Quotable (#74)

Tocqueville the prophet:

Part of what made Tocqueville so unhopeful about the democratic future was the specter of the modern state, in which he beheld a new type of despotism. Paradoxically, it would seem, this new form of despotism would be more absolute than all erstwhile despotisms while being less despotic. It would be, as Tocqueville designated it, a soft or mild despotism. The state Tocqueville envisioned will not seek to brutalize its people: there will be no labor camps, secret police, show trials, or summary executions. “Chains and executioners are the coarse instruments that tyranny formerly employed.” Rather, through an inordinate number of detailed and complex rules, it will take great pains to regulate the lives of its citizens and will do so, professedly, in their interests. It will provide and care for the people; from harm it will keep them; and it will go to great lengths to render them happy. Indeed, as Tocqueville put it, one could liken it to paternal power, save for this one crucial difference: whereas a father prepares his children for adulthood, the state will seek to keep its citizens irrevocably fixed in childhood. The state wants the people’s unquestioning obedience and the best way to ensure this is not by forcing their allegiance, but by fostering their dependence.

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