Tocqueville on Fake Revolutionary Abstractions

“When we study the history of the Revolution, we see that it was carried out in precisely the same spirit in which so many abstract books on government are written. The same attraction for general theories, for complete systems of legislation and exact symmetry in laws; the same contempt for existing facts; the same confidence in theory, the same taste for the original, the ingenious, and the new in institutions; the same desire to remake the whole constitution all at once, following the rules of logic and according to a single plan, rather than trying to fix its various parts. A frightening sight! For what is merit in a writer is sometimes vice in a statesman, and the things which have often made lovely books can lead to great revolutions.

“The language of politics itself then took on the quality of that spoken by authors; it was full of general expressions, abstract terms, ambitious words, and literary turns of phrase. With the help of political passions which used it, this style spread to all classes and descended with unusual ease even into the lowest…

“…What is unique is that we have kept the habits we took from literature, while losing almost completely our old love of letters. I have often been astonished, in the course of my public life, to see people who never read the books of the eighteenth century nor those of any other, and who strongly despise writers, preserve so faithfully some of the chief faults which the literary mind produced before they were born.”

The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), Book III, Chapter 2, “How Around the Middle of the 18th Century Intellectuals Became the Country’s Leading Politicians, and the Effects Which Resulted from This”  

Thanks to secret friend for this quote!

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