The Classical Mind Newsletter for December 1, 2023
Help us Pick our Next Read, Thanksgiving and Gratitude, Alexis de Tocqueville, Epitaph on a Hare, Hugh of Saint Victor, Troy, Two Helpful Gift Guides, Fairies
Listener’s Choice Poll
MEA CULPA: I am sorry for the delay in getting the newsletter out. I was sick for a week and then the next week took a trip to New York City.
Our next episode will be on Troilus and Criseyde. It will air on Monday.
- has a new Substack venture. He will be going through the Vulgate in Latin in 2024. This is a great opportunity to brush up on your Latin!
Thanksgiving and Gratitude
At Public Discourse, Matthew Frank talks about why we should be thankful. Yes, Thanksgiving may be over, but the practice of thanksgiving never goes out of style. The practice of gratitude is invaluable. Here at the Classical Mind, we have much to be thankful for, including you, our wonderful listeners, interlocutors, and supporters!
What are you thankful for this year?
Alexis de Tocqueville
In our most recent episode, we talked about The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
If Enlightenment political philosophy is something you’re interested, you should check out “Bourgeois Stew: Alexis de Tocqueville” at London Review of Books. In it, Oliver Cussen discusses The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville by Olivier Zunz and Travels with Tocqueville beyond America by Jeremy Jennings.
America offered a glimpse of Europe’s destiny, as a place where the ‘great social revolution’ that was still tearing its way through the Old World had worked itself out in a comparatively easy fashion. Tocqueville was reassured by New England’s civic associations and local newspapers: they showed that modern politics didn’t automatically lead to Jacobin despotism or utopian schemes to transform society. Democracy in New England was in fact rather mundane, dominated not by the clash of incommensurate, strongly held beliefs or charismatic cult leaders but by individual reason and calculation – the routine, narrow self-interest of commercial citizens. In that sense, the American future was also dispiriting. Revolution was unlikely to occur in a society that fostered individualism rather than collective action and generated unprecedented material gratification. But at what cost? Left unchecked, democracy meant the predictable administration of an ‘immense, tutelary’ state and the soft despotism of common sense; it meant that everybody would be comfortable, safe, equal and bored. This was a radical thing to say about a form of government that most people associated with emancipation or violent upheaval. But for Tocqueville it made sense once you looked at how Americans actually behaved – how they drank alone, read popular novels and hid themselves away in ersatz antique palaces. There was a ‘monotony’ beneath the agitated surface of American society, and Tocqueville found it terrifying. As if anticipating the end of history, he feared that ‘man will exhaust his energies in petty, solitary, and sterile changes, and that humanity, though constantly on the move, will cease to advance.’