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Belated Father’s day post

09/09/2014

I have been reading an abridged version of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic text, Democracy in America, which I “borrowed” (read pilfered) from my father’s shelves. As I get older and more educated, whether formally or otherwise, (at least I like to think so) and engage with deeper reading material I find there is some convergence of the ideas and subjects which pique the interest of both of us.

Whereas at high school my obsession was largely over sport and sporting biographies (my father is not a sports fan), after entering University, I have expanded the scope of “stuff that interests me” to perhaps more complex matters.

Democracy in America offers a fascinating insight into a young country on the rise which was experimenting with a radically different system of government and institutional framework (yet a limited democracy still in its infancy).

Since I came to de Tocqueville from my wise father whom I do admire and since Sunday was father’s day here in NZ I would like to highlight a Democracy in America observation concerning the influence of democracy on the family:

Thus at the same time that the power of aristocracy is declining, the austere, the conventional, and the legal part of parental authority vanishes, and a species of equality prevails around the domestic hearth. I know not whether society loses by the change, but I am inclined to believe that man individually is a gainer by it. I think that, in proportion as manners and laws become more democratic, the relation of father and son becomes more intimate and more affectionate; rules and authority are less talked of, confidence and tenderness are oftentimes increased, and it would seem that the natural bond is drawn closer in proportion as the social bond is loosened.

This has intuitive appeal to me as an important distinction more broadly between more open (democratic to de Tocqueville) societies and hierarchical (aristocratic) societies, that is to say open societies see an erosion of rigid filial obligation but at the same time contribute to a more meaningful relationship between family members based on mutual respect and a free exchange of ideas. Maybe this is correct or maybe it is just my family who enjoy such a relationship. Happy belated father’s day old man!

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