Liberty Matters

Tocqueville and Equality


Aurelian draws attention to a foundational issue: the importance that Tocqueville attached to the equality of conditions. Another way of putting Thomas Piketty’s argument forward is to speculate about what happens when taxation and related features promote great wealth for a small segment of the population (Piketty). Equally important, to my mind, is the case of government regulations and welfare policies promoting excessive reliance on government and undermining the capacity of people to become responsible individuals (Charles Murray). Both conditions, if true, can and do promote conditions of life that erode the prospects for equality of conditions for a substantial part of the population.  Some people may be permanently poor from generation to generation. This I believe was the point that Charles Murray made about what he called the underclass.[84] So Piketty is not alone in raising these issues, which makes Tocqueville’s point – equality of conditions – an important issue worth considering. And thanks to Aurelian for putting contemporary debate into a historical Tocquevillian perspective. 
One more thought came to mind. How about what in Tocqueville’s time was called pauperism?[85] Tocqueville wrote perceptively on this topic after his journey to England. Unfortunately I don’t have that paper handy and cannot quote from it. But all this makes me appreciate Tocqueville’s reflections and insights even more.
[84.] Murray, Charles A., The Underclass Revisited (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1999).
[85.] "I. Memoir on Pauperism (Tocqueville)"' in Tocqueville and Beaumont on Social Reform. Edited and Ttranslated with an Introduction by Seymour Drescher (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968).