De Tocqueville on Democratic Culture - RR144P28
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Tonight we shall deal with De Tocqueville again and his analysis of Democracy in America. In the second volume De Tocqueville begins with a consideration of democratic culture. He points out the United States in its basic perspective is pragmatic and anti-philosophical. However, while anti philosophical, it in essence represents the culmination of modern philosophy as it began in De Carte. The basic presupposition of modern philosophy from De Carte to the present, has been the autonomy of human thought, the mind of man as the ultimate factor, the basic judge, the working God of the universe.
The Americans, he said, are Cartesian, that is, followers of De Carte in a practical sense, in that, “They readily conclude that everything in the world can be explained, and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding.” The mind of man is able to understand and to command all things. Private judgement rules, he said, for the Americans. America represents the triumph of individualism, of the individual autonomous reason.
“Now,” He said: “In Europe this same factor, the triumph of the individual private reason of man and his private judgement has turned the continent upside down, and the French Revolution has been one of its results. So that while Europe has not perhaps developed as far as America in this respect in its emphasis on private judgement, the results have been far more deadly in Europe. “This” He said, “Is for two reasons. First, the religious nature of Americans has prevented this autonomous reason from going as far and from becoming as deadly as it has in Europe. Christianity,” He points out emphatically, “Did create American society. It still governs it.” “Then, second,” De Tocqueville says, “The Americans are democratic, but they have not had a democratic revolution, as France has had, to destroy the past. And therefore they do have roots in the past and are not as radical and as deadly in their insistence on private judgement as others.” [00:03:26]
De Tocqueville then speaks about the implications of
De Tocqueville then speaks about the implications of democracy, its effect on culture. Democracy, is literally, mob rule. Demos, People or the mob, and Cratic, rule. Majority rule, he says, governs in a Democracy. However, majority rule is no more conducive to freedom than is the rule of a tyrant or a dictator. Slavery is Slavery, De Tocqueville declares, whether our oppression is by one man or a million men. If a million men have the majority in this situation, and they dictate that it shall be: “As we say, and no other,” It is no less a tyranny than when one man commands everyone. Men nowadays, he declares, are slaves to what in modern terminology we would call mild psychology.
In a democracy people follow fads. Their dress, their appearance is governed by what the mob determines is the acceptable thing. And people are afraid to go out dressed or appearing in ways contrary to the rule of the mob. So he said, in ways small and great we have in Democracy the tyranny instead of one man, of millions of men. The United States, he said, is the most Democratic country in the word. But it is also where the Roman Catholic Church, of which De Tocqueville was a member, makes the most progress. And at this point he makes a very unusual prediction. He sees the future as one of more and more democracy, more and more insistence on private judgement, more and more anarchy created by this extension of democracy, so that people will on the one hand go overboard in this direction towards anarchy, or will run towards authority. [00:06:21]
So, he said, the future is one on which on hand there
So, he said, the future is one on which on hand there will be a surrender of Christianity, in the name of democracy, of vast throngs who will move towards an anarchistic kind of situation, individually, and on the other hand, many people returning to the Church of Rome. There will be democracy on the one hand, and on the other a hunger for a genuine, a sound authority.
Moreover, he said, the effect of Democracy will be destructive on Christianity. Democracy emphasizes equality and unity. Applied to religion, this spells pantheism. You want all powers in the universe to be alike, everything to be God, since all men are equal, and all things are equal, theologically this means that everything is God. Equality moreover is faith and a philosophy which calls for the indefinite perfectibility of man. There are no limits to perfection. As a result he said, we have something that is quite unusual for a European: Planned obsolescence. Now, this seems strange to us today when we are seeing the outcome of planned obsolescence to a much clearer degree. But, he cites, a discussion with a sailor, and he asks him: “Why do you Americans build ships that are not intended for a long life, for a short life? In Europe when we build a ship that ship is expected to last for generations.” The answer of the American seaman was a very practical one. He declared that there are so many new improvements in navigation, and in ship building, that to build a ship to last more than a relatively short time was a waste of energy and of money. A ship should be built to have a relatively short life span because it would not be long before there would be a superior ship out, and you would want to have that superior ship. You could not therefore afford an investment in something with too long a lifespan, and too costly a construction. [00:09:24]
Moreover, De Tocqueville said and I quote
Moreover, De Tocqueville said and I quote: “Equality begets in man the desire of judging everything for himself. It gives him in all things a taste for the tangible and the real, a contempt for tradition, and for forms. As a result he said, with this belief in continuous perfectibility, and a contempt for tradition and forms, one of the remarkable things about democracy, one of the assets of the democratic mood is that it is a great stimulus for progress. If you are always dissatisfied, and confident that something better will come along, you will not be too greatly attached to that which is old. It will be your desire to see it pass away soon, so that there can be something new brought forward.
Now, to give you a practical illustration of this mood, let me cite and argument that was waged some years ago before you were born. I think all of you have seen at some time or another the Model T. The Model T Ford. You are all familiar with it are you not? The Model T Ford was quite a remarkable car in that it was phenomenally cheap, it had a versatility in that you could drive it almost anywhere, you could drive it in farm areas where no other car could go, you could take it off the road and take it off a hillside, you could drive through a stream and it was high enough off the ground that you got through without drowning your motor, and it had the added virtue, it was so simple in construction that almost any boy and almost any man could take it apart and put it together again, and therefore overhaul, repair, and maintain the motor by himself. It was also capable of a fair amount of speed. Now, Henry Ford had a principle of salesmanship with regard to the Model T. He declared: “You can get it in all colors provided you choose black.” It was a standardized product. It remained the same, virtually, year in and year out. It thus made it possible for you to buy one and think of very little change ahead, and there were those who said: “This is the ideal.” [00:13:06]
Instead of having new models every year, Ford should
Instead of having new models every year, Ford should standardize this, and continue producing because to take the attitude of putting out a new model and endless progress as Chrysler confirms, is to open up the consumer to endless expense, whereas the Model T. provides the possibility of a good car that will run indefinitely, and be maintained at a very nominal expense.
Now it is true the Model T did have an ability to run almost indefinitely. The Model T’s were running far, far longer than almost any car that’s ever been put on the market, long after 28 or I believe it was, that the last Model T. was put out, the Model T’s were used all throughout the depression, in many instances used through the War years in the western farm areas, and were still going strong till antique collectors were buying them up in isolated areas. [00:14:27]
However, this tendency to insist upon halting process
However, this tendency to insist upon halting process as it were, arresting it, was contrary to the American trend, and when Ford tried to do it, the last year or two of the Model T’s his sales plummeted, they fell off drastically. The point that De Tocqueville had made, that it is part of the Democratic condition and stimulus in America to look for something new and to plan obsolesce in the confidence that there will be something newer and better coming along very soon, made it impossible in this country to work out a standardized car. So that while Ford tried it briefly, it failed. He had to go on and produce the Model (T?) the Model A, and other cars. Now, this aspect of the American culture as De Tocqueville described it, has to a degree caught in Europe, but there has been a far greater degree of standardization in Europe than has been possible in this country.
You are no doubt familiar with the fact that many European cars have the same structure, and that variations are relatively minor for a number of years. The Mercedes Benz, the Volkswagen, and many another foreign car will maintain basically the same appearance and the same structure, year in and year out. It is easier to build in terms of an indefinite use in Europe.
The American tradition however was against this, and De Tocqueville points out some of the implications of this in a very important passage. He said: “Democracy stimulates progress, whereas permanent inequality leads to stagnation.” Let me quote from the first book of the second volume, chapter 10. “All that I mean to say is this: Permanent inequality of condition leads men to confine themselves to the arrogant and sterile research of abstract truths, while the social tradition and the institutions of Democracy prepare them to seek the immediate and useful practical results of the sciences. This tendency is natural and inevitable. It is curious to be acquainted with it, and it may be necessary to point it out.”
Then he goes on to say that: ”If men who are the leaders of nations had this temperament, that they could see new tendencies instead of sitting there trying to hold back the future, they would be able to recognize the things that are coming, and to deal with them more clearly.” But he said, the anti-democratic temper always looks to the past rather than the future, it does not want change, it does not welcome it, and therefore it has now stimulus to progress. [00:18:27]
You can see how, in a sense, the conservative mood
You can see how, in a sense, the conservative mood has become almost a European temperament, rather than an American on. Then he continued to say: “Because the civilization of ancient Rome perished, in consequence of the invasion of the barbarians, we are perhaps too apt to think that civilization cannot perish in any other manner. If the light by which we are guided is ever extinguished, it will dwindle by degrees and expire by itself. By dint of close adherence to mere applications, principles would be lost sight of. And when the principles were wholly forgotten, the methods derived from them would be ill pursued. New methods could no longer be invented, and men would continue to apply without intelligence and without art, scientific processes no longer understood.”
Let me stop there to comment on that. Now, if you had lived, say a century and twenty or thirty years ago, and if you had had the mentality of so many people today who have lost the American tradition because they have become heirs of the tradition of Rousseau, what those men would’ve said, say if they looked at the energy crisis of 1830, they would’ve said: “The world is facing a very severe energy crisis.” Well, let’s put it back a little earlier, to be safe. 1800 or thereabouts. “There is only so much whale-oil in the world. And what future is there for mankind? How dare we go on having babies, if we know the oceans have only so many whales in them, and if we kill off all the whales, where will we find whale oil?” In other words, De Tocqueville’s point is well taken. The historic European attitude, the reactionary move, looks at the future only in terms of the possibilities of the present. If you look at the future only in terms of the possibilities of the present, you are going to misread the future every time.
However, if you recognize that the future has its own possibilities, then you are going to see the future in terms of something radically different, you are going to recognize that your vision is not capable of predicting the future. Now today there is a new kind of so-called science, which is very much taught in some universities. And you can buy a number of books, the paperback books now have them, futurology. Toppler has one, and there are several others that deal with the future and try to predict what the world is going to be like in the year 2000. And they are all ridiculous. Because all of them without exception see the problems of the future, in terms of the present and they see no possibility of any new break through. [00:22:50]
This is why they are convinced that the energy crisis
This is why they are convinced that the energy crisis is going to be permanent, and is only going to get worse and worse. Well, it will, only if there are such total controls that in the name of liberalism and socialism, a totally reactionary stand is taken to bar progress.
Now De Tocqueville continues: “When Europeans first arrived in China 300 years ago, they found that almost all the arts had reached a certain degree of perfection there, and they were surprised that a people which had attained this point should not have gone beyond it. At a later period they discovered some traces of the higher branches of science, which were lost. The nation was absorbed in productive industry. The greater part of its scientific progresses had been preserved, but science itself no longer existed there. This served to explain the strangely emotionless state in which they found the minds of this people. The Chinese in following the track of their fore-fathers, had forgotten the reason by which the latter had been guided. They still used the formula without asking for its meaning. They retained the instrument, but they no longer possessed the art of altering or renewing it. The Chinese then had lost the power of change. For them to improve was impossible, they were compelled at all times and at all points to imitate their predecessors, lest they should stray into utter darkness, by deviating for an instant from the path already laid down for them. The source of human knowledge was all but dry, and though the stream still ran on it could neither swell its waters nor alter its channel. Notwithstanding this, China had subsisted peaceably for centuries. The invaders who had conquered the country assumed the manners of the inhabitants and order prevailed there. A sort of physical prosperity was everywhere discernible revolutions were rare and war was so to speak unknown. It is then a fallacy to natter ourselves with the reflection that the Barbarians are still far from us, for if there be some nations which allow civilization to be torn from their grasp, there are others who trample it themselves under their feet.” [00:25:42]
A very good point
A very good point. And it’s a very interesting fact that in our life time a very brilliant German sociologist who came to this country and became an American, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, In his book: The Christian Future, commented along the same way about China, but he went a step further. He said China had no progress, because it had no faith. It had become relativistic. When you are a relativist, instead of having an absolute God and a standard by which all things are judged, you say all things are relative. Well, if all things are relative and nothing is good and nothing is evil, and nothing is better and nothing is worse, and life and death are equally good and all things are equally good and there is no meaning to anything, the consequence of such a position is that progress is impossible. Because if all things are relative, what do you progress to? Nothing is better than anything else. And so he said, when China became relativistic, progress was impossible in China for the Chinese people. the only time they had any progress was when some foreign invader conquered them, and for a while pushed them ahead, and then when they absorbed the philosophy, they themselves reached stagnation, and China would sink back again into no progress, a dead level. [00:27:31]
“Now,” said Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, “Pragmatism, the philosophy of John Dewey, and progressive education in the schools are producing” What he termed: “The Chinafication of America.” America has been the scene of tremendous progress, because of its tradition, but because of this standard of progressive education, the philosophy of John Dewey, Pragmatism; the idea of progress now is destroyed. There is no ground in terms of which you can say anything is better than anything else. And so: “We will see,” He said “The spirit of stagnation enter into America, the arresting, the attempt to arrest the future. Whereas,” He declared, and surprising for a man who was in no sense an orthodox Christian, “The Spirit of Christianity is the spirit of Abraham, who left his home, led by God, to seek a city. Going out into a strange land, going out into the unknown, into the future. Commanding the future, and establishing the future to this day. So,” He said: “As against the mind of John Dewey you have the mind of an Abraham. That’s the Christian mind, the Biblical mind, and progress is possible with that.”
Now, because the American mind is, De Tocqueville said, “A mind that believes in progress,” It has this Christian background, it has the Democratic Spirit, it believes emphatically in obsolescence, because why make something to last forever when something better is going to come along. “Therefore,” De Tocqueville said emphatically: “The United States will in the years ahead see remarkable progress, precisely because everything in its culture calls for advance. It does not want to stand still in terms of what things are today.” Well of Course De Tocqueville was most certainly right, and at that point of course the United States was on the threshold of a vast number of inventions that came to the fore in the 1840’s and 50’s. [00:30:37]
SO that in one area after another, America which was
SO that in one area after another, America which was already marked by progress, made tremendous progress in every area, a rapid industrialization, a rapid development in one sphere of the practical sciences after another.
Now, De Tocqueville said: “This raises another question. Will this kind of mentality, this kind of outlook cheapen progress, will it cheapen polity?” He made this statement, and I quote: “When none but the wealthy had watches, they were almost all very good ones. Few are now made which are worth much, but everybody has one in his pocket.” Unquote. Very interesting point. There is a measure of truth to it. Some years ago my father had in his congregation a man, a watch maker who sold watches and had a private collection of rare watches, rare timepieces, going back to and old Arabian water clock, and even earlier examples of timepieces, ancient hour glasses, and some of the very early watches.
Now some of those watches were the most remarkable things. Commanders and ship captains which not only on one dial showed you the time, but on another you had a compass, on still another there was an elaborate thing for the computation of the cycles of the moon, and the day of the year and the day of the month, and all kinds of practical information, practical things that a seaman would need. Now a watch like that certainly must’ve cost the owner a fortune. A watch like that was not the one that anyone could have.
But America began to mass produce cheap watches in the last century, De Tocqueville was right. And so the type of rare watch that had previously been commonplace in the world, a master watch maker making a few watches a year to be sold to wealthy lords and important people, jeweled affairs which today you rarely see except in one or two museums, that type of watch making all but disappeared. One or two Americans remain as watch makers of that sort, making watches for the wealthiest gold mine owners of the west, and some (a field of?) wealthy bankers of San Francisco.
By and large the mass produced watch which any working man could buy, flooded America. [00:34:30]
When I was a boy, and in fact when I was a man right
When I was a boy, and in fact when I was a man right up until the fifties, you could go out in the 30’s, the 40’s, the 20’s, and buy a dollar watch which was a good timepiece. Now there was nothing remarkable about it in workmanship, but it kept fairly good time, dependable time. And it was something that every farmer could carry around.
When I was a boy, farmers wore overalls. When they went out to work in the fields, or more commonly in the earlier days, behind horses or a mule, they had these dollar watches on a leather cord in their overall. And every farmer had one. Mass production, you see, in Democracy, replaces the fine artisan who makes for a few.
On the other hand we must say to De Tocqueville, when he says that this will cheapen quality, that in the long run it does not. Because what has happened to watch making since then? True we don’t produce watches with solid gold cases and gems set in the case, watches that are a work of art, but because we are mass producing them now there is an incentive to the watch makers, at all times to produce a more efficient watch, which more and more people can buy and can depend upon to have very precise timing. [00:36:44]
As a result we are seeing, perhaps not as beautiful
As a result we are seeing, perhaps not as beautiful watches as we once did, over the years the emphasis on the watch has been less and less as the watch as a work of art, even with the mass produced watches there was some emphasis on it, but now increasingly, on accuracy, and good service, serviceability.
The free market then, indeed while it does for a time cheapen quality by mass production, then works to improve quality and performance. So that while, De Tocqueville had a good point, in the long run even that point is invalidated. Then, another point that he makes as he discusses American Culture, In chapter 12 of book one of volume two, he has some very interesting comments about Washington D.C., not as important as the other matters we have been discussing, but I think in view of the fact of the proximity of Washington, they are well worth taking a little bit of time to consider. First to read and then to make some observations.
“In a democratic community individuals are very powerless, but the state which represents them all and which contains them all in its grasp is very powerful. Nowhere do citizens appear so insignificant as in a democratic nation; nowhere does the nation itself appear greater, or does the mind more easily take in a wide general survey of it. In democratic communities the imagination is compressed when men consider themselves, it expands indefinitely when they think of the State. Hence it is that the same men who live on a small scale in narrow dwellings frequently aspire to gigantic splendor in the erection of their public monuments.
The Americans have traced out the circuit of an immense city on the site which they intended to make their capital, but which up to the present time is hardly more densely peopled than Pontoise,” (That’s a small French town) “though according to them it will one day contain a million of inhabitants.” (He is of course, skeptical) “They have already rooted up trees for ten miles round, lest they should interfere with the future citizens of this imaginary metropolis. They have erected a magnificent palace for Congress in the center of the city and have given it the pompous name of the Capitol.
The several States of the Union are every day planning and erecting for themselves prodigious undertakings which would astonish the engineers of the great European nations.” [00:40:10]
“Thus democracy not only leads men to a vast number
“Thus democracy not only leads men to a vast number of inconsiderable productions, it also leads them to raise some monuments on the largest scale, but between these two extremes there is a blank.”
“The Spaniards found the city of Mexico full of magnificent temples and vast palaces, but that did not prevent Cortes from conquering the Mexican empire with six hundred foot soldiers and sixteen horses.
If the Romans had been better acquainted with the laws of hydraulics they would not have constructed all the aqueducts which surround the ruins of their cities, they would have made a better of their power and their wealth. If they had invented the steam engine perhaps they would not have extended to the extremities of their empire those long artificial roads which are called Roman Roads. These things are at once the splendid memorials of their ignorance and of their greatness.
A people which should leave no other vestige of its track than a few leaden pipes in the earth, and a few iron rods upon its surface, might have been more the master of Nature than the Romans.” [00:41:29]
Now there is a very interesting point here
Now there is a very interesting point here. You know it’s an interesting fact when you go to the various parts of the world to see the great buildings you are not looking at the great parts of the civilization, but at its products in its time of decline. Rome built all its great buildings, after the Republic had given way to the Empire, and after the Empire had become an ugly tyranny. In other words, before that the strength, the glory of Rome was manifested in a free people. But when the Romans were no longer free, then their glory was manifested in giant monuments, arches, buildings, all kinds of bands and the like. Again, during the glory of the Middle Ages when it was truly a Christian civilization, the gems of churches that were built were by and large smaller churches. And the real glory of that era was in the faith and in the life of the people.
But when they began to put up the giant cathedrals, the faith was essentially gone. And they had turned, instead of building up the life of the people, to building monuments, to set forth their greatness.
Now De Tocqueville detected signs of this monument building in the United States, that early. This had not been the intention of Washington, with regards to Washington D.C. You will recall that he saw it as an industrial center, with factories and the like because of the proximity of coal in what is now West Virginia. Now, as Washington has grown in terms of its marble palaces, the freedom of the people has declined. Nations become monument builders to the degree that they start varying the freedom of the people. This is an important correlation that we need to recognize.
Are there any questions now, before we take a little break because our second session, also with regard to De Tocqueville will take a little longer? [00:44:45]
Are there any questions about what we have covered
Are there any questions about what we have covered in De Tocqueville thus far? Yes.
[Audience Member] I’m wondering too if part of the reason for this …?... Modernism this feeling or belief that we have arrived, that we can go no further.
[Rushdoony] Yes, you see when you combine that cult of modernity, which in my Nature of the American System I point out, meant that the spirit of the age reveals the ultimate in truth. And you have to be with the spirit of the age because here all the power in being has expressed itself you see. Modernity, the ultimate, the absolute is in the modern. Combine that with Relativism, when all things are equal in value, what need to progress? The only thing that creates any change is, because the mob moves on to something, and so everyone else moves along. It is not progress, it is merely blind movement. Any other questions? [Tape Ends] [00:46:22]