“The General Will Above the Letter of the Law… Equality above Liberty”


Among my great good fortune in this place and time in my life is the chance to meet bright, ambitious, intellectually curious young people whose career paths will take them across the globe and up the ladder of whichever organization they belong.

One such talented and lovely young lady has been been kind enough to include me in her intellectual journey of discovery outside the monolithic leftist academic and quasi-academic interpretation (re-imagination?) of our world, past and present.   As a young woman of strong faith, she has discovered, to her bitter disappointment, the abject intolerance of the modern “liberal” mindset for just about anything Christian; especially, it would seem, for the values of the Christian faith.    Not surprisingly, with the intellectual fascism of the secular progressives that make mockery of the idea of “liberalism” laid bare, she is finding much of the basic premises of the Left’s “worldview” to be illusory and logically flawed.

This morning, as she overlooked a street scene in Cambodia, she sent me a quote from the book she is currently reading, Civilization: The West and the Rest, by the incomparable Niall Ferguson, which expressed the premises that shape much of our discussion.  Ferguson contrasts the American and French Revolutions, not fifteen years apart, yet so fundamentally different in character and outcome.  For this, he evokes none other than Alexis de Tocqueville:

There were, Tocqueville argues, five fundamental differences between the two societies, and therefore between the two revolutions they produced. First, France was increasingly centralized, whereas America was a naturally federal state, with a lively provincial associational life and civil society. Second, the French tended to elevate the general will above the letter of the law, a tendency resisted by America’s powerful legal profession. Third, the French revolutionaries attacked religion and the church that upheld it, whereas American sectarianism provided a bulwark against the pretensions of secular authorities. Fourth, the French ceded too much power to irresponsible intellectuals, whereas in America practical men reigned supreme. Finally, and most important to Tocqueville, the French put equality above liberty.

Words to ponder carefully.   My lovely friend provided a direct quote from Tocqueville, via Ferguson, which also bears contemplation for its relevance in our age and circumstance:

“The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it… In America the liberty of association for political purposes is unbounded…. There are no countries in which associations are more needed, to prevent the despotism of faction or the arbitrary power of a prince, than those which are democratically constituted.”

One has to wonder, amid a climate of phone calls from Generals to private citizens to suppress free expression, a far less than independent and objective press, exploding government dependency, and an education system that carries out political indoctrination in all but name, how long the American exceptionalism that Tocqueville so brilliantly summarized  can survive.    And one has to wonder what the consequences of the decline of that exceptionalism will be.   For that, we have examples aplenty.   None of them happy.
H/T Kathy B.  And a thank-you for sharing the journey.

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3 responses to ““The General Will Above the Letter of the Law… Equality above Liberty”

  1. Michael Brown

    Maybe these words from 235+ years ago will ring true today: “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” If our curent government and its leaders, whether actively or passively, continue the current course, it will be up to the people to alter or abolish it. One would hope the People choose due process, but as was the case in 1775, sometimes more drastic measures need be taken. -A serving patriot

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  2. US society, as presently constituted, is not sustainable. It has little to no moral underpinning, and such societies have little or no self restraint. When societies have no self restraint, then it must become a Police state to maintain order, and laws will multiply until they are a web that potentially can entangle anyone because there are so many laws one is probably breaking some law.

    We are there.

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  3. Pingback: Getting Them de Tocqueville Blues « Innocent Bystanders