Plumb Lines

February 25, 2009

Skimming Tocqueville

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 8:34 pm

After suggesting that the life of the mind–despite its apparent absence in America–is bound eventually to flourish in any society of equals, Tocqueville writes with astonishing acuity and tragic blindness that in a democracy:

…the utility of knowledge becomes singularly conspicuous even to the eyes of the multitude; those who have no taste for its charms set store upon its results and make some efforts to acquire it.

This to justify his belief that:

…the taste for intellectual enjoyment will descend, step by step, even to those who, in aristocratic societies, seem to have neither the time nor the ability to indulge in them.

He assumes, as only a pre-Weberian can, that the charms and the results of knowledge cannot really be opposed, nor can the substance of charming knowledge and knowledge that gets results be radically different. I wonder if even in his day the United States already showed signs of what it was to become. Should Tocqueville be surprised if he found himself in the apartment of a young investment banker I recently visited? The apartment of this flower of the thinking class, this mind of terrible agility, contains two cases of beer, one X-box, and one book, namely Chicago: A Pictorial Celebration.

David Schaengold


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