Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 15, 2012

in History, Hubris and humility, Man of System, Nanny State, Reality Is Not Optional

… is from page 167 of the 1955 edition of Stuart Gilbert’s translation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s remarkable 1856 masterpiece The Old Regime and the French Revolution:

By the time their ancient love of freedom reawakened in the hearts of the French, they had already been inoculated with a set of ideas as regards the way the country should be governed that were not merely hard to reconcile with free institutions but practically ruled them out.  They had come to regard the ideal social system as one whose aristocracy consisted exclusively of government officials and in which an all-powerful bureaucracy not only took charge of affairs of State but controlled men’s private lives.  Desirous though they were of being free, they were unwilling to go back on the ideology described above and merely tried to adjust it to that of freedom.

This they proposed to do by combining a strong central administration with a paramount legislative assembly: the bureaucratic system with government by the electorate.  The nation as a whole had sovereign rights, while the individual citizen was kept in the strictest tutelage; the former was expected to display the sagacity and virtues of a free race, the latter to behave like an obedient servant.

Oui.  And this situation, as described so eloquently by Tocqueville, is precisely the one to which “Progressives” would march modern-day Americans.  It is a state of society that is at best stagnant and dreary – and one, more realistically, saturated certainly with all manner of petty, and perhaps even monstrous, tyrannies.  Of course, no “Progressive” intends such an outcome – for to be aware that such a situation is the inevitable outcome of the dogged progress of “Progressivism” is to be aware that “Progressivism” is terribly regressive.  But as we teach our freshman econ students, intentions are not results.

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