Tocqueville foresaw a new soft despotism coagulating around the lower classes, with their low tastes and their resentments of anybody supposedly better than they are. They will want everybody pulled down, controlled, regulated, to enforce a leveling equality. The passion behind this machinery of repression will be envy. Here is how he describes it:
I am trying to imagine under what novel features despotism may appear in the world. In the first place, I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest....Over this kind of men stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare charges for a man's life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see the citizens enjoy themselves, provided that they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasure, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living? Thus it daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and rarer, restricts the activity of free will within a narrower compass, and little by little robs each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties. Equality has prepared men for all this, predisposing them to endure it and often even regard it as beneficial.Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped him to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men's will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd. (Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Part 4, Chapter 6) [emphasis added].
That is why I'm against modern liberalism! And here's why I'm for America with its Judeo-Christian values fully expressed:
On yet one other count, Tocqueville should have been far happier to have been correct. He hit the bulls-eye when he wrote that the truly distinctive genius of America was to solve the riddle that Europe and Asia had failed to solve, how to incorporate the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom into each other, "forming a marvelous combination":
Religion regards civil liberty as a noble exercise of man's faculties, the world of politics being a sphere intended by the Creator for the free play of intelligence. Religion, being free and powerful within its own sphere and content with the position reserved for it, realized that its sway is all the better established because it relies only on its own powers and rules men's hearts without external support.
Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.
Here's the rest of Michael Novak's excellent speech. He wraps it up this way:
All in all, Tocqueville has a right to take pleasure in getting a number of very important matters right — including a new form of despotism to worry about. Moreover, there are religions and civilizations whose God seems not be committed to liberty and the personal dignity of each. But is that only an appearance? Is it in fact true?
It is past time to put Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" on our reading lists.