Tocqueville foresaw how it would come.
Myron Magnet writes: Alexis de Tocqueville was a more prophetic observer of American democracy than even his most ardent admirers appreciate. True, readers have seen clearly what makes his account of American exceptionalism so luminously accurate, and they have grasped the profundity of his critique of American democracy’s shortcomings. What they have missed is his startling clairvoyance about how democracy in America could evolve into what he called “democratic despotism.” That transformation has been in process for decades now, and reversing it is the principal political challenge of our own moment in history. It is implicitly, and should be explicitly, at the center of our upcoming presidential election.
“The man who properly understands his own self-interest has all the guidance he needs to act justly and honestly. They believe that every person is born with the faculty to govern himself and that no one has the right to force happiness on his fellow man.”
Readers don’t fully credit Tocqueville with being the seer he was for the same reason that, though volume 1 of Democracy in America set cash registers jingling as merrily as Santa’s sleigh bells at its 1835 publication, volume 2, five years later, met a much cooler reception. The falloff, I think, stems from the author’s failure to make plain a key step in his argument between the two tomes—an omission he righted two decades later with the publication of The Old Regime and the French Revolution in 1856. Reading the two books together makes Tocqueville’s argument—and its urgent timeliness—snap into focus with the clarity of revelation.
“True, readers have seen clearly what makes his account of American exceptionalism so luminously accurate, and they have grasped the profundity of his critique of American democracy’s shortcomings. What they have missed is his startling clairvoyance about how democracy in America could evolve into what he called ‘democratic despotism.’”
What’s missing in volume 2 of Democracy is concrete, illustrative detail. Volume 1 mines nine months of indefatigable travel that began in May 1831 in Newport, Rhode Island—“an array of houses no bigger than chicken coops”—when the aristocratic French lawyer was still two months shy of his 26th birthday. Tocqueville’s epic journey extended from New York City through the virgin forests of Michigan to Lake Superior, from Montreal through New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee by coach, steamboat, and even on foot through snow-choked woods, until he and his traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont, boarded a steamer for New Orleans.
“That transformation has been in process for decades now, and reversing it is the principal political challenge of our own moment in history. It is implicitly, and should be explicitly, at the center of our upcoming presidential election.”
From there, they crossed the Carolinas into Virginia, visited Washington, and returned to New York to embark for home with a trunkful of notes and American histories. Tocqueville had watched both houses of Congress in action and interviewed 200-odd people, ranging from President Andrew Jackson, ex-president John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State Edward Livingston, Senator Daniel Webster, Supreme Court Justice John McLean, and future chief justice Salmon Chase to Sam Houston, a band of Choctaw Indians, and “the last of the Iroquois: they begged for alms.”
Only by the time The Old Regime came out, though, three years before Tocqueville’s untimely death from tuberculosis at 53 in 1859, had he amassed the wealth of practical political experience needed to flesh out the argument of Democracy in America’s second volume. After three terms in the Chamber of Deputies during Louis Philippe’s bourgeois monarchy, he had served in the Constituent Assembly following the 1848 revolution, helping to write the Second Republic’s constitution and serving as foreign minister, until president Louis Napoleon made himself emperor. He had researched The Old Regime by reading mountains of official reports and correspondence from the 1750s onward in the archives, chiefly of Tours and Paris. All this allowed him to document what had been inspired but mostly theoretical speculation in volume 2 of Democracy in America.
Tocqueville didn’t go to America out of blind democratic enthusiasm. “It is very difficult to decide whether democracy governs better, or aristocracy,” he mused: but the question is merely academic, because anyone who pays attention to swiftly shifting French affairs—from the Revolution, the Directory, and Napoleon to the Restoration and the constitutional monarchy of 1830—can’t deny that “sooner or later we will come, as the Americans have come, to an almost complete equality of conditions.” In that case, “[w]ould it not then become necessary to consider the gradual development of democratic institutions and mores not as the best way to be free but as the only way left to us?”
“In French, the word is moeurs, meaning manners, morals, core beliefs, and customs—what we would call culture. There are ‘three major factors that have governed and shaped American democracy,’ Tocqueville argued, ‘but if I were asked to rank them, I would say that physical causes matter less than laws and laws less than mores.’”
So he went to America in search of “lessons from which we might profit”—negative lessons as well as positive ones. And just after the publication of volume 1 of Democracy in America, he cast his own lot with democracy, marrying, to his family’s horror, a beautiful middle-class English Protestant, Mary Mottley, whom he considered “the only person in the world who knows the bottom of my soul”—but who never shed her middle-class outrage at “the least deviation on my part,” he complained. After all, who can stop his “blood boiling at the sight of a woman”? (And, already at 17, he had fathered a child, whose fate is unknown, with a servant girl.) Still, he at least remained faithful to democracy: when he inherited the title Comte de Tocqueville in 1836, he never used it.
In America, he believed, he’d find democracy in its purest form—morally pure but also unmixed with any vestiges of a hierarchical regime from which it had had to revolt, unlike any other modern democracy. The earliest Anglo-American settlers had crossed the sea to begin the political world afresh. This band of equals had “braved the inevitable miseries of exile because they wished to
ensure the victory of an idea,” he wrote—the Puritan idea that “was not just a religious doctrine” but that “coincided with the most absolute democratic and republican theories,” inseparably intertwining “the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.”
“’There is nothing the human will despairs of achieving through the free action of the collective power of individuals.’ Free and collaborative: that’s the mainspring of American mores.”
For the Pilgrims, Tocqueville explained, “Religion looks upon civil liberty as a noble exercise of man’s faculties, and on the world of politics as a realm intended by the Creator for the application of man’s intelligence. . . . Liberty looks upon religion as its comrade in battle and victory, as the cradle of its infancy and divine source of its rights.” As the settlers believed, “religion subjects the truths of the other world to individual reason, just as politics leaves the interest of this world to the good sense of all, and it allows each man free choice of the path that is to lead him to heaven, just as the law grants each citizen the right to choose his government.”
“Nongovernmental associations spring up for furthering ‘public security, commerce and industry, morality and religion.’”
So Puritanism was the wellspring of American mores—a key term for Tocqueville that refers not just to “what one might call habits of the heart, but also to the various notions that men possess, to the diverse opinions that are current among them, and to the whole range of ideas that shape habits of mind.” In French, the word is moeurs, meaning manners, morals, core beliefs, and customs—what we would call culture. There are “three major factors that have governed and shaped American democracy,” Tocqueville argued, “but if I were asked to rank them, I would say that physical causes matter less than laws and laws less than mores.”
From the seventeenth-century Puritan acorn grew American culture’s fundamentally libertarian creed. Universal reason (which reveals Jefferson’s self-evident truths, for example) is the source of moral authority, “just as the source of political power lies in the universality of citizens.” Most Americans believe that “consensus is the only guide to what is permitted or prohibited, true or false,” and that “the man who properly understands his own self-interest has all the guidance he needs to act justly and honestly. They believe that every person is born with the faculty to govern himself and that no one has the right to force happiness on his fellow man.” And they believe in human perfectibility, the usefulness of the spread of enlightenment, and the certainty of progress, so that what seems good today will give way tomorrow to something better but as yet unimagined.
Why are your ships not built to last? Tocqueville once asked an American sailor. Naval architecture improves so quickly, the sailor replied, that the finest ship would be obsolete before it wore out. A Silicon Valley engineer would sound the same today. Read the rest of this entry »
Bill Cosby Arraigned for Alleged Aggravated Indecent Assault
Michael Rothmans reports: Bill Cosby arrived in court today after he was charged with alleged aggravated indecent assault earlier this morning by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania.
After court, Cosby headed to the Cheltenham Police Department, where his mugshot was taken and he was processed.
The comedian, 78, entered the courtroom in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, around 2:30 p.m., walking arm-in-arm with his legal team. He will next appear in court on Jan. 14 and his bail was set at $1 million for the second-degree felony counts against him.
“We examined all the evidence and we made this determination because it was the right thing to do.”
— First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele
Cosby’s passport was also turned over to the court and he did not enter a plea.
The famed comedian has always maintained his innocence since being accused more than 10 years ago by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand of sexual assault. With that case about to reach the statute of limitations next month, First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele said his office had decided to proceed with the second-degree felony charge. Read the rest of this entry »
Prosecutors have said the jury was divided on the sentence, with 11 favoring death and one favoring life without parole. Under Colorado law, jurors must be unanimous to impose the death penalty, so Holmes automatically got a life sentence.
Sadie Gurman reports: James Holmes was an angry quitter who gave up on life and turned his hatred into murder and mayhem against innocent victims in a Colorado movie theater, the judge said Wednesday before formally sentencing him to life in prison.
“We know that is very, very hard for people to see. We cannot feel the depths of your pain. We can only listen to everything you have expressed, and we pray for you…We are very sorry this tragedy happened, and sorry everyone has suffered so much.”
— Arlene Holmes
Samour contrasted Holmes’ bloody assault with the compassion of a juror who voted for a life sentence instead of the death penalty. And he noted the trial was fair, even if some victims were disappointed that Holmes didn’t get the death penalty.
“It is almost impossible to comprehend how a human being is capable of such acts.”
— Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr.
Samour formally sentenced Holmes to life in prison without parole for the murders of 12 people. He also was sentencing Holmes to more than to 3,200 additional years for attempted murder and an explosives conviction.
The judge had no other sentencing option on the murder charges after a jury earlier this month did not unanimously agree that Holmes should get the death penalty. Samour issued his sentence after two days of testimony from survivors of the attack, including first responders.
“Jurors rejected Holmes’ insanity plea, convicting him of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 others when he opened fire on a packed theater in suburban Denver on July 20, 2012.”
But he first spent more than half an hour defending the integrity of the justice system and disputing complaints that the trial was a waste of time. He noted the proceedings gave family members an opportunity to tell the world about their slain loved ones and provided survivors the chance to talk about their ordeal.
“I believe in the system. I said that before, and I’ll say it again. I believe in the system.”
— Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr.
Samour disputed some victims’ suggestion that Holmes would have an easy life behind bars, noting prison is harsh and restrictive.
More than 100 victims and survivors testified this week about the searing physical and emotional scars the 2012 shooting has left. Read the rest of this entry »
Christopher Monfort Sentenced to Life in Prison for Halloween 2009 Murder of Seattle Police Officer Timothy BrentonPosted: July 23, 2015
It took a King County jury about one hour to decide that Christopher Monfort should spend the rest of his life in prison for killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton on Halloween night 2009.
Sara Jean Green reports: A King County jury has spared the life of Christopher Monfort for killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton on Halloween night 2009.
After deliberating for only about one hour, the jurors sentenced Monfort to life in prison without parole Thursday afternoon in a crowded Seattle courtroom. Members of Brenton’s family and Monfort’s mother were seated in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
“This jury worked exceptionally hard for a very long time and were asked to answer a profound moral question. The facts of this case called out for the jury to consider the full range of punishment options under state law. Our entire community should be grateful to these citizens for their service.”
— King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg
Many had speculated the quick verdict signaled jurors had voted for death, the only other possible sentence for aggravated murder.
After the verdict was announced, Monfort said “I’m happy about that.”
One male juror, who declined to give his name, said, “Now that the trial is over, I don’t think there’s really anything to say, other than it really was a horrible incident filled with sadness, regrettable in every way. I’m very glad the jury was unanimous in all the verdicts that we gave.”
Matt Brenton, Timothy Brenton’s brother, said his family had no expectations before the jury’s verdict was announced.
“Now that the trial is over, I don’t think there’s really anything to say, other than it really was a horrible incident filled with sadness, regrettable in every way. I’m very glad the jury was unanimous in all the verdicts that we gave.”
— Unidentified male juror
“More than anything, no matter what decision they came to, it was the right one for them and we respect it and thank them for their sacrifice,” he said.
Monfort’s mother, Suzan Monfort, said she was flabbergasted by the verdict.
“I’m very relieved and I don’t believe in the death penalty for anyone, or for my son” she said.
The verdict marks the second time in the past two months that King County prosecutors have failed to convince a jury to sentence a high-profile killer to death. In May, a split jury spared the life of Joseph McEnroe, who killed six members of his ex-girlfriend’s family on Christmas Eve 2007. That jury deliberated for 3 ½ days.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg issued the following statement Thursday afternoon: “This jury worked exceptionally hard for a very long time and were asked to answer a profound moral question. The facts of this case called out for the jury to consider the full range of punishment options under state law. Our entire community should be grateful to these citizens for their service.”
The jury of six men and six women convicted Monfort on June 5 of aggravated first-degree murder and three other felonies, rejecting his insanity defense, after hearing nearly four months of testimony in the trial that began in late January. Read the rest of this entry »
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Jurors convicted Colorado theater shooter James Holmes on Thursday in the chilling 2012 attack on defenseless moviegoers at a midnight Batman premiere, rejecting defense arguments that the former graduate student was insane and driven to murder by delusions.
The 27-year-old Holmes, who had been working toward his Ph.D. in neuroscience, could get the death penalty for the massacre that left 12 people dead and dozens of others wounded.
Jurors took about 13 hours over a day and a half to review all 165 charges. The same panel must now decide whether Holmes should pay with his life.
The verdict came almost three years after Holmes, dressed head-to-toe in body armor, slipped through the emergency exit of the darkened theater in suburban Denver and replaced the Hollywood violence of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” with real human carnage.
His victims included two active-duty servicemen, a single mom, a man celebrating his 27th birthday and an aspiring broadcaster who had survived a mall shooting in Toronto. Several died shielding friends or loved ones. Read the rest of this entry »
Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death today by a jury in a Boston federal courthouse.
Tsarnaev was convicted by the same jury of seven women and five men last month of all 30 counts related to the deadly April 15, 2013 bombing. Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, and another 260 were injured when Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated twin explosive devices near the finish line of the marathon. Three days later, the brothers murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier.
The jury today found death the penalty was “appropriate” for six of the 17 death penalty eligible counts against Dzhkohar Tsarnaev. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police four days after the explosions….(read more)
FALL RIVER, Mass. — A Massachusetts jury of seven women and five men found Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end, guilty of murder in the first degree to conclude a nine-week trial in Bristol County Superior Court.
He will serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Hernandez, 25, was on trial for murdering Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old landscaper from Boston. He was also found guilty of unlawful firearm possession and unlawful ammunition possession after prosecutors presented a case based on circumstantial evidence due to a lack of eyewitnesses or a murder weapon.
Hernandez’s mother, Terri Hernandez, and his fiancee openly wept while the verdict was read. Hernandez was emotionless.
In closing arguments last Tuesday, Hernandez’s attorney, James Sultan, acknowledged for the first time that Hernandez was at the murder scene, but only as a witness, insinuating that one of Hernandez’s alleged accomplices – Ernest Wallace or Carlos Ortiz – shot Lloyd while high on phencyclidine, better known as PCP. Ortiz and Wallace both face murder charges, and are expected to be tried later this year…(read more)
BOSTON — The jury has reached a verdict in the Boston Marathon bombing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after two days of deliberations, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
The statement, posted on Twitter by the federal prosecutor’s office, did not indicate when the jury would announce the results.
“Seventeen of the counts carry the death penalty. Fifteen of the counts contain a series of subclause questions that jurors must take up one by one and try to answer unanimously.”
Federal Judge George O’Toole met earlier with attorneys for both sides for about 30 minutes to address the questions raised by the seven-woman, five-man jury, which deliberated for more than seven hours Tuesday before ending the day without a verdict.
“The jury’s last question sought clarification on the difference between aiding and abetting. Twenty-five of the 30 counts charge Tsarnaev with aiding and abetting, sometimes in conjunction with a broader charge.”
The charges against Tsarnaev — totaling 30 counts — fall into four main categories. Twelve pertain to two pressure-cooker bombs used at the marathon on April 15, 2013, when three people died and more than 260 were injured. Three other charges deal with conspiracy; another three cover the fatal shooting on April 18, 2013, of MIT security officer Sean Collier.
The final 12 address what happened after Collier’s murder, including a carjacking, robbery and use of improvised explosives against Watertown, Mass., police officers.
Seventeen of the counts carry the death penalty. Fifteen of the counts contain a series of subclause questions that jurors must take up one by one and try to answer unanimously.
“Can a conspiracy pertain to a sequence of events over multiple days or a distinct event?”
If Tsarnaev is found guilty, the second phase of the trial will consider whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
O’Toole began Wednesday’s proceedings by reading the jurors’ questions, one of which had two parts, and delivering his answers.
“Can a conspiracy pertain to a sequence of events over multiple days or a distinct event?” was the first question.
“Duration is a question of fact for you to determine,” O’Toole told the jury. It could be limited to one event or apply to more than one. Tsarnaev is charged with conspiracy in three counts, all of which name four victims who were killed during the week of April 15, 2013.
Jurors also asked whether they need to consider all the subclauses in each count, or if reaching unanimity on the overall question of guilt for that count is sufficient.
O’Toole said they must consider every subclause only if they determine Tsarnaev is guilty on that charge. Read the rest of this entry »
Trujillo briefly closed her eyes as the verdict was read, but showed little emotion. Her family, however, left the courtroom in tears.
The Houston trial gained international notoriety because of the weapon — a blue suede closed toe pump, size 9 with 5 inch heels.
Prosecutors alleged Trujillo, 45, fatally bludgeoned her boyfriend, Dr. Stefan Andersson, by hitting him in the head 25 times with the heel of her stiletto shoe.
Trujillo is a diminutive woman, her attorney Jack Carroll said in court, while her boyfriend was much bigger. When an argument allegedly broke out that night, and she tried to defend herself, she grabbed the closest weapon at hand — her high heel.
Jon David Kahn reports: Last September in North London, a 61-year-old IT worker allegedly went looking for love in all the wrong places. So wrong in fact, that he wound up in Wood Green crown court in front of jury that reportedly was less than sympathetic to the man’s fruitless search for companionship.
You see, jurors were told the story of Paul Lovell who was spotted by a picnicking couple September 4, allegedly attempting to have intercourse with a sheep near the Tottenham Hotspur training ground in north London. The court heard powerful testimony in which witnesses placed Lovell 250 yards away from their picnic “laying on the floor, taking his shorts off,” near a line of trees before getting busy with the sheep.
Muslim woman standing trial in a full-face veil, who was told she must remove it if she gives evidence in her defence, will not take to the witness box, a court has heard.
Rebekah Dawson, 22, has been allowed to appear at her trial for alleged witness intimidation in a niqab showing just her eyes.
The trial judge, Peter Murphy, ruled last September that she could wear the Islamic garment in court but he said she would have to let the jury of five women and seven men see her face if she gave evidence.