I had the pleasure of spending three days last week at a series of events with the great Prof. Jean Yarbrough at UCLA’s Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions (podcast coming shortly), chiefly on Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. We were especially concentrating on Book II of that classic work, where Tocqueville examined the issue of equality in the American mind.
I might just make this a week of Tocqueville thoughts, since he was so profound in his understanding of modern democracy and prescient about what we have in front of us today. Let’s start with his observations about the centralization of power in the American republic, from chapter 4 of Book II:
I believe the extreme centralization of political power in the end enervates society and this at length weakens the government itself. But I do not deny that a centralized social force is in a position to execute great undertakings easily at a given time and on a determined point. That is above all true in war, where success depends much more on the facility one has in bringing all one’s resources rapidly upon a certain point than on the extent of those resources. It is therefore principally in war that peoples feel the desire and often the need to increase the prerogatives of the central power. All geniuses of war love centralization, which increases their strength, and all centralizing geniuses love war, which obliges nations to draw tight all powers in the hands of the state. Thus, the democratic tendency that brings men constantly to multiply the privileges of the state and to restrict the rights of particular persons is much more rapid and more continuous in democratic peoples subject by their position to great and frequent wars, and whose existence can often be put in peril, than in all others.
If you paid attention to the hysterical Al Gore or the equally hysterical John Kerry at Davos last week, you’ll know they made reference to a frequent trope of modern-day progressives—that we need World War II style “mobilization” of government and industry to fight climate change. Progressives are addicted to MEOW: the “moral equivalent of war.” It’s their favored method for making war on your rights and property. Tocqueville had their number in 1840.
P.S. Prof. Yarbrough and I huffed it to Chick-fil-A in Westwood Village following our podcast recording Friday afternoon (because Jean doesn’t have access to Chick-fil-A in Maine), where a stranger came up to the table and asked:
“Are you John Hinderaker?”
Prof. Yarbrough intervened: “No, this is Steve. He’s much better looking.”
Turns out the fellow is a high tech microchip engineer working with engineers at UCLA on a project. And reads Power Line first thing every morning.