Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hegel, de Tocqueville, and Government

Having completed Hegel's The Philosophy of History, I have come to see that the previous post was one-sided at best. Having begun Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, I suspect the latter will prove helpful to any project in the spirit of the former.

One of the main issues with the previous post was that it overlooked how the stages of States in Hegel go. In doing so, I overlooked how stages of unrest, as during the Civil Rights movement, and as are being capitalized on by Sanders and Trump currently, tend to precede the stage where the people comes into its own as a State. These stages of unrest are due to some part of the people realizing its weakness to oppression, and taking steps to gain a greater degree of security, ordinarily, if not always, giving rise, in the end, to greater enfranchisement, that is, their having a greater role to play in governing or ordering the state.

In the present presidential nominations we can see that both Trump and Sanders are appealing to a revolutionary, as Hegel would say, principle in the masses. Obama, too, appealed to this.

Since around Obama's election, I have been suspecting that this revolutionary principle will need to find resolution somewhere, and will quite likely result in a relatively violent (which is not to say bloody, but disruptive) change in systems of governance. That system which becomes stable at the end of this period will need to be such as to bring together both the Trumpies and the Sandersians (I indicate in this way how little attention I am actually paying to politics) together in a people where all feel themselves importantly and relevantly participant in the decisions of the government--which apparently is not the case currently.

What is interesting in Democracy in America, in this light, is that he suggests that part of the success of American democracy early on was how uncentralized we were administratively, while being centralized in governance. The decentralization encouraged what we would call entrepreneurship, as well as, by presenting various relevant offices at all levels of government--township, city, state, etc.--providing a sense of enfranchisement to whoever felt need of it. Whether the latter has failed due to the size of the population in comparison to the number of offices, or due to the reduction of power felt by state and town governments in relation to the national government.

This is not to favor small government absolutely, but rather the distribution of power to as close to their effects as possible, within reason. Thus, the power which has reference to the goings-on of cities should be allocated to cities, and the same, mutatis mutandis, to states etc., so that a relative similarity of power is provided at each level, over more territory but fewer or less intrusive issues as one goes up, over less territory but over more personal issues as one goes down.

Rather than positing division as the principle of the USA, de Tocqueville posits Equality, which gives rise--as, in fact, is usual in Hegel's system--to opposed principles towards unity and division. In some sense, we might see this in the opposition of atomistic and holistic medicine, of the extreme unity within parties, but polarization between them, as well as the force of the internet to unite groups around shared interests, yet thus allow the easy avoidance of those who differ ideologically.

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