Friday, May 29, 2015

Tocqueville on why 19th Century Britons feared democracy

"Kemble, the Tory candidate,
although he was certain of his defeat since the morning, never-
theless appeared at the poll with several of his friends. After
Crawford had spoken, he in his turn stood up and braving the
insults hurled at him, maintained his principles, attacked his
adversaries, and reproached them for their shifts and the ill
means they had used. While listening to him I could not help
thinking of those savages in North America who keep their
spirits up by insulting their enemies while they are being burnt.
The people quite welcomed the grit of the candidate and he got
away with a few hoots. After his speech the assembly broke up;
Crawford was triumphantly escorted to the nearest tavern by an
almost ragged crowd, and the rest drifted away in peace. There
was not a single soldier, but many policemen. (These wear
uniform, but do not carry arms. It seemed to me that the feeling
of the populace towards them was more or less the same as that
of the French populace towards the gendarmes and the sergeants-

The impression that this saturnalia of English liberty had on
me was one of disgust rather than fear. I concede that such scenes
in ordinary times present no danger. It is only the lowest classes
of the people who take part in them. In the eyes of all others it
harms the cause of the people more than it helps it. But the
lower class, by itself alone, is generally incapable of a revolu-
tion. It is a very rare exception for this to happen and such a
revolution is never lasting. I should not be surprised if this
licence given to the lower classes in England has not up to the
present contributed more than anything else in maintaining the
aristocracy, by giving the middle classes a horror of purely
democratic forms, which they see only under such a frightening
and hideous aspect. This reminded me of the Spartans who made
a slave drunk to give free men a horror of wine." -- p44-45 in "Journeys to England and Ireland" by Alexis de Tocqueville.

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