Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Medvedev Might Tutor Obama on Tocqueville

Given President Obama’s dramatic power grab, crushing and baiting American indviduals, e.g., the ex-GM Chairman and Rush Limbaugh, we are nonetheless confounded to see that he can get a lesson about American freedom from the President of Russia.

Medvedev concludes his otherwise saccharine WaPo op-ed by affirming gthe truthh of Alexis de Tocquevillefs words predicting ga great future for our two nations.h Tocquevillefs actual words are sobering. At the conclusion of volume I of Democracy in America he predicted (in 1835) that Russia and America each seemed destined to ghold the destinies of half the world in its hands one day.h His conclusion emphasizes the dramatic differences between the nations, then and now:

g[T]hus the conquests of the American are made with the plowshare of the laborer, those of the Russian with the sword of the soldier.

gTo attain his goal, the first relies on personal interest and allows the force and reason of individuals to act without directing them.

gThe second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man.

gThe one has freedom for his principal means of action; the other servitude.h

Does Obama realize "the truth" of these distinctions? Medvedev asks that Russia and the U.S. should "work together" and thus renounce their specific characters. With his latest actions Obama seems to be meeting him more than half-way.

Discussions - 5 Comments

If Obama intends to get by without Gates and Bush's Afghanistan,Iraq and antiterrorist course he must being able to manage worldwide the great NATO and long term US achievements and not only being President of a demotivated world in crisis

How rational is it to refer to some predictions from 1835? Oh, I forgot, Toqueville, like Lincoln, can be quoted to any end, so as to lend authority to whatever minor point you want to make. Isn't Obama's power-grab a manly thing to do?

Ren, if you bothered to read Toqueville you could quote him back. "A great democratic revolution is taking place in our midst; everybody sees it, but by no means everybody judges it in the same way. Some think it a new thing and, supposing it an accident, hope they can still check it; others think it irresistible, because it seems to them the most continuous, ancient, and permanent tendency known to history."

"Thus its conquests spread along with those of civilization and enlightenment, and literature was an arsenal from which all, including the weak and poor, daily chose their weapons."

But then again I am not sure Toqueville can be quoted to an end...that his general thrust doesn't swallow the ends to which he may otherwise be put, that "Running through the pages of our history, there is hardly an important event in the last seven hundred years which has not turned out to be advantageous for equality."

"...All have been driven pell-mell along the same road, and all have worked together, some against their will and some unconsciously, blind instruments in the hands of God."

Obama is "crushing and baiting" American individuals? Oh my. We can criticize his policies with all due heat and merited alarm for the future of our system without saying such things.

Medvedev is unimpressive, but Russian statements about U.S. policy generally are. But I wish him success in using the supposed departures of Obama as providing a new opportunity, i.e., a new opportunity to talk Russians into a less paranoid view of the U.S.

As for that famous Tocqueville quote, which indeed seemed prophetic from 1945-1989 (but which, Medvedev's bluster and the fear-mongering of certain American conservatives to the contrary, is preposterous today as far as Russian strength/significance is concerned), I will do my scholar's duty and note that Tocqueville later admitted that that statement was a not a profound part of his thinking, but one of those places where he fell into a superficially smart statement. And others had said pretty much the same.

ren would be a wiser person were he to allow himself to study either Lincoln or Tocqueville with the seriousness they deserve; but neither man was always right. Tocqueville's prose IS more prone to be abused by the spirit of quote-it-for-any-purpose, but that simply reflects its deeper, more dialogic-yet-still-populist, purposes, and the fact that most people are careless students. This spirit has less success, methinks, with Lincoln, despite the best efforts of Obama and many of his liberal forebears.

Fair points from Mr. Scott. I do read Lincoln and Tocqueville with the seriousness they deserve, but nothing more. My seriousness includes a critical stance with regard to their views, not hagiography.

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