Opulence and Dependency in a Democratic Age

As in all of his writings, Tocqueville addresses the risk and promise inherent in the democratic arrangement emerging throughout what he called”that the European/Christian world.” However, Tocqueville does so with a continuous eye on what endures in human nature and the essence of politics at the democratic dispensation, which in relation to what is new and everything is to be welcomed and emphasized.
Democracy is an equivocal concept for Tocqueville. It is by no means identical with a regime of political liberty although the America of the 1830s that Tocqueville visited and studied demonstrated that democratic equality may coexist with the full variety of political and individual liberties. The”nature” of democracy–equality, only alone, giving rise to some illiberal”passion for equality” –can and must be maintained with a precious”art” of independence marked by neighborhood self-government, the art of association, along with also a vigorous and independent civil society. This was precisely Tocqueville’s noble job, to’save’ independence and individual greatness at the emerging democratic worldto bring together democratic justice along with some modicum of aristocratic greatness.
Yet, Tocqueville emphasized that tyranny in the form of both challenging and a distinctively democratic soft despotism was a permanent political potential under conditions of modernity. He was above all a partisan of liberty and individual dignity and not of any particular political program or societal form. He was neither unduly nostalgic for the glories of the Old Regime nor blind to new threats to the ethics of the individual soul that would arise from the democracies of their present and future. He thought in democratic justice, at the palpable fact of the common humanity, of individual”similarity,” as he called it. The”most profound geniuses of both Greece and Rome, the most comprehensive of ancient heads” failed to love”that members of the human race have been by nature similar and equal.” Since Tocqueville finds at the beginning of volume II of Democracy in America, it required Jesus Christ coming down to ground for individuals to completely understand this reality. At exactly the same moment, Tocqueville refused to idolize a”democratic” social and political ethic that was constantly tempted to say adieu to political devotion and also to greatness in the individual soul. Such is the spiritual core of Tocqueville’s political science, even the central themes and emphases that animate his idea.
The great French political thinker not only supplied a remarkably precise description of”democratic guy” but wrestled closely with the issues and tensions inherent in the philosophical political and social order. Political doctrine thus matched political sociology at a new and entering mix, as is evidenced in the volume under review.
Opulence and Charity
We instantly enjoy that Tocqueville’s topics –and conundrums–stay our own. Already at the 1830s, Tocqueville was wrestling with the persistence and even exacerbation of poverty or pauperism from England, the very prosperous and”opulent” country on earth. In that speech, Tocqueville noticed that much poorer societies such as Spain and Portugal saw comparatively few indigents while an audience such as himself”will detect having an indescribable shock that one-sixth of the people of the flourishing kingdom [England] reside at the expense of public charity.”
At the second part of the 1835 Memoir Tocqueville tells the story rather nicely. By destroying the monasteries and convents from the 1530s following his break with Rome, Henry VIII suppressed in a fell swoop all the charitable communities in England. A generation later, confronted with the”offensive sight of the people’s miseries,” Elizabeth I established Poor Laws that provided food and an annual subsidy for those in need. This system persisted well into the 19th century and has been in the process of being reformed when Tocqueville along with his buddy and intellectual collaborator Gustave de Beaumont seen the British Isles at 1833. It had served its purpose of relieving the worst forms of poverty. At exactly the same time, this”entitlement,” as we would call it today, made new types of dependence and contributed to a huge increase in out of wedlock birth because mothers received higher support with each kid that entered the planet. The contemporaneity of Tocqueville’s discussion is apparent to even the most cursory and handiest writer. Tocqueville is speaking of issues to which there are no immediate or obvious solutions which very much stay our difficulties.
Tocqueville saw faith as something”grand and virile” that could give rise to some spirited defense of one’s liberty, property, and prerogatives. This connection he pulls, here and elsewhere, between aristocratic manliness and democratic rights, sets Tocqueville apart from the pedestrian modern appeal to natural equal rights. Tocqueville wished to ennoble”les petits,” giving them a stake in a society of free and responsible citizens and moral agents, rather than”levelling” everybody to the identical prostrate condition of mediocrity and powerlessness. The widespread sharing in land ownership was indispensable to this job.
However, Tocqueville saw in the right to be provided for by society come what might, a claim to aid which may enervate and debase human beings rather than”raising the core of man.” In the end of part II of the 1835 Memoir on Pauperism, Tocqueville goes so far as to state
That some regularizedlong-lasting, administrative strategy whose purpose is to provide for the needs of the bad will probably give birth to greater miseries than it can heal, will deprave the population it needs to aid and console, will over time reduce the rich to being tenant-farmers of the bad, will dry up the spring of savings, will stop the accumulation of capital, will lower the development of trade, [and] will dull individual activity and business…
This chilling prophecy and warning, however, isn’t Tocqueville’s final word. It may be said, however, for his worst fear concerning well-intentioned programs of public charity.

The core of section among the very first Memoir is committed to an exposition of the maturation of human needs and wants from man’s crude nation until the new democratic and industrial era that has reached an apex in parliamentary, commercial, and industrial England. Tocqueville was far more sober than that. And while Tocqueville totally enjoys the intrinsic connection between”welfare entitlements,” as we now call them, and also new types of dependence and private degradation, he also knows that private charity isn’t sufficient to deal with the current issue of pauperism.
The English Poor Laws created addiction and multi-generational pauperism since they abstracted out of what Tocqueville saw as a basic truth about human nature: most human beings now have”a natural fire for idleness.” The human desire to”enhance living conditions” is stronger, and not as fundamental, than the primordial desire to eat and live. Necessity compels most men to operate, so one shouldn’t overstate the inherently”entrepreneurial” facets of the human soul. Those come later (such as a minority of human beings) with property to watch over, a suitable civic and moral education, along with the flourishing of an art of association that makes it possible for individuals to come together in common enterprises, great and small. Tocqueville would remind those who today call for a Universal Basic Income ensured by centralized political jurisdiction, or perhaps by supranational associations, that grave evils can arise in the very best of (humanitarian) targets. Public charity understood as a right to supply from the country, proves to become something less than the”amazing idea” with which it is commonly identified. That is a vitally important lesson for any time.
The desire for social justice, whatever that means, should not give rise to facile ideological thinking and to utopian misrepresentations of the wellsprings of their individual soul.Still, Tocqueville saw that the development of contemporary society–and of contemporary political economy–abandoned industrial employees vulnerable to unemployment and destitution when sensed desires for conveniences or consumer goods changed, or when the business cycle exposes them into”sudden and incurable evils.” Tocqueville was left having a horrible conundrum: public charity was essential in any good society that cares about the least among people, but in addition, it risks giving method to grave evils. In the course of both Memoirs, and associated papers and documents, the French political philosopher and statesman provides no ready-made solution for this difficulty that he describes so well. However he articulates a principled middle path between moral and civic indifference, which isn’t possible for this basically Christian soul, along with the false charm of a welfare state that makes new”miseries” of its own from the name of a”right” that eventually enervates the soul and undermines civil and ethical responsibility on the part of the poor and disadvantaged. At exactly the same time, not for once did he think that the English Poor Laws ought to be abolished rather than reformed. Too many vulnerable individuals would fall through the cracks.
Beautiful Failures
One of the charms of the volume is that we see Tocqueville putting forward a set of tentative suggestions and suggestions for working throughout the conundrum he lucidly and powerfully exposed at the very first 1835 Memoir. He did not reach definitive or final answers, but sensible and humane suggestions for mitigating agricultural and industrial pauperism, diminishing irreversible dependence on the country, while preventing the libertarian illusion that civil society could satisfactorily address such a pressing and massive problem without substantial hotel to”public charity.” Tocqueville believed that strategy to be in its own manner, regardless of his taste in principle for private over public charity. Tocqueville envisions a place for employee’s associations in the industrial community of the future, the development of large-scale charitable associations to reinforce and go beyond”individual beneficence,” the possibility for opening public schools for the children of the weak, and also state-supported”savings banks” for employees, agricultural and industrial. These were and stay thoughtful and creative ideas.
Tocqueville was in many respects a”Christian Democrat,” avant la lettre, attempting to conjugate private freedom and moral responsibility. However he’d be appalled by Pope Francis’s proposal in his recent encyclical Frattelli Tutti that charity become mainly, if not solely, a public responsibility. Tocqueville would see the pope’s place as most un-Christian, ignorant in crucial respects of their deepest significance of the holy charity heralded by the Gospels. Moreover, Francis’s apparently”amazing idea” is based on ignorance of the tendency of hammering”public charity” to degrade and enervate individual souls. The desire for social justice, whatever that means, should not give rise to facile ideological thinking and to utopian misrepresentations of their wellsprings of their individual soul.
Let me finish by commending the quantity editor and translator, Christine Dunn Henderson, for putting together an inspired volume and introducing it in a lucid and informative manner. She helpfully highlights that the”paradoxes” at the core of Tocqueville’s ideas on poverty and public wellbeing: among them, the very opulent nation in the world had together with all the very best of goals institutionalized and aggrandized poverty and pauperism, like the”amazing idea” of public charity generated miseries all of its own.
I dissent about only 1 stage: When Henderson suggests that Tocqueville underemphasizes the”dynamism of a democratic society,” at least these experiments, I think she gives expression to some defect in classical liberal financial reflection. She suggests that the bad can”retrain and find new projects, or devise new products to fulfill new market demand.” In the very long run, and having an ideal”balance,” she’s unquestionably perfect. However, what about now, what about those in immediate demand? How can one come to the assistance of those in pressing need without producing new”miseries” along the way? This quantity does not and cannot address the problem which will continue to frighten democratic societies torn between rival claims according to merit, accountability, efficiency, and demand. However, with Tocqueville’s and Henderson’s aid, we see the problem, and may draw about the provisional responses put forward by Tocqueville at a really considerate, suggestive, and efficacious manner.