lunes, 19 de marzo de 2012

Tocqueville y los ventajosos subproductos de la democracia

En el bicentenario de la Constitución de 1812.

Tocqueville suggests, in a seeming paradox, that democracies are less suited than aristocracies to deal with long-term planning, and yet are superior in the long run to the latter. The paradox dissolves once it is seen that the first statement involves time at the level of the actors, while the second concerns the temporal consequences of their behaviour as seen by the observer. On the one hand, ‘a democracy finds it difficult to cordinate the details of a great undertaking and to fix on some plan and carry it through with determination in spite of obstacles. It has little capacity for combining measures in secret and waiting patiently for the result.’ On the other hand, ‘in the long run government by democracy should increase the real forces of a society, but it cannot immediately assemble, at one point and at a given time, forces as great as those at the disposal of an aristocratic government’. This latter view is further elaborated in a passage from the chapter on ‘The Real Advantages Derived by American Society from Democratic Government’:
That constantly renewed agitation introduced by democratic government into political life passes, then, into civil society. Perhaps, taking everything into consideration, that is the greatest advantage of democratic government, and I praise it much more on account of what it causes to be done than for what it does. It is incontestible that the people often manage public affairs very badly, but their concern therewith is bound to extend their mental horizon and to shake them out of the rot of ordinary routine ... Democracy does not provide a people with the most skillful of governments, but it does that which the most skillful government often cannot do: it spreads throughout the body social a restless activity, superabundant force, and energy never found elsewhere, which, however little favoured by circumstances, can do wonders. Those are its true advantages.

The advantages of democracies, in other words, are mainly and essentially byproducts. The avowed aim of democracy is to be a good system of government, but Tocqueville argues that it is inferior to aristocracy viewed purely as a decision-making apparatus. Yet the very activity of governing democratically has as a by-product a certain energy and restlessness that benefits industry and generates prosperity.

- En Sour grapes. Studies in the subversion of rationality, de Jon Elster

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