Sam Francis's Mad Tea Party

Reading up for a book on the fate of democracy since Tocqueville published Democracy in America in 1835, I recently came across an excellent study, Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt, John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville, by Alan S. Kahan.  Professor Kahan includes these men in a group of what he calls “aristocratic liberals,” together with Walter Bagehot, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, and others.  Aristocratic humanism, according to Kahan, extended the modern humanism of the 18th century by adding to the established conception of negative liberties a notion of positive ones, and by endowing the new humanist thought with a teleological dimension that reflected the liberal aristocrats’ conviction that liberty, individuality, and diversity are essential to human thought and action, to the possibility of progress through change, and to the mental and moral benefits of education, which they regarded as an acceptable and effective substitution for the classical notion of virtue.  But aristocratic liberalism’s interests were fundamentally conservative.  While recognizing what seemed to it a universal demand for democratic equality, aristocratic liberalism wished above everything to protect and defend liberty against the forces that threatened liberty in its own name.  “I have,” Tocqueville wrote, “one passion, the love of liberty and human...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here