SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 10-Jan-2011
Hence, if we say there was no old regime, there were no metropolitan, there was no bureaucracy, etc. this means
that one way to describe America at that time would be to say that it was one large middle class or a society of
middle strata. As Aristotle said, “the only way to avoid destabilization of the society is to avoid polarization”.
Polarization is where you have extremes of rich and poor. Hence, in America, you had some poor people, i.e.
poor farmers; you had very wealthy farmers, etc. But, by and large, everybody was in this gigantic middle class
or middle strata.
Tocqueville tells us that America was a kind of post-revolutionary middle-class society. On the other hand, the
French upper classes - in America at the time, there was no upper class that ruled in quite the way that it ruled in
Europe. For example, in America, you didn’t have what you had in France where the King and the Nobility – the
upper classes – had failed to make the lower classes fit to govern, which would have required the sharing of
power. This was something that was happening to a certain extent in Britain, but it was not happening in France.
In contrast to France, in America, the people did have a voice in politics. After all, in America, they introduced
the very things that we learn from Locke and Montesquieu – they recognized that only power can check power;
hence, they introduced that in government you had to have a balance of forces, a balance of power – you had to
have checks and balances and you had to avoid situations in which some of these social forces were so large and
powerful that they could tyrannize over all the rest. Hence, as Machiavelli said, you need a kind of Prince, or
Ruler, or Government that can try to create a dynamic equilibrium among the various social groups and forces
where no one or two of them can rule over all the rest, dominate them, and tyrannize over them, etc. Hence, in
America you did have situations in which lessons were learned from people like Locke and Montesquieu.
Another thing that contributed to the relative stability of early American history was the fact that the people who
came to America, i.e. the earliest settlers, had a common national origin, i.e. they were all English. And, they had
a common religious origin because they were not Anglicans, which was the established church, they were
puritans. They were the product of the Protestant Reformation, which we’ll talk about when we get to Max
Weber, but especially Calvinists and the post-Calvinist sects, which we’ll explain better when we get to that
subject. Hence, they had a lot in common for that reason and they introduce certain liberties of a personal kind,
which you didn’t have in France, i.e. personal liberty, trial by jury, and the accountability of elected officials.
Now, as we hear this, some of us who are very sophisticated will say, well what happened to America because
when we read about what’s happening today, it seems that a lot of these things have become defunct. In addition
to accountability of the elected officials and trial by jury, you have local autonomy – by which we mean, each
township – one of the things that is important to understand about the American Revolution is that when you talk
about Washington and Jefferson and Madison and all the rest of them, they didn’t just wake up one day and
decide to make a revolution, i.e. to rebel against George III.
Zeitlin visited St. John’s Church in Virginia, where Patrick Henry was a member of the congregation. In all the
churches in townships of that period, before 1776, the farmers and artisans – it was mostly the men – sat there and
debated whether or not to make a revolution. They were all Lockeans in a sense, even those who came here were
Lockeans. What was the difference between them? The difference was that Washington et al. believed that
George had become a tyrant; whereas, those who came here, the Loyalists, believed that he made some mistakes,
but he doesn’t deserve a revolution.
Local autonomy means that there was no centralized bureaucracy as there was in France and other countries of
Europe. France was especially vulnerable to despotism because all the local powers had been severely weakened
by the absolute Monarchy and then by the revolution as well and by Napoleon. In other words, what Zeitlin just
described, i.e. the meetings in the church and the townships to decide whether or not to make a revolution, giving
the people some real voice in what was going on – this did not exist in France.
Tocqueville says, “as the state gathered onto itself all power, nothing stood between it and the atomized
Atomized comes from the term “atom”. When we get to the neo-Machiavellians we’re going to talk about the
masses. There is a difference between an educated citizenry and the masses. What do we mean by masses? The
only way, if we regard the first world war as the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century – which Zeitlin does –
what happened as a result of the first world war was that all the old regimes were destroyed, i.e. the Kaiser fell,