Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Alexis de Tocqueville

No one I know of understood democracy as well as Alexis de Tocqueville and had the gift to express his insights in clear concise terms.

Barry is trying to shift the focus away from the very real scandals to inequality. Here is what Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 noticed what might be called the paradox of equality: As social conditions become more equal, the more people resent the inequalities that remain.

"Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy," Tocqueville wrote. "This complete equality eludes the grasp of the people at the very moment they think they have grasped it . . . the people are excited in the pursuit of an advantage, which is more precious because it is not sufficiently remote to be unknown or sufficiently near to be enjoyed."

One result: "Democratic institutions strongly tend to promote the feeling of envy." Another: "A depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom."

Which makes a fine argument of preventing the tyranny of the majority from seeking to right perceived wrongs.

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