De Tocqueville on the Intrinsic Value of Freedom

by Don Boudreaux on March 20, 2006

in Politics

Alexis de Tocqueville is one of history’s most epigrammatic writers.  I especially like this selection from Book Three, Chapter Three of his The Old Regime and the Revolution:

I also do not think that true love of liberty was ever born just from the sight of material goods that freedom produces; for this often succeeds in hiding it.  It is certainly true that in the long run, freedom always brings, to those who know how to keep it, ease, well-being, and often riches; but there are times when it briefly hinders the enjoyment of such goods; there are others when only despotism can temporarily afford their enjoyment.  Men who prize only these kinds of goods have never enjoyed freedom for long.

That which, in all times, has so strongly attached certain men’s hearts to freedom, are its own attractions, its own peculiar charm, independent of its benefits; it is the pleasure of being able to speak, act, and breathe without constraint, under the government of God and the laws alone.  Whoever seeks anything from freedom but itself is made for slavery.

Now such men and women who love freedom so dearly are easily accused, chastised, castigated as being ideologues — as if commitment to some non-material value is shameful or evidence of simple-mindedness.

I side with de Tocqueville.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

comments

10 comments    Share Share    Print    Email

{ 5 comments }

Robert Cote March 20, 2006 at 8:16 pm

Alexis de Tocqueville had the luxury of a pressure valve. Vote with your feet and reject the restrictions of a Republic. Where should we modern day de Tocquevilles go?

sourav March 20, 2006 at 11:33 pm

I would argue that the "charm" of freedom is, in fact, an extrinsic value.

Swimmy March 21, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Cannot the Iraq war be justified with this belief?

Duncan Brown March 22, 2006 at 9:22 am

I'm sure your life is really hard! I find much of your blog to be fresh and relevant, but this post is kind of a paranoid rant: "Now such men and women who love freedom so dearly [/why are you so self-congratulatory?/] are easily accused, chastised, castigated as being ideologues — as if commitment to some non-material value is shameful or evidence of simple-mindedness."

Alexis de T. was surely a prophetic thinker. I've read and reread Democracy in America over the years, but not the other book.

My nominee for freedom's big prize in 2006 is my brother Chris, who worked productively, saved, and lived frugally, and then retired to Merida, in the Yucatan, because he finds American puritanism and hyprocrisy cramping his style. He started a weblog last may (on blogger called "Ruminations of an Expatrriate." It's way more relevant.

Duncan Brown March 22, 2006 at 9:38 am

Chris's blog is a piquant blend of travel writing and photos with outraged diatribes on the Bush Administration. In case you're wondering: http://expatriateruminations.blogspot.com/

Previous post:

Next post: