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.


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