Thursday, March 31, 2005

when I juxtapose what ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE writes in this passage onto Lebanon, I get disheartened....

"...Thus, the most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have, in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires and have applied this new science to the greatest number of purposes. Is this the result of accident, or is there in reality any necessary connection between the principle of association and that of equality?

Aristocratic communities always contain, among a multitude of persons who by themselves are powerless, a small number of powerful and wealthy citizens, each of whom can achieve great undertakings single-handed. In aristocratic societies men do not need to combine in order to act, because they are strongly held together. Every wealthy and powerful citizen constitutes the head of a permanent and compulsory association, composed of all those who are dependent upon him or whom he makes subservient to the execution of his designs.

Among democratic nations, on the contrary, all the citizens are independent and feeble; they can do hardly anything by themselves, and none of them can oblige his fellow men to lend him their assistance. They all, therefore, become powerless if they do not learn voluntarily to help one another...."

8 comments:

Solomon2 said...

One gets a sort of creepy, spooky, feeling when reading Tocqueville, don't you agree? The classic example is Tocqueville's juxtaposition of his projected futures of the U.S. and Russia. Reading it in the middle of the Cold War, I'd sometimes look behind myself, half-expecting to see a ghost of the perceptive Frenchman standing, looking over my shoulder...

The reality is that an "aristocracy" of sorts can be realized in almost every polity -- I define "aristocracy" as a group of people treated differently by the law, either explicitly or in practice, from everyone else. This is thus a rather general statement. I think of the present-day U.S. as a sort of mixed case.

Raja said...

I came upon a very interesting quote earlier today that I think would be important to include in this discussion:

"In modern, democratic societies, wealth begets power; whereas in traditional autocratic societies, power begets wealth."

That right there has become one of my favorite quotes!!!

Solomon2 said...

Very good! And the "Wealth begets power" rule = plutocracy.

Mustapha said...

Raja,

I never thought of democracy as something that you either have or don't. People have it in degrees, and even De-Toqueville agrees (the most democratic country- notice the "most").

It is the role of the people to strive towards attaining more of it; but yet, a people's cultural heritage is hard to die.

One shouldn't confuse cultural issues which take time to change (like the importance of family ties and marriage) with productivity parameters, which can be learnt, (industriousness, sense of initiative, collective endeavour)

India is the world's largest democracy, with one of the world's smartest and productive people, with an average GDP increase of 8% for the last years, yet still, most indians marry the old fashion way (mom choses a good bride) and they value familial roots (most people give away a big chunk of their salaries to their parents as gratitude for bringing them up).

Anyway, what i'm trying to say, refering to our previous posts, is that while some lebanese get where they are because of who they are, a lot of people do earn their positions. In the US too, lots of people are where they are because of who they are.

Just compare George W. Bush and Rafic Hariri. who do you think should be the Toqueville american and who should be the Abou Hassan Lebanese ;) ?

Mustapha
The Beirut Spring

RG said...

"Among democratic nations, on the contrary, all the citizens are independent and feeble; they can do hardly anything by themselves, and none of them can oblige his fellow men to lend him their assistance." WHERE HAS THIS PERSON BEEN, UNDER A ROCK???

Henry Ford - Created the automobile assembly line used by nations around the world.

Benjamin Franklin - Invented batteries and many other things used around the world today.

The Wright Brothers - Created and flew the first plane used around the world today.

Alexander Graham Bell - Invented the telephone used around the world today.

These are individuals from a strong Democratic Nation who had the freedom that democracy allows to do things for the good of mankind for centuries to come.

Brian H said...

rg;
He said, "oblige". There have been lots of quasi-exceptions even so; there are many kinds of force. But in democracy you have to be kind of beyond the pale to be able to use violence or deadly force to "oblige" people to follow you. Gangs are the primary example that comes to mind.

Raja said...

Solomon,

you have constitutional rights, independent courts, the ability to nominate candidates and vote for them in regularly held elections, and other institutions that ensure political freedom. In short, I don't see your point.

Whether we like it or not, wealth and power each constitute a side of the same coin. Moreover, I prefer a system where individuals rise to prosperity by being shrewd players in a fair market, rather than one where individuals rise to prosperity through political machiavelism and physical brutality.

At the end of the day, there can only be one president, but you can have as many CEOs as you want!

Raja said...

Mustapha,

I am not an absolutist. I strive to help lebanon approximate the "ideals" of democracy. I also wish that all Lebanese at least adopt those ideals as well.

With regards to the US, I agree with you that the it is not as clean as I'm making it out to be.

A lot of "shady" business goes on here. The difference with Lebanon is that over here, meritocracy is dominant; it is the dominant culture. Therefore, rather than having the nepotism, corruption and favoritism dominate the country, as in Lebanon, these practices are shoved to the fringe. Bush, for example, is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena.

As for our cultural heritage, I also concur with you; there's just no escaping it. In fact, I look at Europe, and tell myself that they are democracies today, but had aristocratic societies that were just as bad as Lebanon's today.

But then I think of the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution in England, and I tell myself that I'd better look somewhere else for inspirational examples.

India? Well, maybe! In fact, I'm trying to learn some stuff from them myself. I'll have to get back to you on that though... my eyes are starting to shut.

Okay, I'm off...

good night!