaoh’s married half-sisters for the simple reason that it was the only way to retain all the family estates and to avoid going outside and thereby endangering the property and the relationships of the family. Throughout the modern era, the various monarchs of Europe regularly married cousins, for example, George the second married his cousin, his successor George the third married his cousin, and his son George the fourth married his cousin. Now what was the reason for this succession of marriages within the family? And there were a whole series in back of George the Second, of such marriages within the family. The reason was that they wanted to retain and consolidate the property. They did not want to make a European settlement European fashion, whereby some of the property in the family because the girl married someone of another family, passed out of the family. So, keep the property in the family, the estates, the titles of nobility, the landed areas that went with the titles on nobility; as a unit by these marriages within the family.
Well of course one of the results of this type of marriage was that the nobility and especially the royalty of Europe destroyed itself. George the third in case you didn’t know, was often mad. There were times when for as long as ten years he was totally irrational. [00:27:19]
His son was also seriously affected, because while...
His son was also seriously affected, because while he did not have insanity as his father did periodically, his mind did not function properly, and he was not able to remember things beyond a very short time span. On one occasion when he promised to do something for someone he turned and begged him: “Make me do it now, because I will forget by tomorrow.” He knew his weakness there. This is why monarchy disappeared. Because marriages were contracted in terms of property, there was a steady destruction in the mental ability of these families.
Now, whereas in an aristocracy marriages are contracted in terms of property, to unite property rather than persons; “In democracy” says De Tocqueville, “the purpose of marriage is to unite persons.” So he says, the benefit here is very great. Now as you will have noticed by now De Tocqueville is calling attention to some very serious flaws in Aristocracy, he was a member of the old French Aristocracy. And some serious flaws in Democracy, and yet saying: “We are going to have to live with democracy for some time.” But also calling attention to the virtues he saw in democracy. De Tocqueville in other words was taking the attitude: “I’m not here in America just to say I am against democracy, but to deal realistically with the future. To recognize that each system has its good and evils, so that as we look ahead to the future, what is coming? What will succeed the democratic revolutions which are sweeping the world? The democratic mood that in America is turning a Republic into a Democracy, how then can we think about the order of the future? Because just as Aristocracy has disappeared,” (This is what he is implying) “So too will democracy in time, may pass away. But what’s the next step? We have to see the good in each of these things, before and behind us.”
And this is why De Tocqueville is such a healthy directive in our thinking. It keeps us from a blind loyalty; it enables us to appreciate every aspect of the situation, and to look at things more carefully. [00:30:16]
Now, says De Tocqueville, women in America have a masculine...
Now, says De Tocqueville, women in America have a masculine understanding and energy. They can think like a man. But they are still very womanly. Moreover in the American home, the husband is still very clearly the head, and democracy has not altered this. Whereas in Europe, De Tocqueville says, men flatter women, they bow and scrape before them, and kiss their hands and carry on, but behind this façade of very great solicitousness and courtesy there is a secret contempt. Women are things to be regarded as beneath your dignity to treat as your intellectual equal. On the other hand, he said, In the United States you seldom hear a man compliment his wife, and very difficult to get any such thing out of an American husband. They take their wives for granted and all their ways apparently as far as any outward speech is concerned but in spite of this apparent inability of a man ever to say anything nice about his wife to her, he said nonetheless they daily show how much they esteem them.
In other words, they are not treating her like a child that you have to sweet talk and keep happy, but as a co-worker with whom they are happy and proud to be working. There is a confidence on the part of American men in their wives as a partner, as a helpmeet. And women in America indeed are that; they do not act weak. De Tocqueville said moreover, something I’ve called attention to already, that in America the double standard is not common. It is not assumed that the man has the right to philander and to have affairs before he is married and after he is married and yet it is just unthinkable for the woman to do so. It is regarded as morally wrong for both the boy and the girl, the man and the woman to do so.
Whereas in Europe, if a man seduces someone else’s wife or daughter, it is the wife or the daughter who gets clobbered by public opinion, not the young man or older man. “After all, he’s just enjoying himself and she was stupid enough to let him have her, then that’s her own fault.” This was the European attitude. But, he said, the seducer is as much dishonored as his victim. They are both social outcasts. It is considered as wrong for the one as for the other. Now this for De Tocqueville was quite a remarkable fact, because the European pattern was very emphatically the double standard. [00:34:03]
The result, he said, is a remarkable good behavior...
The result, he said, is a remarkable good behavior of men, around women. They do not regard them as something to take advantage of. And he said and I quote; “In America a young married women may alone and without fear undertake a long journey.” This to him was quite remarkable. It would not have been true in Europe. Moreover, he commented on a fact which at that time was to him quite important, because it was not true in Europe. Unfortunately it’s not true in America today. Rape was regarded, he said, in America as a very serious offense. And he wrote: “The legislators of the United States, who have mitigated almost all the penalties of criminal law, still make rape a capital offense, and no crime is visited with more inexorable severity by public opinion. This may be accounted for. As the Americans tend to see nothing more precious than a woman’s honor, and nothing which ought so much to be respected as her independence, they hold no punishment is too severe for the man who deprives her of them against her will.
In France for the same offense is visited with far milder penalties. It is frequently difficult to get a verdict from a jury against a prisoner. Is this a consequence of a contempt of decency or a contempt of women? I cannot but believe that it is a contempt of on and of the other.
Now, he said, one of the problems of democracy is that because of the idea of equality, Americans divide into smaller and smaller circles with those of common interests. All are equal in America, but very few are friends. In America people have a great many acquaintances, and very few friends. The individualism of Americans makes it very difficult for them to be loyal to a person comes what may. To put up with very real defects in people or for others to put up with defects in him. And so people are divided. Small, arbitrary distinction spring up, so that on the one hand you have a great mass of people, the mob as it were, and then on the other hand the very small circle, and not a very strong one.
And this of course is very true. Almost any American, I believe De Tocqueville did not put it in exactly these words, but to put it into modern terms: “Any American looking back five or ten years, and saying: “Now who were my good friends then,” And saying “Who are my good friends now,” Will find that there’s not too much connection between the two.” And this is very true of us all. Because, he said, the ties are not very deep. The rampant individualism makes us unwilling to put up with much from people, whether as friends or as employees, or as employers, or in any way. [00:38:02]
And he said, “This can never fail to be the case...
And he said, “This can never fail to be the case. For human institutions can be changed, but not man. Whatever may be the general endeavor of a community to render its members equal and alike, the personal pride of individuals will always seek to rise above the line and to form somewhere and inequality to their own advantage. In aristocracies men are separated from each other my lofty stationary barriers; in democracies they are divided by a number of small and almost invisible threads, which are constantly broken or moved from place to place. Thus, whatever may be the progress of equality, in democratic nations a great number of small private communities, will always be formed within the general pale of political society. But none of them will bear any resemblance in its manners to the highest class in aristocracies.”
In other words, severe liabilities enter in where individualism and equality prevail. Friendships are really not friendships in any historic sense. And a Damon and Pythias thing, where people are ready to stand by one another through thick and thin, irrespective of what they are like. And for us of course the old kind of friendship is just almost for us to imagine. I know that a mother wrote to me about a week before I left, of the death of an elderly woman, who had lived near her and whom she had known since they were very young, and whom I’ve known since I was a child. Now this woman, Margaret was her name, in the past ten or twelve years has lived just across the way from my mother. And in her old age she always tended to be a rather self-centered woman, but when she was younger her other qualities made her interesting, tolerable. But in her old age, her basic selfishness came more and more to the fore, and she was a total pill. She would come over day after day, and take so much so much of my mother’s time, complaining all the time about her daughters in law that they did not come to see her, and about one thing or another, about the management of her affairs, so that it was painful to sit and listen to her, it was enough to give one a headache.
It was very oppressive to my mother, who with a heart condition found it very difficult to put up with her. So I told her, “Why don’t you simply tell her to get out, and stop putting up with her?” And my mother looked at me very, very blindly, as if I were some kind of an idiot. She said: “She has been a friend all of my life. You don’t do that.”
Now, you see there are two different worlds there. And in that kind of a world there are loyalties which are very important, and which have a deep and abiding character, so that people help one another and do things to a very, very great degree, that are never done in our world. I could go on and cite illustrations of some of the other old timers, whom my mother knows, and how they will in a pinch do anything for one another. And do it in a way that us is very strange and unthinkable, that people who are not even related would have so close a tie.
Moreover, De Tocqueville said, in Aristocracy marriage is for property. It unites property, not people, but in democracy it unites persons. But he says a very curious thing. ”Since in a democracy there is no longer a background of blood or tradition, or inheritance of titles, which marks someone, so that an aristocrat can be very friendly to his coachman and be very democratic with him. In a democracy, the emphasis is not on persons but on property. Whereas in an aristocracy it’s on persons.” [00:43:27]
Now this is a very interesting, a very important fact...
Now this is a very interesting, a very important fact. If you go back to the last century and a century before, especially before the French revolution in Europe, you will find that children of the very poorest peasants, if they showed any intelligence the nobility immediately took them in hand, saw that they got an education, and were glad in every way to promote them because they were interested in persons. But in democracy, how do you associate with people in terms of property? And so a millionaire is never likely to associate with someone who is a member of a labor union. And you tend to go to a church where people have about the same economic level, this is very common place is it not, the people in a congregation will tend to have about the same income level, and you tend in every way to associate with people in terms of their property status.
And the result is a snobbery in America with regard to personal associations, whereas property is not a consideration in marriage. So there is a curious reversal of values here. The goal therefore in America is to gain property. The idea is to get rich, to have property, to have large assets, and men are judged in terms of their assets, their income.
Now De Tocqueville says, given all the liabilities of this position, and the kind of uncouth society it leads to, because of your emphasis is on property rather than persons, friendships are not going to be deep. However, in a democratic society, because the goal of everyone is the accumulation of property, there is likely to be less revolutionary activity. No one wants to rock the boat, everyone wants to accumulate property, and therefore he does not want the destruction of the social order. “If revolution comes to the United States” said De Tocqueville, it will not come from the white population, but from the black race, because of their inequality and their lack of possession of property, they will not have the same desire to avoid rocking the boat.” [00:46:25]
Now we will stop here, to take a little time for recess...
Now we will stop here, to take a little time for recess--- well first we will have questions. Are there any questions about what we have just covered? Yes.
[Audience Member] To what extent would you advocate individualism or the lack of individualism as you have been talking about?
[Rushdoony] Yes, now this is a very good question. In some Calvinistic circles the very word individualism… [Tape Ends] [00:46:50]