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30 November 2015


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I think that is precisely where Tocqueville (in his analysis of the French Revolution) becomes interesting. The question of "democracy" (a highly nebulous concept if there is one--there is no clear concise definition of it anywhere by a universally accepted source.) is never invoked in that regard, but the question of the state and the distribution of its authority, along with the consequences thereof. In some sense, even his analysis of democracy in United States is concerned more with the secret of American stability and tranquility as he saw it rather than the question of "democracy" (at least not as the central theme, notwithstanding the title.)

For those who are interested in promoting "democracy" and whatever other ideals, Tocqueville makes for a strange read. For those who are more interested in stability, Tocqueville provides invaluable insights.

William R. Cumming

IMO the concept of democracy is not an unknown but merely a matter as to whether the source of political power is from a majority of the people or from narrow elites trying to preserve their own status! Could well be wrong of course!

If the Tea Party had maintained focus on CORRUPTION both Republicans and Dems would be in big trouble IMO!



the lower number of Hungarian refugees were accepted by a Germany which was still severely damaged by war, the Poles and Russian came in millions and I can still remember the arguments against their immigration (despite the fact that many of them had German roots!), the arguments sounded like stuff we hear today, sorry. And some of the issues like brawls between refugees or refugees and former refugees (Russians vs Turks) were reality back then.

The integration argument only works in retrospective, you did not find it in contemparray discussions. BTW Iranians as muslims integrated perfectly.



Will of the "majority of the people" is itself an ambiguous notion that cannot be easily defined or measured.

We just had a live demonstration of this on this site not long ago, in the form of the straw poll: a large majority chose Sanders, while a comparable majority indicated that they'd choose HRC if they have to. I would bet that the overlap between these candidates' positions on various issues and the visitors to this site is quite small. So how much of the "majority of the people" would these politicians represent, if this were a real election and they were empowered to translate their own positions to actual policy? Mind you that, compared to the general public, the visitors here probably have far stronger, much more clearly defined beliefs on issues.

What the "majority of the people" want is conditional and transitory, dependent on the circumstances. Those who were chosen by such a majority probably will not necessarily stay "representative," or they may not have been all that "representative" on certain matters, ever. This is what I mean by "democracy" being poorly defined and ambiguous. Even better examples can be found outside the "democracies": Was Ukraine's Yanukovych "representative" of a "majority" among his people? Is Syria's Assad? Both probably are/were, in a sense, in that majorities of their populations (at certain times at any rate), probably view(ed) them as the least evil. Both were/are also, however, much disliked by majorities of their populations as well, in absolute terms. In a sense, one might even say the same about the Tea Partiers: at least provisionally speaking, they did (and perhaps still "do") represent a "majority" of the people, albeit with a good bit of ambiguity, at least as much as HRC represents a "majority" of SST visitors in a fashion.

In this sense, Tocqueville's (and the Founders', incidentally) interest in institutional stability over "democracy" makes good sense: except under extraordinary circumstances, any reasonably fair election will produce a government that more or less represents a "popular majority," provisionally speaking. The real challenge is to keep it from going crazy once they have power.

David Habakkuk


I think that is very much to the point – also, that there is much more to be said about all this. The caravan may be moving on at the moment, but we should be able to revert to these issues.

A couple of points, briefly.

In the wake of the retreat and collapse of Soviet communism, ideas acquired a kind of hegemony in the West which, in one way or another, suggested that social systems naturally gravitate towards stability.

At the time, I thought that this was a potentially catastrophic interpretative error. Much that has happened since has reinforced that view. Likewise, I thought then, and think now, that the notion that chaos elsewhere would not produce 'blowback' for us was naïve.

So in that sense, I thought and think we all ought to be 'Tocquevillian'.

The relationship between institutional and ideological factors is already, I think, quite complex in Tocqueville: although it is so long since I was actively looking at these arguments that I am rusty.

In particular, there is already latent in Tocqueville a notion which is developed later: that equality is easily taken to imply identity. In this case, 'the people' becomes a kind of 'collective individual'.

This notion was developed later with the help of the intellectual 'toolkit' developed by Durkheim in French arguments about the Revolution.

Among other things, it enables one to see that Terror can have a dreadful rationality. If political conflict becomes a contest to sustain the claim to articulate the real will of a 'people', assumed to be essentially virtuous and have a natural destiny of liberation, then there is a natural tendency for it to become lethal.

Failure to sustain the claim to articulate the 'will of the people' – be it the 'nation' or the 'proletariat' – is then liable to mean that one is categorised as an 'enemy of the people'.

Seen in these terms, one of the remarkable things about Stalin is that he managed to survive. That argues for political genius, of a certain kind.

But these games go on, in a whole range of different contexts.

For example, if one looks at Michael Oren browbeating David Rothkopf, it is clear that he is doing so by attempting to sustain the claim that he is the truly authentic voice of a 'Jewish people'. Reduced to empirical terms, that is patent nonsense. But that only matters up to a – rather limited – point.

(See http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/15/a-jewish-state-vs-the-jewish-state/ .)

Likewise, to make sense of Obama one needs I think to grasp that in some bizarre way he thinks himself as articulating the voice of a global 'people'.


Well the bigwigs have been ignoring the people for a long time now.

There's been various wake-up calls recently: the populist movements (Tea Party, Occupy Wall St and Black Lives Matter) as well as the surprising and quickly manifested popularity of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders.

I think the American people are finally waking up and are saying NO. The people in charge are trying to ignore this. Donald Trump is a mixed blessing candidate who has made it clear that even people who are anti-change in some areas desperately want it in others. As more formerly working class and middle class people see themselves moving or possibly moving from the "have" to "have not" category, I think the insane passivity of Americans will come to an end. We'll see.

The increased desperation of the "have nots" who find they have even less will have an effect on things too.

We can only hope that the leadership of any "populist revolt" we do have can take us to somewhere we all want to go.

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