Friday, July 17, 2009

I must explore this blog further.

Paul Rahe: The servile temptation, part 2

Rousseau, who supposed inquiétude natural to human beings within civil society, charged that the bourgeois, commercial, liberal polities emerging under the influence of the Enlightenment in his day would profoundly intensify the malady, and he suggested as a remedy enforced social and economic equality.

Tocqueville took in all of this and turned Rousseau on his head. What the latter took to be a cure for the restlessness, anxiety, and uneasiness besetting man in liberal, commercial polities is, he argued, its cause. Where there were aristocratic polities, he observed, in times of turmoil, men could look for help and consolation to what Montesquieu had called "intermediary powers" - to local aristocrats, to great magnates, to the church, to the various corporate bodies constitutive of European monarchy - for, under the ancien régime, no one was isolated and alone.

But now, where equality has become the defining feature of their "social condition," he argued, men tend to feel helpless in the face of political and economic forces beyond their control. Even in the best of times, their ambitions exceed their capacity, the desires inflated by their vanity go unsatisfied, and they are anxious and uneasy.

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