Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America remains as relevant today as it was in the mid-1800’s. Although the technology available to us today is far superior to that available at the time, his examinations of society and government remain forever relevant.
In the second volume of Democracy in America, he unknowingly foreshadowed the United States in 2017, where the almighty State is often expected to provide our material wants. We the People are slowly losing the desire, and more importantly, the ability to provide for ourselves.
“It is important that this point should be clearly understood. A particular study may be useful to the literature of a people without being appropriate to its social and political wants.”
Essentially, studying theoretical and intellectual topics can be useful for the arts and other creative endeavors, while at the same time be useless, and possibly dangerous, to society as a whole. De Tocqueville goes on to predict the outcome for a society where intellectual studies outnumber the practical.
“The result would be a very polished but a very dangerous race of citizens, for as their social and political condition would give them every day a sense of wants, which their education would never teach them to supply, they would perturb [unsettle] the State… instead of enriching it by their productive industry.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, our modern society exposes us daily to the materialistic wants that the global economy has produced. Our education, however, does not expose us to the economic systems and principles that can guide us towards satisfying those wants. We are not graduating with a strong knowledge of industrial and commercial skills.
Over 70 years have gone by since de Tocqueville’s words were published. Rather than alleviating the dangers he foresaw, modern technology has actually exacerbated them.
Consider the following:
In our pocket, we have instant access to every possible human experience. In a matter of seconds, we can find the most expensive car and the most advanced technology known to man. When our social condition is one where everything is on display with a price tag attached, we become seduced, addicted even, to want everything.
This always apparent gap between where we are and what we want paves the way for ideologues, and will eventually lead to a despotic government. If we continue to neglect to teach practical studies and the principles necessary to succeed in a capitalistic society, we will be priming ourselves for a Utopian (impossible and tyrannical) existence.
I will leave you with Alexis de Tocqueville’s statement regarding the security of the Commonwealth.
“The interest of individuals, as well as the security of the Commonwealth, demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial and industrial rather than literary.”
Note: Quotes are taken from the Audible version of Democracy in America, narrated by John Pruden. Since volume two was published in 1840, there have been multiple translations so the verbiage may vary from source to source.