January 22, 2009

Small and vulgar pleasures

The kind of oppression that threatens democratic peoples does not in any way resemble what preceded it... I want to imagine what aspect despotism could take on in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, similar to one another and equal, who gyrate unceasingly to obtain small and vulgar pleasures for themselves with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, isolated at some remove from the others, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his personal friends constitute the entire human species for him: as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is right next to them, but he doesn't see them; he touches them and doesn't feel them; he exists only within and for himself and, although he still has a family, one may at the least say he no longer has a country. Above all these men rises an immense tutelary power that alone takes care of assuring their enjoyment and watching over their fate. It is absolute, elaborate, regular, calculating, and mild. It would be like paternal power, if - like it - its goal was to prepare men for virile maturity; but, on the contrary, it seeks only to limit them irrevocably to childhood; it likes its citizens to be happy, as long as they dream of nothing other than being happy.
Alexis de Tocqueville, quoted p76 in How the Rich are Destroying the Earth, Herve Kempf

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