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    Tocqueville's Other Book: The Old Regime Before the French Revolution

    I finally got to the end of Deirdre McCloskey's overmannered Bourgeois Equality, and then lightning struck. I just happened to stumble over a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution in the remainder stacks at HalfPriceBooks. For $1.00. Plus tax.


    Tocqueville argues that the French Revolution changed nothing in France.

    Really. The most famous event in European history and it changed nothing? Surely you are joking, Mr. T.

    Here is his argument in two lines:

    1. Before the Revolution, France was a centralized top-down administrative monarchy. 
    2. After the Revolution, France was a centralized top-down administrative monarchy/republic, whatever.
    Yes, but what about them aristos, the nasty chaps that got sliced up by Madame Guillotine unless they were saved by Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pumpernickel?

    Good point. But the nobility under the ancien régime was no longer a feudal aristocracy. Its power had been sapping away for centuries. In the years before the Revolution France was governed by the Royal Council, le Conseil du roi, and the council was headed by a Controller-General. The Controller-General governed France through Intendants in each généralité, all across France.

    France used to have authentic popular governing institutions. But the absolute monarchy, operating
    through the Royal Council, slowly sapped away all the popular and feudal institutions, replacing them with a pure bureaucratic organization through which everything in France, from the fall of a sparrow to the conduct of war, was controlled by the center in Paris.

    By the time of the revolution the nobility had no power, but it did have privileges, and especially exemptions from taxation. So everyone hated the aristos, because of their privileges. The middle class hated the stuck-up aristocrats, but they moved heaven and earth to buy some official position, which provided them with an income and an exemption from taxes.

    What about the workers? Well, in 1789 we are talking about farmers, and they mostly owned their own farms because the aristocracy had been selling their land off for a while and the peasants were buying. The peasants, of course, hated the fact that they were the ones stuck with the short straw, paying the taxes and supplying the cannon fodder for the militia. So they hated the middle class.

    Everyone hated everyone else and they were ready in the old Paris brickyard, you might say, to settle scores with a vengeance once the starter bellowed: gentlemen, start your engines.

    But did these warring tribes demand independence from the center? Not a bit of it. Tocqueville writes about various schemes for improvement and reform.
    The ends proposed by the reformers varied greatly, but the means were always the same. They wished to make use of the central power, as it stood, for shattering the whole social structure and rebuilding it on lines that seemed to them desirable.
    Everyone looked to a strong central government to solve their problems.

    The comparison with our own times is chilling. Tocqueville argues that in the old feudal times people got on pretty well. There were parlements and the Estates worked together, middle class and nobility, to solve problems. People up and down the social scale had the power and they used it sensibly to work out their differences. The towns were mostly self-governing, and so they governed themselves.

    But by the time of the revolution nobody had any power except what they could wheedle from the Intendants and their subdelegates. So they retreated from politics and governance and argued about precedence. The guild of lawyers demanded precedence over the plumbers, and so on. And they schemed to win privileges and exemptions and government jobs.

    By the time of the revolution, according to Tocqueville, France was already pretty equal: there was not much to tell between a noble and a bourgeois: they walked and talked and thought the same. But they imagined enormous differences in blood and in the quarterings on their escutcheons.

    Enough said for now. Here is the heading for Chapter Ten, next up.
    How the suppression of political freedom and the barriers set up between classes brought on most of the diseases to which the old regime succumbed.
    Hello liberals! How is that divide-and-conquer race, class, and gender politics doing for you today?

    Because I wonder. I wonder if one day your divisive politics might throw up a man on a white horse promising to Make America Great Again.

    perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/27/16 1:38 pm ET

    McCloskey Again: Why Not Call The Book "Bourgeois Rhetoric?"

    DEIRDRE McCloskey has finished her magnum opus Bourgeois Trilogy with Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. And now I've finished the book, all 787 pages. Start over: Conservatism's Big Problem. I'm afraid I have a problem. What was the point of the third volume? McCloskey has said it all already. Here is how I understood her message five years ago ...

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    perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/26/16 2:05 pm ET

    Sorry, Charles Murray, You Don't Get It

    I revere Charles Murray, who has written books about politics that, I hope, will stand the test of the ages. We are talking about Losing Ground, which told us that the liberals knew that their Great Society welfare programs weren't working. But they did nothing to fix them. Then we are talking about Coming Apart, a look at White America from 1960 to 2010, which told us that the bottom 30 ...

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    perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/25/16 6:32 pm ET

    McCloskey Again: 787 Pages For What?

    THE third volume of Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Trilogy is out, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, all 787 pages of it. And I am left wondering: what exactly is new in the third volume that had not been thoroughly thrashed out in the first two volumes, The Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity? So I went back through my McCloskey Week blogs of ...

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    perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/24/16 7:00 pm ET

    |  May blogs  |  April blogs  |


    “I Want a President”

    Georg Simmel’s Sociology

    Charles Murray’s By The People

    Thomas Piketty’s Capital

    The Spirit Level

    McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Era”

    Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation

    A Look at the Left: “Contra-deBoer”


    Download latest e-book draft here.


    A New Manifesto
    A spectre is haunting the liberal elite—the spectre of conservatism.


    The Crisis of the Administrative State
    It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

    Government and the Technology of Power
    If you scratch a social reformer, you will likely discover a plan for more government.

    Business, Slavery, and Trust
    Business is all about trust and relationship.

    Humanity's Big Problem: Freebooters and Freeloaders
    The modern welfare state encourages freeloaders.

    The Bonds of Faith
    No society known to anthropology or history lacked religion.

    A Critique of Social Mechanics
    The problem with human society reduced to system.

    The Paradox of Individualism
    Is individualism the gospel of selfishness or something else?

    From Multitude to Civil Society
    The larger the government, the smaller the society.

    The Answer is Civil Society
    In between the separated powers.

    The Greater Separation of Powers
    If you want to limit power then you must limit power.

    Conservatism Three by Three
    Conservatism, political, economics, and cultural.

    The Culture of Involvement
    Imagining lives without the welfare state

    The Poor Without the Welfare State
    Can the poor thrive without the welfare state?

    The Middle Class Without The Welfare State
    How would the middle class live without all those middle-class entitlements?

    Liberals and the Welfare State
    Liberals, the ruling class of the administrative welfare state.

    From Freeloaders to Free Givers
    The path to the future lies through moral movements.

    The Real Meaning of Society
    Broadening the horizon of cooperation in the “last best hope of man on earth.”

    conservative manifesto



    AAM Books on Education

    Andrew Coulson, Market Education
    How universal literacy was achieved before government education

    Carl Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic
    How we got our education system

    James Tooley, The Miseducation of Women
    How the feminists wrecked education for boys and for girls

    James Tooley, Reclaiming Education
    How only a market in education will provide opportunity for the poor

    E.G. West, Education and the State
    How education was doing fine before the government muscled in

    AAM Books on Law

    Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital
    How ordinary people in the United States wrote the law during the 19th century

    F. A. Hayek, Law Legislation and Liberty, Vol 1
    How to build a society based upon law

    Henry Maine, Ancient Law
    How the movement of progressive peoples is from status to contract

    John Zane, The Story of Law
    How law developed from early times down to the present

    AAM Books on Mutual Aid

    James Bartholomew, The Welfare State We're In
    How the welfare state makes crime, education, families, and health care worse.

    David Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State
    How ordinary people built a sturdy social safety net in the 19th century

    David Green, Before Beveridge: Welfare Before the Welfare State
    How ordinary people built themselves a sturdy safety net before the welfare state

    Theda Skocpol, Diminished Democracy
    How the US used to thrive under membership associations and could do again

    David Stevenson, The Origins of Freemasonry
    How modern freemasonry got started in Scotland

    AAM Books on Religion

    David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing
    How Christianity is booming in China

    Finke & Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
    How the United States grew into a religious nation

    Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism
    How progressives must act fast if they want to save the welfare state

    David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish
    How Pentecostalism is spreading across the world


    Sponsored: 64% off Code Black Drone with HD Camera
    Our #1 Best-Selling Drone--Meet the Dark Night of the Sky!

    American Capitalism’s Great Crisis
    clueless commentary from a Democratic operative with a byline.

    Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, and Other People’s Money
    a four-quadrant analysis of private and government spending.

    Piketty’s Crumbs
    What is the real value of, say, electric light and air conditioning? And all the other modern wonders.

    Debt and Delusion
    Explains how central banks inflate the economy without consumer inflation.

    > archive


    cruel . corrupt . wasteful
    unjust . deluded



    After a year of President Obama most Americans understand that the nation is on the wrong track. But how do we find the right track? Americans knew thirty years ago that liberalism was a busted flush. Yet Reaganism and Bushism seemed to be less than the best answer.

    But where can we turn? Where are the thinkers and activists of the old days? Where do we find the best ideas? And how do we persuade our present ruling class to loosen its grip on power so that we can move the locomotive of state back onto the right track?

    With all of our problems it seems like the worst of times.

    In fact, this is the best of times. Under the radar a generation of great thinkers have been figuring out what went wrong and conjuring up visions of a better future. This book, "An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism" is an introduction to their ideas, and to the great future that awaits an America willing to respond to their call.

    Although this book is addressed to all Americans, conservative, moderate, and liberal, and looks to a nation that transcends our present partisan divide, I must tell you that liberals will have the most difficulty with the book. The reason is simple. I am asking liberals to give up a lot of the power they have amassed in the last century. But we are all Americans, and we must all give up something for the sake of the greater good.


    I am Christopher Chantrill and I am writing this book in full view. I'll be blogging on the process and the ideas, and I'll be asking you, dear readers, to help. Read the blog. Read the articles as they come out on American Thinker and ponder over the draft chapters here on this site.

    Then send me your reactions, your thoughts, and your comments. You will help more than you know.



    “But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
    Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

    Civil Society

    “Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
    Francis Fukuyama, Trust

    Hugo on Genius

    “Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
    César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


    “We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
    E. G. West, Education and the State

    Faith & Purpose

    “When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
    Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


    “When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
    James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


    A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
    Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


    presented by Christopher Chantrill
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