tv [untitled] June 17, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm EDT
often single paragraphs have insights that can produce an academic career for most people. but this extraordinary man, he's one of the great thinkers of our age, of any age, a person whose piercing intelligence is so much greater than that of almost anybody who tried do what he tried to do, at the same time, also has a faith in the capacity of ordinary people to, in the right circumstances, govern themselves and contribute to the building of a decent and virtues society. those who advocated the course of what he calls soft despotism lacked this faith. they see ordinary people as incapable of self-governance in need of a shepherd to guide the herd the right direction. tocqueville sees us ordinary mortals, so far below him as something better. nobody says it better than himself. let me conclude with a final passage in the second volume of democracy in america. as for myself, having come to
the final stage of my course to discover from afar but once all the diverse objects that i've contemplated separately in advance, i feel full of fears and full of hopes. i see great perils are possible to ward off. great ovils that i can avoid and more strain. i become more and more firm in the belief that to be honest and prosperous, it is still enough for democratic nations to wish it. i am not unaware that several of my contemporaries have thought that peoples are never masters of themselves here below and that they necessarily obey. i do not know which insurmountable and unintelligent force born of previous events, the race, the soil or the climate. those are false and cowardly doctrines that can never produce any but weak men and pucilonous. providence has not created the human race either independent or perfectly slave. it traces it as through a fatal circle, around each man that he cannot leave. within vast limits, man is powerful and free, so are societies.
nations of our day cannot have it. the conditions within them are not equal. but it depends on them whether equality leads to servitude or to freedom. to enlightenment or barberism. to prosperity or misery. thank you. [ applause ] >> that was an absolutely brilliant lecture. thank you so much. that was brilliant. i was riveted. i can hardly wait to see it on tape again. there is so much in there. thank you so much. we're going to take a brief break and come back and do q and a. okay. i am thrilled to have heard one of the great lectures ever by michael barone. brilliant, brilliant. brilliant. now, it's time to dissect that lecture and hopefully catch him
on something, which i doubt we could ever do but let's take some questions. gentlemen? mr. lacy? >> i have a question on the soft despotism topic. >> yeah. >> he mentions that part of the danger is the government creating the net of the minute regulations and laws, et cetera, et cetera. yet, when we look to solve problems in this country and we tend to do so through the proper democratic channels, all congress can really do is legislate. so we end up creating more laws. do you ever see a way to avoid that problem, or is it just kind of a self-perpetuating thing? >> one of your colleagues told me that he was taking accounting, was guiding me around this morning and was looking at the u.s. tax code. you know, advocates of the kind of policies that conservatives would call soft despotism will say to you look, it's a complicated society.
if we're going to tax income, you got define income. in a complicated society, there can be lots of ways of doing that. and people will want to tend to want to minimize their revenue as they have a right to do under principles of law if they do it legally. so you have to write it. when i took tax 1 in law school, the first question that the professor asked was a new deal liberal actually. good teacher. he said, mr. barone, what is income? what's your answer to that? >> well, your answer is the tax code and so forth. it's an argument for the principle of subsidiary in part. it's an argument for free market capitalism as opposed to having a government health care bill that establishes all these different things and requires, as the patient protection and affordable care act of 2010 provides, you know, there's something -- the secretary shall
appear something like 155 times in the 1,200 pages or whatever it is of that legislation. typically, it's issue regulations. we've just seen a political firestorm over one regulation, which many people believes infringes on the free exercise of religion. clause of the constitution. you can't avoid some of those decisions when you have a centralized decisionmaker. you're going to require people to pay for those abortions or you're not and people are going to be unhappy which ever decision you make. it's an argument for subsidiary. it's an argument for markets. it's an argument for letting people choose the things they want. now, the progressive new deal tradition says, look, the ordinary person just can't understand that. they can't navigate their way through that. they will point you to individuals who have made dumb choices and done things that are -- seem to be pretty clearly to
their detriment. i guess what tocqueville is suggesting or those who see his description as soft despotism as something you want to avoid or suggesting, yes, you will have those costs and no, you cannot have 100% of everything go right. but that an attempt to be fail safe is sure to fail. it will never work, in part, because centralized decisionmakers will get something wrong. we have a beautiful metro system in washington, which is suffering now from deferred maintenance and some other problems that you can ascribe to certain political actors. but it doesn't go to a place called tyson's corner. all the lines are directed to go to sort of downtown office destinations. it was designed in the late '60s, early '70s. it does not go to tyson's corner, which is the largest collection of office buildings. i think -- well, yeah.
which is the biggest office square footage between washington and atlanta. so it's like significant. my friend joel garo, the author of edge city, former reporter with "the washington post," went to the designers of the metro system and said why didn't you build a station or two at tyson's corner? we said we didn't think there would be any development there. we thought everybody would go downtown. isn't that the way cities have always been? joe, who knows more about cities, knows that's not the way cities have always been. it's an artifact of the railroad. you know, technology of a rather small point in time, 1880, 1920. they just missed. now they're trying to build station there at huge expense and the -- you know, will we spend an extra $200 million to put it aboveground or underground. just unfathomable things.
because central planners get things wrong. the soviet system, you know, it never works very well. and this is, i guess it comes out later with frederick highic in which some ways tocqueville is anticipating that market is the wisdom of -- distills the wisdom of crowds into a set of decisions which on average perform much better than any central planner can perform. because a central planner can never know as many things as all the participants in a free market know. you know, the central planners who decided metro didn't get it, theres a guy named john t. teal has a nel northern virginia, who is a lawyer, who did land acquisition for the commonwealth of virginia highway department on the washington beltway. he saw this intersection, the chain bridge road, leesburg pike and the beltway as an important thing, and he bought up all kinds of land there and got
leases and options on the other. the place is called tyson's corner. till hazel is a very rich man. he saw what -- you know, the market and hazel saw something that the planners didn't see. >> i'm going to jump in here for a second and talk about tocqueville's notion of self-interest, rightly understood. what does tocqueville think that local institutions -- why does he think they're so essential to preserving liberty? i think that's one of the key questions that we should get out of this. and what's the relationship between individualism and equality as he discusses it? i'm going to read a short passage from the tocqueville and basically he comes here to glean the secret of the success and sustaining a decentralized
government in a society in which liberty thrives. he's doing this in contrast to france, where the revolution has failed over and over again. and i quote "i see an enumerable multitude of men like an equal constantly circling around in the pursuit of petty and baine al pleasures. each of them withdrawn into himself is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. mankind for him consists in his children and his personal friends. as for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough but he does not notice them. he touches them, but feels nothing. he exists in and for himself and though he may -- he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland." any comments on that, gentlemen? cadet? >> well, i think. self-interest rightly understood, i think is just the belief that it ties in with
individualism, in that we should all have the capacity and the opportunity to pursue in our own individual minds what we feel is right, what we feel is necessary. you know, what we may particularly be drawn to. and i think tocqueville, when he's writing on that, really gets to -- you know, that's how communities are fostered. through individual wants and needs and people coming together. it's not -- i think it's a stark contrast from central planning. >> i'm going to also try to relate this back for a few seconds to aristotle. man flourishes in social relationships. we're going back to aristotle. that's the very first lecture. local relationships obviate the need for centralized state to involve itself in most social concerns. i think tocqueville is in many
ways saying something very similar, what aristotle says. comments? yes, mr. ford? >> sir, i thought about that when i was reading the nesbit article. but the thing that jumped out at me is aristotle also said that he really can't control society over 5400 people. [ laughter ] but this jumped out at me at the nesbit article because he talks about the individualism in an urban setting. i think it takes away -- the settings take away the identity the people have, the identity politics, so to speak, where we have so many different people from so many different places that aren't -- that are communal. as we've kind of evolved, we don't necessarily have the community religion like you were speaking of that brings people together and which ties into the self-interest, where i grew up in a small town, actually 4,500 people. so i fit aristotle's mold.
but you know, if a tornado comes through, through the country, people are out there from the churches helping build up the community and everything, which would be self-interest rightly understood if i'm interpreting this correctly. >> one of the reasons i mentioned this big cities of 1910 and sort of cribbed from a lecture i did on another subject. it struck me, the elites of 100 years ago, whether progressives, one thing they were afraid about was revolution. what would these people do? you'd have the paris commune in 1870, '71. the revolutions of 1848. he would have the revolution of russia in 1917-'18. you had revolutions in budapest and munich and berlin after world wan i. what would happen to this mass of people who decided to kill you and destroy all your stuff? i was prompted to think of this years ago when i was visiting
newport, rhode island, and going touring one of the "cottages" which are fancy mansions that the people in the new york would built and take their steamship up from new york for the newport for the spewing all sorts of coal dust on everybody else up to newport for the weekend. and one them said this is he tea was owned by marie antoinette and this belonged to marie antoinette and this belonged to king louie xvi. >> i said they had a fixation on the king and queen who were guillotined. they weren't sure they were going to be killed by the mob themselves. they didn't know what we know, that that kind of revolution didn't happen here. we have all sorts of good reasons why it didn't. but your picture of people alienated, i start off with demography often and in 1910, as i said, new york city, the five boroughs had 5 million people. manhattan had 2.3 million people.
the current population of manhattan is 1.6 million. they had 2.3 million. one-half of them, 1.15 million, lived in south of 14th street in manhattan. that is essentially the size of the peninsula of charleston. imagine 1 million people living from here south to the battery. 1,200,000 people living. you were looking at the most crowded spot on earth. people speaking all these different languages. i think your picture of that is the right one. tocqueville's warning in that kind of a situation is like paris in that he knew it had a revolution. that had a whiff of -- in 1795. that had a revolution in 1830 that, this kind of thing could occur. we didn't for a variety of reasons, including that the efforts of some often
religious-based charities, get involved in those areas, those cities and that prosperity enables people to fan out and live lives that are economically independent. and that we build things through the church. you have catholic and jewish organizations, for example, playing significant roles in those situations. >> let's take some more questions from you all. yes, sir? >> points out individualism contribute to despotism also says traditional associations are excellent tools to combat individuals such as relying on close connections to family, community and churches. do you think there might be a potential growth of despotism in the 21st century as social networking begins to connect and
people begin to connect on the social technologies and isolate themselves from the traditional associations of community? >> i'd like to ask you that question. you're probably in a better position to answer it than i am. what he was saying is pointing out that having these connections and associations with people tends to make people want to behave in a virtuous way. is facebook going to -- does that make us behave and -- how many here do facebook? i don't do it. i have a facebook page that they put together at the examiner or something. >> same here. i don't do it either. i can't figure it out. >> you know, what am i going to write? i'm at whole foods today. doesn't look like they've got good tomatoes this week. [ laughter ] but are the kind of communities that are created on this, they are fascinating. i have a very good friend who is a brazilian diplomat who keeps in touch with people all over the world. on this. they've been replaced with their big social network by facebook.
keeps in touch with it and puts a lot of things on it. is that going to make us more virtuous people? what do you think? or do we have the capacity to preserve and carivate to conceal some aspects of our character. we try to do that to some extent in society, even thick with voluntary association. we don't want our neighbors to know our bad habits. what's your thought? >> honestly, i wasn't really sure. that's why i was asking you. you know just how this networking has changed the whole dynamics of the community and -- >> it stretches it in space and time, doesn't it? so my brazilian friend can keep up with his friends in beijing, paris, brazilia and washington and stuff fairly easily. between skype and facebook,
you're in constant touch with people. it's a force that strengthens community. some things like long-distance telephone strengthens the community. you can call -- i can remember when direct distance dialing came in, in the mid-1950s. before that to make a long distance call, of course, we didn't have cell phones. we had black phones. that's the only color at&t wanted you to have. you would call 0 for operator and wait for the dial to come around as it took a long time with the 0 and they would say, i want to call new york, gramercy 46029. and hang up and wait for them to call back and say the call had been put through. it cost a dollar a minute. when the average salary was $100 a week. people did not communicate by long-distance phone. it's different today. i used to call -- when i was in college in the 1960s, i'd talk to my parents once every two weeks or so.
and they done call me and they were poor. my father was a doctor, they had money. we didn't use long-distance phone to call. you know, this was a dollar a minute. conversations began on long distance by saying, who died? so now you have -- my feeling is that it can make community work better in some ways by stretching it over time and place. and by collapsing time the way long -- collapsing place like the long-distance telephone did, like the telegraph did, like the canals did. but you have to make some effort in some way. you may not know who lives in the apartment building next door. it's like new york apartments are supposedly. somebody says, well, who is that person in the apartment that passed you. you say i don't know, they've only lived here for 18 years.
>> next question. yes, mr. faust? >> i just want to address the -- optimistic view of the direction or at least the way things are going right now. we talked about religion and light self-interest, which of course, it serves two purposes, which help to help the community -- one to restrain man's wants, thus he's not dependent on the government, doesn't need as much and two, for him to help each other. one thing that really wasn't as well addressed, i felt like in our readings was the centralization of power in the government as equality comes, as people get more equality, then they want more equality and the little inequalities seem so much bigger. and so we invest more and more power into the government. like the tocqueville and his writings, he made observations just trying to make an observation of what's going on today. we tend to be seeing that with obama care, an expansion of government to try to create equalities that weren't
necessarily guaranteed or there before. occupy wall street is another good one, where the 99 percenters are out protesting against the 1%. we're seeing a growing of this today. we're also seeing it in our businesses. we're driving business away through overregulation, which is making businesses go overseas. i mean, this is something that tocqueville observed and said would be the downfall of america. it's not going to be the individual. it's going to be the cry of equality will be america's death throes. >> and the -- the cry of equality and the argument that centralization is the only fairway to handle equality in a situation. the only fairway to structure a the procrastinators went farther in saying, it's efficient. that argument, in many ways -- it's been disproven. there are some things you do want to do decentrally. i think one of the things that added to the prestige of the
centralization movement is the whole civil rights issue. because if you go back to the 1950s, among the defenders of decentralization, the critiques of the new deal, you had people like william f. buckley and "national review" were defending southern, legally imposed racial segregation as, you know, local control. these people know best what they want. the sort of good-hearted defense of it that i think existed was if we don't have these rules in place, a lot of people are going to kill a lot of people. mostly, it's going to be white people killing black people and that's not good. too much blood thirstiness in this country. also vice versa. i think that was the good hearted argument, that people didn't express publicly. the people that maintained this system would have told you if they were being exactly frank. you don't know how much those white people are going around killing these other people. we've had lynchings in the past. we don't see want to see that in
the future. if you want an orderly society, we'll try to get black people more fairly and maybe open up college for them and stuff but we're not going to -- don't try to mix it or you'll have violence, that would have been the argument. you know, americans rejected that basically. in a national movement. so anytime you advocate decentralization, the comeback is always well, you wouldn't have been for brown versus board of education. you wouldn't have been for desegregation in the south. my response is that's an exception that proves the rule. it was an issue that was so great, but it was there. but i think that still has force in one way. i'll give you an example of an issue proposal that was brought forward by last week's lecture, newt gingrich and his presidential campaign. he made the proposal that we should deal with immigration by providing for legalization of
certain very longstanding illegal immigrants who have met certain criteria and he was somewhat vague about it, but you got the impression, family ties, working and so forth. by local boards that would be analogous to the local draft boards that decided who would be drafted in world war ii. a system that continued in place until draft was abolished in 1971. and i thought that was mistaken -- that was not -- i wrote that that was not a viable policy because on some issues local decisionmaking was acceptable to americans of the 1940s. but by the mid-'60s, the local decisions by draft boards came to seem arbitrary, unfair because they weren't nationally uniform. as i've thought about it, the civil rights issue is the reason for both sets of feelings. in 1940s america as i said you had a south that was very different from the north and very separated from.
northerners did not come for vacation in charleston, south carolina. the mallory factors would not have moved from new york to charleston. there was a movement in the other direction. there was a u.s. district judge here, j. wearing. appointed by roosevelt i think. a member of the charleston elite. gave a couple of decisions in the early civil rights era. he was so ostracized by local society and perhaps threatened, he resigned his federal judgeship and moved to new york. he couldn't live in charleston anymore. now, that america has vanished. but that was the america of 1940. in that america, you had a quarter of the people living on farms. are you going to send this farm boy away when his mom is disabled and his father has died and nobody else can till the field? let the locals make the decision. they'll know about it. you have other people living in the big cities where the draft board is going to be run by the lott town hall machine. they know the local community, let them handle it. it seemed fair in a way where
you deciding life and death decisions that you do that. by 1965 when i was in college and about to go to law school, it seemed very unfair. because we had gone through the civil rights movement and the message was you need one standard for the whole country. it's unfair not to have a uniform standard and to be able to decide which draft board to go and to enlist military service is wrong, too. you know like adept people like me and people i know did. so that's kind of wrong. we rejected that. i thought newt was out of step. maybe he's back in step. there's also loophole on immigration that you go to east los angeles, which is 95% latino and entry level and 30% illegal, they're going to legalize everybody. you had another point. >> tocqueville talks about the dangers of -- and how that comes about wlfr it's overcentralized. you're making blanket rules which become the red tape that people are stumbling on. because what's good for one area isn't necessarily good for
everybody else. >> i think that's undoubtedly true. it's a very strong argument and it's all also a stronger argument for market provision rather than government deciding everything. it's the argument that the prescription drug benefit passed in 2003 make. is that you have the insurance companies come in with competing plans, constructed with limited principles, but with competing plans which they formulate rather than having the government say, okay, each plan has to do this or we're going to have one plan like medicare which does this. and so forth. so i think the argument that you're citing, the sort of decentralized/market argument has gained strength in 40 years and gained strength off a lot of things. the deregulation movement. we used to have trucking regulation passed in the new deal. supposedly to keep prices up to
protect truckers from losing their jobs that said if you were hauling horse feathers from pittsburgh to cleveland, you have to get a certificate of convenience and necessity from the interstate commerce commission saying that it's necessary for you to haul horse feathers. and of course there will be a proceeding in which that will be opposed by the single company that is now licensed to haul horse feathers from pittsburgh to cleveland, and they get paid $7 a pound to do it under a rate the icc has. ralph nader wrote a piece against that, wrote a whole book about how that's ridiculous and ripping off consumers. let people who meet basic safety conditions ship whatever they want, wherever they want. and let people decide what they want to pay for it. and we abolish the icc. in some areas, america is very much accepted your argument. i think on life and death decisions like the draft, it's a harder sell. and