The other great political advantage which our author ascribes to Democracy, requires less illustration, because it is more obvious, and has been oftener treated of; that the course of legislation and administration tends always in the direction of the interest of the number. Although M. de Tocqueville is far from considering this quality of Democracy as the in politics which it has sometimes been supposed to be, he expresses his sense of its importance, if in measured, in no undecided terms. America does not exhibit to us what we see in the best mixed constitutions—the class interests of small minorities wielding the powers of legislation, in opposition both to the general interest and to the general opinion of the community; still less does she exhibit what has been characteristic of most representative governments, and is only gradually ceasing to characterize our own—a standing league of class interests—a tacit compact among the various knots of men who profit by abuses, to stand by one another in resisting reform. Nothing can subsist in America that is not recommended by arguments which, in appearance at least, address themselves to the interest of the many. However frequently, therefore, that interest may be mistaken, the direction of legislation towards it is maintained in the midst of the mistakes; and if a community is so situated or so ordered that it can “support the transitory action of bad laws, and can await without destruction the result of the of the laws,” that country, in the opinion of M. de Tocqueville, will prosper more under a democratic government than under any other. But in aristocratic governments, the interest, or at best the honour and glory, of the ruling class, is considered as the public interest; and all that is most valuable to the individuals composing the subordinate classes, is apt to be immolated to that public interest with all the rigour of antique patriotism.
The remainder of the tendencies which M. de Tocqueville has delineated, may mostly be brought under one general agency as their immediate cause; the growing insignificance of individuals in comparison with the mass. Now, it would be difficult to show any country in which this insignificance is more marked and conspicuous than in England, or any incompatibility between that tendency and aristocratic institutions. It is not because the individuals composing the mass are all equal, but because the mass itself has grown to so immense a size, that individuals are powerless in the face of it; and because the mass, having, by mechanical improvements, become capable of acting simultaneously, can compel not merely any individual, but any number of individuals, to bend before it. The House of Lords is the richest and most powerful collection of persons in Europe, yet they not only could not prevent, but were themselves compelled to pass, the Reform Bill. The daily actions of every peer and peeress are falling more and more under the yoke of opinion; they feel every day a stronger necessity of showing an immaculate front to the world. When they do venture to disregard common opinion, it is in a body, and when supported by one another; whereas formerly every nobleman acted on his own notions, and dared be as eccentric as he pleased. No rank in society is now exempt from the fear of being peculiar, the unwillingness to be, or to be thought, in any respect original. Hardly anything now depends upon individuals, but all upon classes, and among classes mainly upon the middle class. That class is now the power in society, the arbiter of fortune and success. Ten times more money is made by supplying the wants, even the superfluous wants, of the middle, nay of the lower classes, than those of the higher. It is the middle class that now rewards even literature and art; the books by which most money is made are the cheap books; the greatest part of the profit of a picture is the profit of the engraving from it. Accordingly, all the intellectual effects which M. de Tocqueville ascribes to Democracy, are taking place under the of the middle class. There is a greatly augmented number of moderate successes, fewer great literary and scientific reputations. Elementary and popular treatises are immensely multiplied, superficial information far more widely diffused; but there are fewer who devote themselves to thought for its own sake, and pursue in retirement those profounder researches, the of which can only be appreciated by a few. Literary productions are seldom highly finished—they are got up to be read by many, and to be read but once. If the work sells for a day, the author’s time and pains will be better laid out in writing a second, than in improving the first. And this is not because books are no longer written for the aristocracy: they never were so. The aristocracy (saving individual exceptions) never were a reading class. It is because books are now written for a numerous, and therefore an unlearned public; no longer principally for scholars and men of science, who have knowledge of their own, and are not imposed upon by half-knowledge—who have studied the great works of genius, and can make comparisons.
Who is Steve Grasz? | National Review
Here, then, is a circumstance of immense influence on the civilization of any country; an influence on which in our article on M. de Tocqueville’s America we have enlarged, and which is further dwelt upon in the first article of our present Number. That important portion of a people, who are its natural leaders in the higher paths of social improvement—a leisured class, a class educated for leisure—is wanting in America. It is not necessary, it is not even desirable, that this class should possess enormous incomes. The class exists largely in France and Germany, where the standard of incomes is very low. But in America there is no class exempted from the necessity of bestowing the best years of life on the acquisition of a subsistence. To say nothing of the refinements and elegancies of social life—all distinguished eminence in philosophy, and in the nobler kinds of literature, is in a manner denied to America by this single circumstance. There may, indeed, be writers by profession, and these may drive a thriving trade; but, in no state of society ever known, could the writings which were addressed to the highest order of minds, and which were in advance of their age, have afforded a subsistence to their authors. These have been produced by persons who had at least the means of supporting life, independently of their literary labours; and even the few works of a high order, which have been written in the intervals of a life devoted to other business, have commonly been addressed to a leisured class.