Alexis de Tocqueville on Government and War

“I think that extreme centralization of government ultimately enervates society and thus, after a length of time, weakens the government itself; but I do not deny that a centralized social power may be able to execute great undertakings with facility in a given time and on a particular point.  This is more especially true of war, in which success depends much more on the means of transferring all the resources of a nation to one single point than on the extent of those resources.  Hence it is chiefly in war that nations desire, and frequently need, to increase the powers of the central government. All men of military genius are fond of centralization, which increases their strength; and all men of centralizing genius are fond of war, which compels nations to combine all their powers in the hands of government.  Thus the democratic tendency that leads men unceasingly to multiply the privileges of the state and to circumscribe the rights of private persons is much more rapid and constant among those democratic nations that are exposed by their position to great and frequent wars than among all others.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, trans. Henry Reeve (New York, 1945), pp. 300-01. [Emphasis added]

 

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