Monday, November 3, 2008

Tocqueville and Individualism

What is "self-interest well understood," the virtue Alexis de Tocqueville found that Americans claimed for themselves?

Tocqueville said, in "Democracy in America", that Americans had mastered the concept of “self interest well understood.” His definition was that we understood that we had to give up a small portion of our personal sovereignty to others in order to get a large portion of what we want. We understood, he said, that we had to think of everybody once in a while instead of just ourselves and when we did that, we would get MOST of what we wanted.

Giving up a small portion of our self-interest is the concept that John Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau and others called "common sovereignty." In the American Constitution, the American ideal was of "individual sovereignty", which the Colonialists abstracted from "common" sovereignty; it was translated back into "common sovereignty" with the phrase "general Welfare," and by the democratic republican form of government.

Individual sovereignty was radically defined by the limitations upon the powers of government concerning the powers of the States, and especially of "the People," which was not a collectivised "people," but another abstraction made of individuals.

"Individual sovereignty was not a peculiar conceit of Thomas Jefferson: It was the common assumption of the day..." Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. in a review When all of the possible behaviors and acts of men are added up, the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, [and which] are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," give considerable sovereignty to the individual person.

Tocqueville qualified his endorsement of "self-interest well understood", however, when he makes it clear that he did not understand this "common assumption of the day", saying the pursuit of self-interest for its own sake is simply the best means available to our leaders and educators of encouraging social associations; that it only works when supported by free political institutions, and that it may do little to underpin the virtues of courage and the and what may be characterized as the habitualization of altruistic behavior.

While his conclusions are correct, his premises as stated above didn't get him there. Individualism practiced for its own sake is not for the purpose of discouraging social associations by those who practice it; it is for purpose of encouraging only those one wishes to engage in without lending support to those one opposes. That is the right of someone who owns his own sovereignty, as we all do. To practice it for any other purpose is the practical description of "soft altruism," whereby we go along with things we do not politically approve of because it is easier than fighting it.

Choosing not to fight those cases of "soft altruism" which are most evil and that carry the biggest consequences, allow our educators--*90% left-liberal in public institutions)--and our leaders--(Democrats in the electorate outnumber Republicans 4 to 1)--to encourage and to legislate more and larger shares of collectivist policies and public practices.

"Appeasement is not consideration for the feelings of others, it is consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others", and "is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns and to escape from the loneliness of a thinker by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal." Ayn Rand

If Tocqueville never used the word altruistic, his supporters do. "Tocqueville’s defenders of self-interest argue from its strength, and rather than urge people to deplore and transcend an inclination so powerful, they defend its legitimacy. They hope to turn self-interest against itself by maintaining that one’s own interest is, as a rule, best secured in pursuing a general good. Well understood, self-interest even requires a certain degree of sacrifice." "What Tocqueville Would Say Today"; Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop; Hoover Digest

Perhaps Tocqueville was working from the thoughts of Edmund Burke, who wrote in 1790 in "Reflections on the Revolution in France", about "An enlightened self-interest, which, when well understood, they tell us, will identify with an interest more enlarged and publick."

But the public interest is not supposed to be like Barak Obama's misleading idea of "communism," whereof he said John McCain would "be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in Kindergarten."

What Obama is unwilling to tell the American public is that his teacher did not take his toys and redistribute them to the other children. The American Founding Fathers wrote in the Constitution about providing for the "common defense" and promoting the "general Welfare." But in no way were they asking us to infer, in order to "promote the general Welfare," (which is politically not the same as "the common good",) that we had to accept the teacher taking our toys if we had too many, in order to prevent us from practicing individualism for its own sake.

Just because some men don't believe in practicing individualism for its own sake, does not mean the they can take it, then break it like loaves and fishes to be shared with others who do not believe it should be practiced by those from whom they took it.

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