Alexis de Tocqueville: Of Individualism In Democratic Countries

tocqueville

Over the past few days, I have been working on an article called “Top Ten Problems Holding Back The Movement.” I had identified “extreme individualism” as the most important problem facing the movement followed by things like conformity, negativity, fear, apathy, and disorganization.

I had intended to explain how all of these negative qualities are ultimately derived from Americanism. In the course of writing the article though, I found my thoughts turning to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America, and I suddenly remembered that I heard all of this put so much better while in college.

Tocqueville, whose book was first published in 1835, was the most important authority on Americanism in the 19th century:

“I have shown how it is that in ages of equality every man seeks for his opinions within himself; I am now to show how it is that in the same ages all his feelings are turned towards himself alone. Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth. Our fathers were only acquainted with egoisme (selfishness). Selfishness is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart.

Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition.”

Extreme individualism, a vice which has reached its historical apogee in the narcissistic “Me Generation,” sits at the top of the list because it is the root cause of so many other problems. I should stress here that this problem isn’t unique to the movement. Rather, it is part of the broader mainstream American culture.

Basically, there are millions of Americans, North and South, who are completely absorbed in their own individual lives. They don’t care about anything but themselves – the past, the present, the future of their descendants, etc. They can’t be moved to care about anything that is going on outside their own personal bubble.

We’ve finally reached the “long run” that Tocqueville spoke about in 1835. Extreme individualism, which has its origins in the democratic system of government, has consumed American public life.

“Among aristocratic nations, as families remain for centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all generations become, as it were, contemporaneous. A man almost always knows his forefathers and respects them; he thinks he already sees his remote descendants and he loves them. He willingly imposes duties on himself towards the former and the latter, and he will frequently sacrifice his personal gratifications to those who went before and to those who will come after him.”

Is there a better description anywhere of our peculiar mindset? That’s exactly how we see the world. That’s why we spend so much time and money traveling across the South to hold our demonstrations.

“Aristocratic institutions, moreover, have the effect of closely binding every man to several of his fellow citizens. As the classes of an aristocratic people are strongly marked and permanent, each of them is regarded by its own members as a sort of lesser country, more tangible and more cherished than the country at large. As in aristocratic communities all the citizens occupy fixed positions, one above another, the result is that each of them always sees a man above himself whose patronage is necessary to him, and below himself another man whose co-operation he may claim. Men living in aristocratic ages are therefore almost always closely attached to something placed out of their own sphere, and they are often disposed to forget themselves. It is true that in these ages the notion of human fellowship is faint and that men seldom think of sacrificing themselves for mankind; but they often sacrifice themselves for other men. In democratic times, on the contrary, when the duties of each individual to the race are much more clear, devoted service to any one man becomes more rare; the bond of human affection is extended, but it is relaxed.”

Penetrating insight.

I know lots of people in the movement who are “disposed to forget themselves” because they are constantly thinking of their ancestors and descendants, or the humiliations their folk are suffering in the present. Similarly, I know people who express a faux sympathy for mankind in general, but who probably don’t know their next door neighbor.

“Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class gradually approaches others and mingles with them, its members become undifferentiated and lose their class identity for each other. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it.

As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellows, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.

Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

Is that not what has happened in every Western country that has adopted the democratic form of government? Tocqueville goes on to explain the novel form in which despotism emerges in democratic countries:

“I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.”

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted the natural life course of the democratic form of government. The democratic verision of despotism which he described back then has since been realized. The people have been reduced to “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

All the flaws of the movement that I had planned to diagnose – extreme individualism, fear, apathy, negativity, conformity, disorganization, etc – are really just the symptoms of a people who are immersed in an aging democratic culture. At the same time, the best qualities of the movement like revering one’s ancestors and selfless devotion to future generations are qualities which harken back to the aristocratic age.

The challenge before us is to kill the American within ourselves while cultivating the aristocratic qualities which are embedded within our Southern heritage.

16 Comments

  1. Great post, Hunter. I just finished a book on the Institute for Social Research aka the Frankfurt School, the think tank that gave us critical theory. The institute agitated for Bolshevik style revolution in Germany until Hitler was elected in 1933, then they moved to Columbia University in NYC. In a nutshell, it is these progressive cankerworms that have been gnawing on Western civilization for 80+ years, crying about alienation, oppression, conformist society while seeking liberation of perverts, sickos, and freaks. They had a huge impact on the 1960’s counter culture as well. I’m shocked that so many of the left’s catchwords are right out of the Frankfurt School.

  2. The important question to ask about every piece of federal legislation, is this a federal issue? Why is it a federal issue? What makes it a federal issue?

  3. Does ‘a flock of timid and industrious animals’ REALLY describe the Blacks, including the Ferguson rioters, who are neither timid nor hard-working? Does it even describe the vast majority of Whites, who now participate fully in the urban cosmopolitan rat race of ‘winning’ their bread (rather than growing it) through city-style sweat-less forms of ‘work’. This is not a democracy and these are not the fruits of democracy.

    Tocqueville never said or even noticed that America was great because it was good. He saw the world through elite lenses. In ‘classical liberalism’ he could remain true to his Norman aristocratic Roman Catholic upbringing. So he came and saw America and missed the point entirely.

    Re: ‘The challenge before us is to kill the American within ourselves while cultivating the aristocratic qualities’:

    To the contrary, our problems are caused by the abandonment and destruction of the unrecognised American difference, and the nurture of Elitist ‘qualities’ in its place.

    If you succeed, and enslave all the Blacks again, along with most Whites, the resulting masses of serfs will finally be ‘timid and industrious’.

    Re: ‘extreme individualism’:

    Each ONE must work out his own salvation — and each one enters Heaven or Hell INDIVIDUALLY, for eternity. Life is a short walk from cradle to grave. America is our place to work out our salvation and live out our Faith.

  4. ‘a people who are immersed in an aging democratic culture’:

    Immersed under a depraving Talmudistic tyranny. Not democracy at all.

  5. But Tocqueville the liberal RC Norman aristocrat said well of Southern slavery: ‘when slavery was introduced, it was the capital fact which was to exercise an immense influence on the character, the laws and the whole future of the South. Slavery dishonors labor, introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress, and enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man — while on the very same, ENGLISH, foundation there developed in the North very different characteristics’!

  6. Sure it does.

    He describes how the democratic government keeps them in a state of “perpetual childhood” and goes out its way to keep them content by facilitating their pleasures and foreseeing and supplying their necessities. It also does all of this wealth redistribution in the name of advancing “equality.”

  7. He describes how the democratic government keeps them in a state of “perpetual childhood” and goes out its way to keep them content by facilitating their pleasures and foreseeing and supplying their necessities. It also does all of this wealth redistribution in the name of advancing “equality.”

    No wealth redistribution in 1835. The only necessities it was foreseeing and supplying was a minimalist government and a well-run legal system. This obviously appealed to people (including your Austrian ancestors) else millions would never have fled their supposedly idyllic European aristocracies to make a go of it in America.

  8. Thank you for this post, HW. I concur. The most egregious examples of people who should remain quiet and not interrupt their ‘betters,’ come from your ‘Joe Six-pack’ and ‘Suzie Soccer mom’ Americans who think they know something, when they (in all actuality) know nothing. Having seen Obummer elected twice, there is no need for any other proof corroborating that statement.

    There are different hierarchies of races, hierarchies of IQ, hierarchies of Beauty, and logically, surely, there are, or should be, hierarchies of class in society. We deny it, even as it exists- a hierarchy of money, or education, and/or social prestige, (e.g. “I went to Brown, well I went to Yale, Well, I went to Harvard”) etc.

    The reason this whole superstructure collapsed (I believe) was giving the Black man the vote, after the WBTS. When a white woman saw a Negro male being able to vote, the entire hierarchy of the South, and Christendom’s submission of women to their husbands/fathers, per St. Paul, was overthrown- BOOM. Since then, it has been an overturning of EVERY TABOO every decade or so; from Jews gaining equal status, to women being paid the same salary for jobs, to education for all, at taxpayer expense, to promotion of non-whites, and non-males, before White Males, to gay marriage, miscegenation as the new ‘hip’ sex trend (after trans-ism, it would appear) all of it reflects the genocidal impulse against Europe, the ‘Nobility of the Aryan’ and afflicts Whites today, and it is being pushed from EVERY STRATA of society.

    We MUST restore biblical rule, federal headship, and the hierarchy of the nobility, if we are to have ANY future, either here in the USA or in Europe.

  9. First off, if this comment goes through, it means I’m going to have to comment here using my Disqus name and not my WordPress name (countenance), because for some reason, all summer, I have been able to leave comments on WordPress-based sites with my WordPress identity other than my own.

    Now for the meat of the matter.

    Rhetorical question:

    If anyone could vote at the meetings of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, would the quality of brain surgery in this country go up or down?

  10. America was intended to be a republic. This is a system in which qualified representatives (property owning white males at that time), were elected on behalf of the masses. Democracy is the lowest common denominator of the masses making decisions for themselves. Democracy is a well known problem and is akin to a social disease. Republics tend to be very successful. I don’t see any reason to kill “the inner American” or any other part of our heritage. It actually worked really well until the 60’s when jews, traitors, and other subversives completed their hijacking of the system and the media, inverted immigration law, and began brainwashing the masses.

    Senator McCarthy was onto this, but thanks to Marxist domination of media and education, the average person was kept ignorant.

    We would all be ignorant today, if not for the “Individualist”/libertarian free market of ideas that is the INTERNET.

    “There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.” –Thomas Jefferson

    Jews and marxists on the other hand have a great deal to gain from squelching dissidents, killing free speech (hate-crimes law / political correctness), and creating centralized/federalized tyrant states.

  11. 1) Try being a Roman Catholic Norman aristocrat. On the whole, good people, at least since the French Revolution. Failing that, try to “get into their heads.” Or at least read Toqueville’s mention of French isolates in America for interest, and for seriousness, his chapter on Catholicism in America- then ask yourself what you really believe about democracy, and why, afterwards.

    2) The thing he cannot name, if memory serves, was still somewhat inchoate in his day, beginning with possibly Montaigne, but identifiable in Rousseau through Fourier, and finally defined by Marx.

    3) Toqueville did write in D in A “America is great because she is good.” When I get home I will find the citation. If memory serves, it is in the first chapter of the 2nd volume.

    4) Why are English Normans whose families became protestant good, while French Norman families who remained Catholic met with disapproval? BTW, Irish, Iberian, and Silician Norman families reamined Catholic as well. That might make an interesting historical study.

  12. Frank, he did write, in the first volume, ‘The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other (…) They brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion’. But that does not describe the ‘Norman’ or ‘Cavalier’ African slave users of the southern colonies, who came for fortune and adventure.

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