Tocquevillean sentences to ponder

“There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult – to begin a war and to end it.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville


That's only one sentence. Why does the headline use the plural "sentences"?

It falls under the category "sentences to ponder"

Don't recall a lot of problems getting into Iraq War, Afghan War, Gulf War or Vietnam.

Except for the Gulf War, I recall a tad of trouble getting our of these.

Probably because we aren't much of a democracy anymore.

For whom are these things easy? What is Tocqueville implying? That for a dictator or monarch these are easy? Are they?

You have to understand Tocqueville perspective. In his time, the major powers would start little wars and end little wars with each other all the time. Nowadays, the major powers only start little wars with little piddling nations not even a quarter of their strength (measured by GDP). I am not sure that the reasons for this change have only to do with Democracy. But I can see an argument being made that the spread of Democracy contributed to the situation.

Well in theory beginning a war in a democracy should be hard, but since Executive powers have expanded seemingly without bound, limited wars start overnight in the US under both parties. It may not always have been thus. Ending wars is always hard as entrenched interests and risk of foreign located asset-damage will argue for continuation and rarely (these days) is there a defined end. since there is usually no real initially considered goal except political gain to the Executive.

Starting the endless global war on scary people was extremely easy with only a couple of people objecting, too few to deserve any public notice.

And the war of choice in Iraq was very widely supported with the stronger opposition ranked as siding with terrorists.

Of course, both were sold as free lunches or better yet, profitable.

Plus, they were paid for with tax cuts, tax cut after tax cut, with patriotism defined as supporting the troops in Iraq and going shopping with borrowed money to exercise the liberty of American Exceptionalism.

Better to have wars where we attack allies, like Reagan invading a Commonwealth nation; Maggie after all would understand his need to be a war president. Of course, it seems to reflect the conservative principle of anyone in the USA must stand alone and be free of dependency on the Federal government, while the 6 billion people outside the USA and partially or totally dependent on the Federal government for both their survival, but also for finding their path in life. The British subjects clearly needed the US government to guide them because Maggie and the UK military and government could not do it without US guidance and bearing the burden.

We figured this one out. The complex inches us up to the tar baby and then convinces us we have to surge our way out.

hmm...As far as America is concerned, during the cold war era and after, it didn't seem to have much hesitation about entering wars.

Perhaps an America which so easily went to war was not as democratic as many people seemed to think it was?

Is it democratic to impose a draft to fight wars such as the one fought in Vietnam?

Nathan, I have heard people argue that the draft is good precisely because it would be harder to get into wars. This stance may even be correct, but it makes the getting out part so much harder.

It is not true because we aren't a democracy. If only draft aged people voted on war it might get closer to the marketing.

Whatever the majority says is democratic.

Only the majority of people who vote for just two parties who specialize in lying about their inconsequential differences and are united on the bundled goods such as war tripwires.

We are down to about 10% MAX.

Eg. When a draft is executed, most of the peoplec subject to it are prevented from voting.

Other jackasses are voting based on flag burning.

"Whatever the majority says is democratic."
You have never read de Tocqueville, have you?

That's Rousseauian democracy, and is considered a form of tyranny. Democracy requires a non-violent method of changing the the ruling elites criteria of selection, and the rule of law. If by majority vote you can approve anything, you don't have the rule of law, nor democracy.

Yes, actually. The draft was an invention of democracy, the "nation in arms" of the French Revolution. It is usually a democratic nation with widespread legitimacy which can impose a national draft. Monarchies and dictatorships generally abhor a draft, because they cannot control the "political reliability" of the soldiery.

If those were easy, either they were not wars, or we are not a democracy, per DeTocqueville.

From that same chapter:

"War does not always deliver democratic peoples into the hands of military government, but it cannot fail to bring about a vast increase in the prerogatives of civilian government. It almost inevitably leads to centralization in the latter of control over men and things. If it does not lead immediately to despotism by way of violence, it gently pulls in that direction by way of habit. All who seek to destroy liberty in a democratic nation should know that war offers them the surest and shortest route to success."

Ethics can be complicated.

And again, for those actually reading more than a quote, Project Gutenberg is available - (the second volume, including book 3, the source of the cited quote. For those interested in Volume I, the link is )

One of the more fascinating aspects of this web site run by two GMU professors is how little interest it displays in actually providing a greater depth of knowledge among its readership. Almost as if the acquisition of knowledge in the public domain is the sort of concept that should never be mentioned - but then, Carnegie's devotion to libraries and universities pales in comparison to the free 5 minute youtube videos of MRU.

I can't get any answe from the people here with the mistaken view, but where do they get the idea we get all our information and thus in their cloudy minds our misinformation from a blog?


And to think here I was criticizing two members of the GMU faculty for not providing access to public domain material to further increase informed debate.

Projecting much?

Why are you criticizing people for not doing things only you care about? That is my point.

I have no clue what that has to with me projecting?

Periodically Bill will insinuate they are tricking us because he has some obscure low level paper that he usually misinterprets as disagreement. I don't want the answer from you two.

'Why are you criticizing people for not doing things only you care about? That is my point.'

Fair enough. But then, why does anybody criticize anything? And I will guess you have never worked in an academic setting - because in such a setting, source materials are considered the basis of informed debate. Bon mots and one line observations are entertainment at best, distraction at worst.

'Periodically Bill will insinuate they are tricking us...'

You did notice the commenter who posted the following sentence after the quotation, right? Ending with this line from Book 3 - 'All who seek to destroy liberty in a democratic nation should know that war offers them the surest and shortest route to success.' Because it most interestingly parallels Prof. Cowen's small l libertarian advocacy in a recent NYT piece to increase economic productivity - 'Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects.'

Nobody is being deceived here, one hopes. One only needs to read what is written, after all.

Thanks for the concern, but nobody here assumes Tocqueville is some guy trending on twitter.

“There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult – to begin a war and to end it.”

Well, when you start naming aircraft carriers after still living former presidents, don't be suprised when it is used to support war in the same country. Much like it should be no surprise that the former's president son, in his own terms as president, also supported war in that same country.

If one was reading imperial history, the pattern would be clear. Thankfully, America is exceptional.

Does it really count as a new war? Perhaps I'm falling for hindsight bias but last war "ended" in Dec 2011.

Same thing is happening in Syria and no one cares, why Iraq is important?. Perhaps....

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