Posts tagged with: tocqueville

Blog author: kosten.joseph
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008


Yesterday I enjoyed a stimulating presentation of Harvard Law Professor and current U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon’s new Italian-language collection of essays, Tradizioni in Subbuglio (Traditions in Turmoil). Glendon has previously spoken at Acton’s closing Centesimus Annus conference at the Pontifical Lateran University and her address has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets and Morality.

Situated near the Pantheon at the Istituto Luigi Sturzo, the event was attended by professors, lawyers, journalists and Vatican officials. Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton, and I attended the book release which turned into a mini-conference on human dignity and human rights.

Prof. Valerio Onida, an Italian judge, commented that Glendon’s writings “represent a positive outlook that is diverse and encompasses many aspects of humanity. Human dignity, as represented in this work,” Onida continues, “is urgent for the whole world. The problems that affect some aspects of humanity affect the whole global human community.” Veering away from the direct commentary on the book, Onida expressed his view that the real problem “is that there are so many people who do not enjoy basic human rights.” In closing, Prof. Onida expressed thanks for the discourse of Mary Ann Glendon because “it explores these issues and clarifies the limitations of legislation.”

Following Onida, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (where Glendon served as president from 1994 until her appointment as ambassador), gave an excellent discourse covering Traditions in Turmoil as well as other socio-economic issues. He cited Tocqueville at several points, saying, “the manners of the people are more important than the laws. This was one of the basic differences Tocqueville saw between France and the United States.” Sanchez accordingly addressed the need for a moral culture in the fields of economics and politics. Complementing Glendon’s research and understanding of the human person, he declared that “Many types of institutions have an agenda, both in Europe and the United States. An understanding of fundamental human development is crucial for understanding the development of society. Indifference to values creates many problems we face in today’s society.”

Closing the presentation of her book, Glendon made a few brief comments. She reminded those present that “Traditions, if they are alive and healthy, are systems in movement. As Alasdair Macntyre has put it, a living tradition is constituted by an ongoing argument about the goods that give it point and purpose. As for turmoil, this troubling state is not necessarily bad for a living tradition. In fact, a period of turmoil—an encounter with new and disturbing elements—can be the springboard for a great period of creativity, as well as a time of risk.”

Glendon’s book contains several fascinating chapters, including ones on the cultural supports of the American democratic experiment, Rousseau and the revolt against reason, the illusions of absolute rights, and the 1995 UN Beijing Women’s Conference, where she served as the head of the Holy See delegation.

While it appears that Glendon’s work is not very well-known in Italy, that should change with the publication of this book and, of course, her term as ambassador.

The University Bookman, a publication of the Russell Kirk Center, reviews Dr. Samuel Gregg’s The Commercial Society: Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age in its Fall 2007 issue. Actually, the Bookman reviewed it twice.

Reviewer Robert Heineman, a professor of political science at Alfred University in New York, described the book as an “exceptionally well written volume” that should be read by anyone concerned about human freedom and progress.

Heineman has this to say about Gregg’s discussion of democracy in the book:

As he so aptly notes, in a democracy, a majority is considered authoritative; whereas, this is definitely not the case in commercial enterprises. Moreover, in democratic politics, the ability to exercise self-restraint is far more difficult than it is in the business world. Interests are continually importuning their representatives for more largesse or other benefits, usually at the expense of commercial enterprises. The trend, then, is inherently toward bigger, more restrictive government, perhaps even arbitrary government. As Gregg shows, Wilhelm Roepke argued persuasively that the expanded welfare state contains disincentives for the kind of behavior—self-discipline, hard work, saving—that is important to commercial activity.

Thomas E. Woods Jr., author of The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, had this to say about The Commercial Society:

Thankfully for Gregg he has no plans to run for political office, for his chapter on democracy would surely be waved menacingly before the public at every opportunity. As with the rest of his arguments he has much more to say than we can properly analyze here, but he follows F. A. Hayek, who once noted that “unlimited democracy is bound to become egalitarian.” “Democracy,” Gregg writes, “tends to encourage a fixation with creating total equality because it requires everyone to relate to each other through the medium of democratic equality and encourages us first to ignore and then to dislike and seek to reduce all the differences that tend to contradict this equality, particularly wealth disparities.” (H. L. Mencken was more biting: government, he said, is “a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.”)

Gregg, director of research at Acton, also contributed an article to the current issue of the Bookman. In “Tocqueville as Économiste,” Gregg looks at a new work by French scholars Jean-Louis Benoît and Éric Keslassy who have collected some of the economic writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the great commentator on American democracy. In the review, he writes:

Tocqueville’s writings about how to address poverty quickly reveal him to be no radical libertarian. The state, he always believed, had responsibilities in this area. At the same time, Tocqueville was deeply conscious of the limited effectiveness of state action in this area, not to mention the unintended consequences of many interventionist policies about which economists are skilled at reminding those who see state action as the universal elixir to all social problems.

The Commercial Society is available for online purchase from the Acton Institute Book Shoppe.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, January 4, 2007

With the publication this month of The Commercial Society – Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age, Samuel Gregg embarks on an exploration of the key foundational elements that must exist within a society for commercial order to take root and flourish. Guided by the thoughts of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gregg studies the challenges that have consistently impeded and occasionally undermined commercial order. This commentary, excerpted from the new book, explains why people who begin to exceed their “immediate needs and acquired responsibilities … begin to develop opportunities to be generous to others.”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, February 8, 2006

With the publication of Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI is warning that an all-encompassing government would be unable to provide the one thing that people really need — loving, personal concern. Sam Gregg sees parallels between Benedict’s new encyclical and Tocqueville’s 19th century understanding of the autonomous, social associations that gave America its dynamic character and limited government power.

Read the full commentary here.