Aristotle: Politics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

M. de Tocqueville is of another opinion. He was forcibly struck with the general want of merit in the members of the American legislatures, and other public functionaries. He accounts for this, not solely by the people’s incapacity to discriminate merit, but partly also by their indifference to it. He thinks there is little preference for men of superior intellect, little desire to obtain their services for the public; occasionally even a jealousy of them, especially if they be also rich. They, on their part, have still less inclination to seek any such employment. Public offices are little lucrative, confer little power, and offer no guarantee of permanency: almost any other career holds out better pecuniary prospects to a man of ability and enterprise; nor will instructed men stoop to those mean arts, and those compromises of their private opinions, to which their less distinguished competitors willingly resort. The depositaries of power, after being chosen with little regard to merit, are, partly perhaps for that very reason, frequently changed. The rapid return of elections, and even a taste for variety, M. de Tocqueville thinks, on the part of electors (a taste not unnatural wherever little regard is paid to qualifications), produces a rapid succession of new men in the , and in all public posts. Hence, on the one hand, great instability in the laws—every new comer desiring to do something in the short time ; while, on the other hand, there is no political —statesmanship is not a profession. There is no body of persons educated for public business, pursuing it as their occupation, and who transmit from one to another the results of their experience. There are no traditions, no science or art of public affairs. A functionary knows little, and cares less, about the principles on which his predecessor has acted; and his successor thinks as little about his. Public transactions are therefore conducted with a reasonable share indeed of the common sense and common information which are general in a democratic community, but with little benefit from specific study and experience; without consistent system, long-sighted views, or persevering pursuit of distant objects.

Dictatorships & Double Standards - Commentary Magazine

Important as these changes in China have been, however, it is developments in the Soviet Union - the original "homeland of the world proletariat" - that have put the final nail in the coffin of the Marxist-Leninist alternative to liberal democracy. It should be clear that in terms of formal institutions, not much has changed in the four years since Gorbachev has come to power: free markets and the cooperative movement represent only a small part of the Soviet economy, which remains centrally planned; the political system is still dominated by the Communist party, which has only begun to democratize internally and to share power with other groups; the regime continues to assert that it is seeking only to modernize socialism and that its ideological basis remains Marxism-Leninism; and, finally, Gorbachev faces a potentially powerful conservative opposition that could undo many of the changes that have taken place to date. Moreover, it is hard to be too sanguine about the chances for success of Gorbachev's proposed reforms, either in the sphere of economics or politics. But my purpose here is not to analyze events in the short-term, or to make predictions for policy purposes, but to look at underlying trends in the sphere of ideology and consciousness. And in that respect, it is clear that an astounding transformation has occurred.

Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break – Jennifer, Mara ..

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M. de Tocqueville does not pretend, nor do we, that local self-government should be introduced into Europe in the exact shape in which it exists in New England. An assembly of the rateable inhabitants of a district, to discuss and vote a rate, would usually be attended only by those who had some private interest to serve, and would in general, as is proved by the experience of open vestries, only throw the cloak of democratic forms over a jobbing oligarchy. In a country like America, of high wages and high profits, every citizen can afford to attend to public affairs, as if they were his own; but in England it would be useless calling upon the people themselves to bestow habitually any larger share of attention on municipal management than is implied in the periodical election of a representative body. This privilege has recently been conferred, though in an imperfect shape, upon the inhabitants of all our considerable towns; but the rural districts, where the people are so much more backward, and the system of training so forcibly described by M. de Tocqueville is proportionally more needed,—the rural districts are not yet empowered to elect officers for keeping their own jails and highways in repair: that is still left where the feudal system left it, in the hands of the great proprietors; the tenants at will, so dear to aristocracy, being thought qualified to take a share in no elections save those of the great council of the nation. But some of the greatest political benefits ever acquired by mankind have been the accidental result of arrangements devised for quite different ends; and thus, in the unions of parishes formed under the new poor law, and the boards of guardians chosen by popular election to superintend the management of those unions, we see the commencement of an application of the principle of popular representation, for municipal purposes, to extensive rural districts, and the creation of a machinery which, if found to work well, may easily be extended to all other business for which local representative bodies are requisite.