Monday, March 19, 2007
Liberty As A System Of Arbitrary Interference
There's a rather good piece on Hugh Brogan's new book on Tocqueville in the most recent LRB. As you can probably guess, I'm reading Tocqueville - for teaching purposes - at the moment. It's a while since I last looked at Democracy in America, when, at least as I remember, I had a quite favourable impression of it, certainly at least preferring it to Mill, whom I thought of as uninterested in the sociological conditions necessary to sustain liberty. Reading it now though, Tocqueville comes across as a pretty much unreconstructed apologist for aristocracy, characterising the regime into which he was and benefited from as a instantiation of liberty as against democracy's instantiation of equality. This strikes me as rather like those on the right defending laissez-faire capitalism on the grounds that it is a system of economic freedom, apparently unaware that if private property is the touchstone of liberty, some people's lack of it - or at least very much of it - ought to be pretty troubling. Likewise, serfs never struck me as being particularly free.