Alexis de Tocqueville felt that the spread of egalitarian principles would make wars more rare, as democratic countries would more resemble each other and fear conflict. But the political regime of a democratic country can maintain the illusion of egalitarianism complete with beer and circus, while at the same time using mercenary forces to conquer distant resources and markets for the merchants. A people content with materialism are not militaristic, and willingly hand authority to the regime to conquer at will those who resist the mercantile state.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Democracy and a Rarity of Lofty Ambition
“To be comfortable, the traders and shopkeepers of the West need to make money. Indeed, according to [social scientist Werner] Sombart, they are “crazy for money.” English sports for example, unlike the German cultivation of martial arts and drill, are typical of a people who seek only physical well-being and spurious individual competition without higher aims. But it is the cowardly bourgeois habit of clinging to life, of not wishing to die for great ideals, of shying away from violent conflict and denying the tragic side of life, that seems so contemptible to Sombart.
Indeed, the merchant has no ideals. He is in every sense superficial. Merchants . . . are interested in nothing but the satisfaction of individual desires, which “undermine the very basis of a higher moral sense of the world and the belief in ideals.”
Liberal democracy is the political system most suited to merchant peoples. It is a competitive system in which different parties contend, and in which conflicts of interest can be solved only through negotiation and compromise. It is by definition unheroic, and thus, in the eyes of its detractors, despicably wishy-washy, mediocre, and corrupt. Even Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote so admiringly about American democracy, saw the system’s limitations. He wrote:
“If you think it profitable to turn man’s intellectual and mental activity toward the necessities of physical life and use them to produce well-being, if you think that reason is more use to men than genius, if your object is not to create heroic virtues but rather tranquil habits . . . if in your view the main object of government is not to achieve the greatest strength or glory for the nation as a whole but to provide for every individual therein the utmost well-being . . . then it is good to make conditions equal and to establish a democratic government.”
Tocqueville did not deplore these limitations. He was indeed a convinced liberal. But he did, nonetheless, miss the grandeur of aristocracy and felt the tug of higher ideals. He noted, on his visit to American in the mid-nineteenth century, “the rarity, in a land where all are actively ambitious, of any lofty ambition.”
(Occidentalism, The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, Ian Buruma & Margalit, Penguin, 2004, pp. 54-55)