Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO COUNT MOLÉ. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
TO COUNT MOLÉ. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO COUNT MOLÉ.
London, May 19, 1835.
I wished, dear sir, to have written to you much earlier, to tell you of the flattering reception which your introductions have obtained for me; but first the arrangements incidental to a tour, and then an indisposition which lasted some time, prevented me.
If I said that I have been received kindly by the persons to whom you sent me, it would be far below the truth. Every sort of attention has been shown to me. The Marquis of Lansdowne, especially, has proved, by his extraordinary kindness, how much he wished to gratify you. These proofs of regard are all the more valuable to me, as I consider them as one of the effects of your friendship.
On my arrival here, I found that there was a suspension of hostilities in Parliament. The Houses met three or four days ago; but as yet no important questions have been agitated, nor has there yet been time for the different parties to assume their attitudes. It would be very difficult, therefore, even for an Englishman, to predict the fate of the new ministry. A foreigner, recently landed as I am, would be absurd if he ventured to attempt to do so. All that I have tried to do has been to judge, by a few points of comparison, the principal changes that have taken place since my last visit.
Eighteen months ago, I remarked that republican ideas, though making rapid progress in all that concerns the administration, seemed to be stationary with regard to the social system; in other words, that the nation was more eager to obtain equality of rights than equality of station. Comparing what I then saw with what I now see, it seems to me that republicanism has continued to advance in the first direction, but has remained nearly stationary in the second. Eighteen months ago, the Whigs attacked the conduct of the majority in the House of Lords, but respected the peerage itself. I now hear among them words of bad omen. Many of them say that the Reform Bill has completely altered the spirit of the British constitution. Formerly the actual government resided in the House of Lords; the Commons followed in the wake of the high aristocracy. This is all to be changed. The Commons are to govern. The Peers may take part in public affairs, but are not to direct them.
Others go still farther, and ask why none but the rich can obtain seats in the House of Lords. Some even question the advantages of hereditary peerages. All these doctrines have lately been reproduced in print, and not disavowed, if they have not been publicly approved, by the Whig party. There is evidently a general tendency in the public mind to dispute the privilege assumed by the rich to govern the State.
If from political we pass to social questions, no similar advance seems to have been made. I do not meet more persons favourable to the abolition of social distinctions, and of the rights of primogeniture, than I did eighteen months ago. All who are making their fortunes, or who have any chance of becoming rich, favour the accumulation of wealth. The others have at present no voice. The British nation may be represented by two men, one of whom says to the other, “Take your choice; are you willing to divide our inheritance equally with me? We shall each be men of moderate fortune.” And the other answers, “Take all; only leave me the chance of one day stepping into your place.” The middle classes in England play double or quits. With us, the same classes prefer a lower stake; less latitude left to chance; more moderate hopes, and less fears.
When I consider attentively the state of this country, I cannot help believing that a democratic revolution, similar to that which has taken place with us, will, sooner or later, take place in England; but it will not occur in the same way, or by the same means. With us, religious indifference singularly facilitated alterations in our ancient laws. Here, revolutionary feelings are almost as much religious as political. The vehemence and the influence of religious opinions in this country, inflamed as they are by party spirit, cannot be conceived in France. The population may be thus divided: on the side of the Established Church are almost all the rich: most of the middle and many of the lower classes are Dissenters. It is observed that families, when they become rich, seldom fail to join the Church; while many of the poor every day enrol themselves among the Dissenters. After an attentive examination, I am convinced that the Established religion naturally leads to monarchical and aristocratical ideas, and Dissent to notions of republican equality.
In England, therefore, republican theories do not gain ground, as with us, in the absence of religious convictions. They are helped by these opinions, and help them in turn. It seems to me probable that the Dissenters will gain the day, and, as in 1640, upset the State after they have overthrown the Church. One instance will explain the difference between the two countries on this subject. Last year, only a few votes were wanting to pass a bill through the House of Commons, the object of which was to render still more strict the already rigid observance of Sunday. Thus, liberalism, which relaxes religious discipline with us, leads in England to puritanic austerity.
In France, the desire to own land has always been general, and the number of small landowners considerable. The Revolution rendered this system universal. Here, not only is landed property little divided, but it every day becomes more and more concentrated. The chief cause of this is, I think, the immense increase of trade and manufactures.
It is, I believe, an established fact, that as a nation becomes more civilized, its people leave off labour in the fields for work in manufactories. This natural tendency is especially observable in England, which manufactures almost everything, not only for Great Britain, but for the whole world. In England, too, as the land has never been much divided, it has never been such a source of fortune to the poor, as it is in France; and it therefore never presents itself to the fancy of the lower classes as the natural means of rising in the world. The habits and instincts of the English peasant are, consequently, totally unlike those of our own. If he possesses more intelligence or more capital than his neighbours, he turns his advantages to account in trade; the idea of becoming a landowner never enters his head. With the English, therefore, land is a luxury; it is honourable and agreeable to possess it, but it yields comparatively little profit. Only rich people buy it. With us, a great landed proprietor sometimes sells in small lots as a speculation; here, a sale is the speculation of the small landowner. Large estates, therefore, grow larger every day; agriculture is carried on on a great scale. As such agriculture requires fewer hands, every year an increasing number of labourers are out of work. So, while trade and manufactures attract labourers, the soil rejects them.
I do not know if you will agree with me in thinking that such a preponderance of the aristocratic element leads to revolution, as certainly as the tendency towards democracy does with us. Already in England, nearly two-thirds of the population have passed from agriculture to trade and manufactures. The change began long ago, and its progress must lead to an unnatural and, I believe, an unmaintainable state of society. The whole country is already lamenting over the excess of population and want of employment.* The population appears to be excessive, because it is ill distributed; and employment is deficient, because all labour flows in the same channel. Opposed to a small minority of rich is an immense majority of poor; and nowhere is the antagonism between the class that possess everything and that which has nothing so formidable. I know that the rich are beginning to agree perfectly among themselves; but the poor are more of one mind than in any other country in the world. The misunderstanding is only between the two classes.
It is true that democracy, with an army of followers, has no generals. It is ill-represented by the members whom it sends to parliament. They desire political not social equality. But it seems to me that in time they will be driven from the one position to the other. Universal discontent will urge them on. When the aristocracy has lost the greater part of its political influence, its chiefs will remain great people, for they will still be rich; but to the inferior members the result will be unendurable. The rearguard of aristocracy will in that day become the vanguard of democracy; and feeling themselves the evil, they will suggest to the people the remedy.
To sum up, I may say that if the taste of our people for possessing land, and our habit of cultivation on a small scale, have singularly facilitated our progress towards equality, it is probable that the excess of opposing causes will drive the English in the same direction. There are many other points of contrast between this country and France; but I ought to stop here; and indeed it is more than time to ask your pardon for the absurd length of this letter. I perceive that, after having allowed myself to be drawn on till I have written half a volume, I have as yet said nothing on the existing difficulties of the Government; and that while dilating on the future, I have forgotten the more important subject of the present. You probably wished for facts, and I send you only speculations. But I hope that you will have the kindness to value this letter not at its real worth, but for the sake of the motives which inspired it.
I hope that you will be so good as to remember me to Madame d’Aguesseau.
[*]It is curious to compare these complaints of over-population, and of the redundancy of agricultural labour with our present state, after a lapse of twenty-four years, during which the increase of large estates has been constant, after an increase of our population from 16 millions to 20 millions, and after the abandonment of protection to agriculture. M. de Tocqueville did not perceive that the number of agricultural labourers out of work was due, not to the increase of cultivation on a great scale but to the abuses of the unreformed poor-law.—Tr.