Friday, April 25, 2014

"When the lawgiver has once fixed the law of inheritance, he can rest"

From Democracy in America, Tocqueville:

When the lawgiver has once fixed the law of inheritance, he can rest for centuries; once the impulse has been given to his handiwork, he can take his hand away; the mechanism works by its own power and apparently spontaneously aims at the goal indicated beforehand. If it has been drafted in a certain way, it assembles, concentrates, and piles up property, and soon power too, in the hands of one man; in a sense it makes an aristocracy leap forth from the ground. Guided by other principles and directed toward other goals, its effect is even quicker; it divides, shares, and spreads property and power...

I spent two hours looking through the book for that quote. Finally gave up and googled it. Many, many thanks to Numerian from The Economic Populist in 2010, and also at Daily Kos in 2005. At the older link, Numerian sources the quote:

It is found in Volume 1, Chapter 3, ""Social State of the Anglo-Americans," within the first section of this chapter. DeTocqueville's work is quite lengthy and you may have one of the many abridged versions. It's well worth reading the whole thing - the extraordinary insights into America follow one after the other.

Also, the thing is translated (from French). So if you have a different translation, your text won't exactly match Numerian's quote. Below is a version from page 66 of Democracy in America (PDF) translated by Henry Reeve:

When the legislator has regulated the law of inheritance, he may rest from his labor. The machine once put in motion will go on for ages, and advance, as if self-guided, towards a given point. When framed in a particular manner, this law unites, draws together, and vests property and power in a few hands: its tendency is clearly aristocratic. On opposite principles its action is still more rapid; it divides, distributes, and disperses both property and power.

It occurs to me that there are few references to this statement on the Internet.

We should fix that.

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