April 18, 2019

GOOD QUESTION: Will Tocqueville’s Dilemma Crash America?

Tocqueville insisted that old regime aristocrats felt compelled by laws and customs to take some care of their servants, that they were bound, however distantly, to their peasants by the land they shared and their regular interactions. The new industrial oligarchs would find themselves free of even these weak bonds. Tocqueville was not arguing for a return to feudalism; he was trying to show just how bad the new oligarchs would be. Workers and masters would see one another only at the factory and otherwise have no point of contact and certainly no sense of responsibility. “The manufacturing aristocracy of our day,” remarked Tocqueville, “after having impoverished and brutalized the men whom it uses, leaves them to be nourished by public charity in times of crisis. This results naturally from what precedes. Between worker and master relations are frequent, but there is no genuine association.”

Perhaps the state, by reducing material insecurity and regulating industry, could offer a partial escape from the logic of Tocqueville’s argument. But it would not fully counter the dynamic that concerned him unless it also somehow brought into existence the “genuine association” that he thought was necessary for true freedom. The more pessimistic second volume of Democracy in America presses us to worry, however, that a state powerful and centralized enough to effectively regulate the industrial economy would also, by virtue of its power and centralization, crowd out the local politics most conducive to the arts of association.

Federalism was the Founders’ attempt to balance local politics with a national government, but progressivism tipped the balance far in Washington’s favor, and seeks to tip it even further.

Still, an interesting piece and worth your time.

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