Sunday, June 10, 2012

Magnificent Words By de Tocqueville

Amazing words by de Tocqueville in his exchange with his protege Gobineau, a nineteenth century theorist of race as destiny, hence racism, and of American inevitable decline due to its liberalism, its openness to immigration and its insistence on residing electoral power in the people as for Gobineau this led inexorably to a diluting of an initially promising more or less pure American-derived-from-European racial stock. What is compelling to me about de Tocqueville's response is his critical balancing of the ridiculously optimistic fetishization of rationalism and scientism of the Enlightenment with the equally unsustainable and pessimistic predestination theories of a Gobineau and other counter Enlightenment thinkers:

....You have chosen to support precisely that point of view which I have always considered most dangerous to our age...The last century had an exaggerated and somewhat puerile confidence in man's power to control his destiny, both his own life and that of society. This was the characteristic error of that period (the Enlightenment), but in the final analysis it was a noble error. While responsible for many follies, yet it produced many great achievements beside which posterity will find our age punt indeed...After believing that we could transform ourselves, we now believe that even the slightest reform is impossible. After excessive pride, we have fallen into an equally excessive humility. Once we thought ourselves capable of everything; now we believe ourselves capable of nothing. It pleases us now to believe that from now on struggle and efforts are futile, that our blood, our bodies, and our nervous systems will always prevail over our will and capacity. This is the peculiar argument of our time...No matter how you rearrange your argument, it will support this tendency: it will drive your contemporaries, who are already weak, to an even greater weakness....

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