Alexis de Tocqueville: The French Revolution, III. iii (p.169)

Some nations have freedom in the blood…Other nations, once they have grown prosperous, lose interest in freedom, and let it be snatched from them without lifting a hand to defend it, lest they should endanger thus the comforts that, in fact, they owe to it alone. It is easy to see that what is lacking in such nations is a genuine love of freedom, that lofty aspiration which, (I confess) defies analysis. For it is something one must feel and logic has no part of it. It is a privilege of noble minds which God has fitted to receive it, and it inspires them with a generous fervor. But to meaner souls, untouched by the sacred flame, it may well seem incomprehensible.

   Jefferson too predicted, or worried, that the generation following the revolution in America would forget liberty in the daily concerns of money making. The oligarchs forget that their free market presupposes liberty, which is the work not of an oligarchy, but, in America, of a natural aristocracy working in the interests of democracy.

Here is an example of the sacred flame:

For I have sworn on the Altar of God

Eternal hostility to every form of tyranny

Over the mind of men.

                                                      -Thomas Jefferson

We no longer know the difference between liberty and tyranny, and so when tyrants do and propose the most outrageous things, our people and our politicians are likely to shrug, and ask if it is profitable, and for them personally, and to choose accordingly.

   Ole ‘Tocqueville has some very interesting things to say in part three of this book which demonstrate that he was the first one to see modern totalitarianism arising amid modernity. I had been discussing Twentieth Century Totalitarianism with a person inquiring into the distinction between “socialism” and communism. ‘Tocqueville mentioned four writes that preceded Marx, and I thought these, Owen and three others, would be a good place to start, in addition to the speech of Gonzalo in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

   Where we disagree with these enlightenment romantics is in their saying that the spirit of liberty is not rational. It is indeed assumed and not argued for by the Greeks, for the most part, who proudly considered themselves free men as opposed to slaves. And ultimately, it is the refusal to wimp out and allow oneself to be ruled by an ignoramus, or by ignorance. It is quite rational for one who is not themselves a moron or an idiot, one better off governed even by one who does not know what they are doing. But it involves the heat or spirit, since it is fundamental in the orders of the soul, a guardian keeping the parts in order. But we say this because we mean something more by “reason” than calculation or logic, something never apart from the “light of man” or the eye of the soul.

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One thought on “Alexis de Tocqueville: The French Revolution, III. iii (p.169)

  1. If you talk a good line about freedom, even to youself, without knowing what freedom is, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Freedom is not safe with you. Rather, in dire jeopardy!

    Unfortunately, it looks like he’s referring to us:

    “But to meaner souls, untouched by the sacred flame, it may well seem incomprehensible.” No matter how much they, without understanding, proclaim it.

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