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de Tocqueville Predicted the Effects of Materialism May 25, 2010

Posted by aengus in philosophy, politics.
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Thus Tocqueville holds in focus a political story in which, as he sees it, things are likely to get better and worse at the same time. On the one hand, future democracies will probably be milder and more mediocre than aristocratic societies: there will be less brutality and brilliance, as we all drift toward a vast, undemanding median. In the book’s second volume, he warns that modern democracy may be adept at inventing new forms of tyranny, because radical equality could lead to the materialism of an expanding bourgeoisie and to the selfishness of individualism (whereby we turn away from collective political activity toward the cultivation of our own gardens). In such conditions, we might become so enamored with “a relaxed love of present enjoyments” that we lose interest in the future and the future of our descendants, or in higher things, and meekly allow ourselves to be led in ignorance by a despotic force all the more powerful because it does not resemble one: “It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born.”