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Tocqueville and the Blue Social Model


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tocqueville-and-the-blue-social-modelFirst Things:

Anna Williams



In a time of economic slowdown, social unrest, and high unemployment, what should the government do for the poor and jobless? Should the state guarantee a job for every citizen and give money to the poor, or let the free market move as it will? Can the government provide for the needy while protecting the right to private property? These are familiar questions to anyone who’s lived through the Great Recession — but they were also familiar to Alexis de Tocqueville.


In a little-known 1848 speech that Daniel Mahoney draws to our attention on the Library of Law and Liberty blog, Tocqueville explains his opposition to a government-backed “right to work” by contrasting the systems of socialism and democracy. After delving into the historical context, Mahoney explains:


Tocqueville’s “Speech on the Right to Work” is both an eloquent political intervention and a statement of his deepest principles. Those principles can be described as “Christian democratic” in juxtaposition to both socialism and to a libertarian or laissez-faire position that denies that the state has any obligation “to expand, consecrate, and regularize public charity.” What Tocqueville opposes is an absolute “right to work,” one whose “fatal logic” makes the state the “sole owner of everything” or at a minimum “the great and sole organizer of everything.” Tocqueville thus begins by making a firm distinction between “public charity,” which he supports, and “socialism,” which he adamantly opposes.



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