Locke, Tocqueville, Liberalism, and Restlessness
Why are men in modern societies so busy and anxious? Modern, liberal democratic society is distinguished both by the unprecedented strength and prosperity it has achieved, as well as its remarkable number of psychologists per capita. Why is this? This dissertation explores the connection between restlessness and modernity by way of an examination of the themes of liberalism and restlessness in the thought of Locke and Tocqueville. "Restlessness" refers to a way of life characterized by three features: limitless desires, mildness, and an orientation towards material goods. Tocqueville argues in Democracy in America that democracy, by way of individualism, makes men materialistic and restless (inquiét), or restlessly materialistic. The intense, limitless pursuit of material well-being is a historical phenomenon, one of the many results of the centuries-long development of equality of conditions. Modern democrats are restless; pre-modern aristocrats were not. Tocqueville is ambivalent about restlessness. According to him, the incessant, energetic movement of American life conceals an underlying absurdity and mediocrity. Many of what Tocqueville views as the more undesirable qualities of democratic American life are associated with restlessness, but any solution is likely to be worse than the problem. It could be worse: we must tolerate restlessness if we want to remain free. "All free peoples are grave." Locke by contrast could be described as a partisan of restlessness. The anxious understand the world better than the complacent or vegetative. There are two dimensions to Locke's teaching on restlessness, an "is" (found in Essay concerning Human Understanding Book II Chapter 21) and an "ought" (found in "Of Property," Chapter Five of the Second Treatise). Our desires are naturally limitless-this we can only understand, we cannot change it. But if we know what's good for us, we will orient ourselves towards a milder and more materialistic way of life. We master restlessness by becoming more restless, or restless in a more enlightened way. Locke's teaching on restlessness in the fullest sense is partly his account of necessity, and partly his recommended response to necessity. This difference in their views on restlessness points to certain important differences in their liberalisms. Tocqueville's liberalism is more pessimistic than Locke's: some fundamental problems have no solutions, and some of the highest goods cannot be reconciled with one another. Lockean liberalism is more confident about its ability to find solutions to the fundamental problems of political life, and there is no problem of the harmony of the goods for Locke.