De Tocqueville Weighs In. . .

In a previous post I speculated on the connection between oligarchic-democracies and territorial expansion.  While I acknowledge that the connection between the two is not absolute, I do think it exists to some degree.  As to why, I’m not sure.

But leave it to De Toqueville to provide some assistance.  He is quoted and praised so often, that one almost wants to find a weakness, a point where we can call him out for the mere fun of it.

Not in this case.

In his chapter “Why Americans are More Addicted to Practical Rather than Theoretical Science,” De Tocqueville points out a contrast between democracies and aristocratic science.  He writes,

Nothing is more necessary to the culture of the higher sciences, or the more elevated departments of science, than meditation; and nothing is less suited to meditation than the structure of democratic society. We do not find there, as amongst an aristocratic people, once class which keeps in repose because it is well off; and another, which does not venture to stir because it despairs of improving its condition. . . .  Men who live in democratic societies not only seldom indulge in meditation, but they naturally entertain very little esteem for it.

He goes on to comment that great and grand ideas will not take root in democratic societies, and consequently, democratic societies will be less revolutionary than aristocratic ones.

The link between aristocratic-democracies and imperialism would break down if we think of imperialism on this side of the more democratic divide.  It is natural for us to assume that European nations engaged in imperialism for “practical” reasons, i.e. money or resources.  Granted, imperial expansion had many motives, but I don’t think money was the main one.

One quick snapshot of British Nigeria shows that profit came quite irregularly to the British,

Year          Revenue          Expense

1922-23    5,505,465       5,410,983

1923-24    6,260,561       5,501,242

1924-25    6,944,220       5,768,715

1925-26    8,268,928      6,583,167

1926-27    7,734,429       7,584,692

1927-28   6,304,636       6,733,715

1928-29   5,894,658      6,861,099

1929-30   6,045,359      6,289,901

1930-31   5,622,200      6,329, 688

1931-32   4,857,612        6,188,301

1932-33   4,984,505       4,983,739

1933-34   4,889,152       5,035,562

1934-35   4,960,765       4,836.666

1935-36   5,995,921        5,757,180

1936-37   6,259,547       6,061,348

1937-38  7,342,450       7,375,570

1938-39  5,811,088      6,867,408

1939-40  6,113,126       6,498, 566

1940-41   7,273,157      7,254,325

1941-42   7,975,054      7,026,894

1942-43   9,034,000    8,999,000

1943-44  10,913,000   9,977,000

1944-45  11,445,000   10,133,000

If we believe that as Kipling stated, imperialism was “white man’s burden,” than the the thought of the grand idea of bringing civilization to Africa, too impractical for democratic minds, would have fired more aristocratic ones.  And before we dismiss the idea entirely, we should realize that evidence existed to fire this idea.  Even “pro-African” Englishman like Livingstone admitted to cannibalism in certain African tribes.  Both Burton and Speke, who searched for the source of the Nile, record dreadful acts where despotic tribal kings execute men and women (usually women) on mere whims.  None of this excuses the Europeans for their own abuses, but I mention it to point out the issue is not as black and white as either the 19th century or our own make it out to be.
If we think of modern America, the contrast shows more starkly.  At the very least a minimum of “some” Americans remain skeptical about whether or not we should spread democracy abroad, or even if it works.  Nearly everyone wants troops home as fast as humanly possible, for a variety of reasons — cost being just one of them.  Perhaps the old saw that says more democracies = more peace throughout the world is true.  But the transition from dictatorship/monarchy to democracy won’t usually be immediate.  Initially we may see a kind of oligarchic democracy in newly democratic states, and in that case, a “time of troubles,” might loom in the future.
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