Posts tagged with: tocqueville

Daniel Mahoney, professor of political science at Assumption College and lecturer at this year’s Acton University, (find his lectures here) wrote an excellent review in City Journalof Thomas Sowell’s new book, Intellectuals and Society. Sowell argues against the hyper-rationalist tradition of modern intellectuals whose theories tend to be divorced from reality and hostile to tradition and what Michael Polanyi called “tacit knowledge” of everyday people. As Mahoney notes, this has been a recurring theme of Sowell’s work throughout the years beginning with his fine book A Conflict of Visions. Mahoney writes:

Sowell, it’s true, denies being an intellectual, and we must take him at his word. He renews the critique of “literary politics” first limned by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France and Alexis de Tocqueville in The Old Regime and the Revolution. Burke and Tocqueville both observed a new intellectual type: thinkers inebriated by revolution and the dream of a radically new social order, and dismissive of the inherited wisdom of the past. Burke and Tocqueville didn’t hesitate to denounce injustice when they saw it, whether British oppression of Indians and the Irish or chattel slavery in America. But their critiques drew on the best traditions of Western civilization. They avoided the “rationalist” illusion that the world could be created anew. In this spirit, Sowell refuses to judge ideas by their supposed good intentions, but rather by their effects on human beings.

Read the entire review here.

I know I am a little late on this post, but…

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, but if we want to understand its origins, one of the best sources is Alexis de Tocqueville’s master work, Democracy in America and his chapter on Democracy and Pantheism. It’s short, but to the point. It’s also Tocqueville so read it carefully.

I found an online version at the University of Virginia’s website. You can read the chapter and the whole book here or get Harvey Mansfield’s translation or the edition translated by George Lawrence and edited by J.P. Mayer.

Tocqueville writes:

It cannot be denied that pantheism has made great progress in our age. The writings of a part of Europe bear visible marks of it:…This appears to me not to proceed only from an accidental, but from a permanent cause.

When the conditions of society are becoming more equal and each individual man becomes more like all the rest, more weak and insignificant, a habit grows up of ceasing to notice the citizens and considering only the people, of overlooking individuals to think only of their kind. At such times the human mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once, and it constantly strives to connect a variety of consequences with a single cause. The idea of unity so possesses man and is sought by him so generally that if he thinks he has found it, he readily yields himself to repose in that belief. Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator, he is still embarrassed by this primary division of things and seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.

If there is a philosophical system which teaches that all things material and immaterial, visible and invisible, which the world contains are to be considered only as the several parts of an immense Being, who alone remains eternal amidst the continual change and ceaseless transformation of all that constitutes him, we may readily infer that such a system, although it destroy the individuality of man, or rather because it destroys that individuality, will have secret charms for men living in democracies. All their habits of thought prepare them to conceive it and predispose them to adopt it. It naturally attracts and fixes their imagination; it fosters the pride while it soothes the indolence of their minds.

And then at the end the chapter–Tocqueville makes a passionate call against it. He writes

Among the different systems by whose aid philosophy endeavors to explain the universe I believe pantheism to be one of those most fitted to seduce the human mind in democratic times. Against it all who abide in their attachment to the true greatness of man should combine and struggle.

There is nothing more to add. Hope you had a happy earth day

One of the main arguments for nationalized health care is a moral argument: Health care is a right and a moral and just society should ensure that its people are taken care of–and the state has the responsibility to do this. Bracketing for the time being whether health care is actually a right or not–it is clearly a good, but all goods are not necessarily rights–whether the state should be the provider of it is another question.

But there is another question as well: It is often assumed that those arguing for national health care and socialized medicine have the moral high ground and those of us who oppose it are always arguing on economic terms. I would argue that this is a ground too easily given and not deserved. While the economics are pretty clear (see Hunter Baker’s post), the moral arguments against nationalized health care are sometimes overlooked. Here are a couple of reasons why nationalized health care is in fact not a morally pure as proponents would like us to believe.

1. Handing something off to the state so citizens don’t have to take responsibility for themselves and others doesn’t doesn’t really contribute to the moral fabric of a society.
We love to talk about solidarity and the common good but too often solidarity gets turned into “let the state take care of it.” A broader and I would argue morally rich concept of the solidarity and the common good would look to human flourishing and a rich civil society and turn to the state only as the last resort.

It hurts the common good to have the state take over responsibilities that we should bear ourselves or for our fellow citizens. A large nanny state contributes to the “individualism” that Tocqueville warned about: a turning into self that isolates us from everyone but our nearest circle. If the state does everything for us then we don’t need to care about our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens. This means the breakdown of guess what–solidarity. Solidarity is the driving principle behind subsidiarity, voluntary organizations, and charity. Love of neighbor should prompt us to help each other not pass it it off to the state.

From a moral point of view, having the state take over health care breaks down solidarity and harms the common good.

2. At least equally important–how moral is a health care system based on utilitarian cost benefit calculus and consequentialism? Not very, but that’s how nationalized healthcare operates.

Think about what this means for a minute. Health care decisions are made based on cost benefit and utility which itself puts us on dangerous moral ground. This danger becomes clear when when we realize the consequences. A utilitarian, data driven or what ever you want to call it system ends up by putting pressure on the weak and especially targets the disabled and the elderly. Why? Because if decisions are make based on utility then why would we want to spend health dollars on the disabled and the elderly when their “usefulness” is minimal. Keeping the elderly and the disabled alive costs money. For Christians or other who accept the inherent dignity of life the value of this is obvious, but for secular utilitarians and a utilitarian health care system this is a waste of money–which means that after a time within a national health care system, pressure will mount to euthanize the elderly and infirm. If this sound ridiculous and conspiratorial to you I suggest that you look at Europe and what is beginning to happen there. After years of population decline Europe is a demographic disaster and guess what? Euthanasia has been legalized in three countries (Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg), is widely practiced in a fourth (Switzerland) and many pro-euthanasia advocates are starting to introduce cost-effectiveness arguments into their position.

The facts are that a state run health system, while sounding very moral, actually undermines the common good and ends up putting pressure on the unborn, the elderly, and the disabled.

Proponents of nationalized health care attempt to make emotional arguments because economic and medical data supporting their position doesn’t exist. Let us not grant them the moral high ground on this debate. Nationalized health care is scientifically, spiritually, and morally bankrupt—oh yes as Europe is demonstrating, financially bankrupt as well.

Blog author: kosten.joseph
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.

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
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.