I appreciate Carl’s post below that explains why Lawler must be correct.

It calls to mind stuff I wrote a long time ago, but remains right even now.

It’s natural to want to speak of human nature—instead of the human condition—because of the Rousseau/existential or “Historical” implications of the latter. The human condition suggests that man makes himself over time out of the nothing that he is by nature. Human=Historical etc.

Because of the decisive influence of Pascal, Tocqueville doesn’t believe THAT.

For Tocqueville, Rousseau’s HISTORY=Pascal’s PSYCHOLOGY. Our restless discontent etc. that Rousseau believes we accidentically acquire over time are constant features of who we are. So they can be called NATURAL. NATURAL here doesn’t mean the social qualities we share with the chimps. It incorporates what distinguishes human beings, distinctions that can be traced to our “hardwiring” as the beings with language or speech open to the truth about all things. So it is natural for us—as natural persons, so to speak—to be miserable without God.

Tocqueville says straight out that the undeluded human experience is to be stuck for a moment between two abysses. That’s straight Pascal. He also says there’s nothing more MYSTERIOUS—although not completely mysterious—and nothing more WONDERFUL than the GREATNESS and MISERY of the being with such consciousness of his personal and contingent existence. That truthful experience (so characteristic of the relentless thinker Pascal himself) is free from the PROUD distortions of the aristocratic (including classical philosophical) consciousness and the TECHNO-MATERIALISTIC distortions of the democratic consciousness. The unsustainability of that purely truthful experience, in Tocqueville’s minds, comes from the fact that it’s basically anxious or pleasure-free. Pascal, he reports, thought himself to death. And the excessive self-consciousness or self-obsessiveness of democratic restlessness is also self-destructive in particular cases, although that truthful experience can’t be completely experienced by human effort. Pantheism, for Tocqueville, is a degrading but ultimately a failed self-help program, as is even bureaucratic despotism. Self-help that works are the pleasures of political life, which are partly truthful and partly diversions (here Tocqueville partly dissents from Pascal—no time to explain now).

So Tocqueville’s account of who we are is not HISTORICIST—and that’s why he’s not full of the extreme hopes and fears of the historicists (the Marxists, the Nietzscheans, even some Straussians). But his view of WHO we are according to NATURE differs from the DARWINIANS and the ARISTOTELIANS (and many Straussians). Many Straussians think Tocqueville is an HISTORICIST because they think they is no ground in nature for the greatness and misery of the WHO (as opposed to the impersonal necessitarianism of the WHAT).

I would like to say more, have a real job, please read Carl and Delsol as the Tocquevillians closest to ME, although Delsol wasn’t even influenced by me!

Articles by Peter Lawler


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