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85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The drifting of Democracy
Paul Rahe has written an exceptionally fine book. As a historian, he places Montesquieu's, Rousseau's and Tocqueville's writings within context. Furthermore, he reads these thinkers closely as they weigh both the strengths and weaknesses of modern democracies as they drift toward soft despotism--the administrative state. He demonstrates how Rousseau and Tocqueville...
Published on April 29, 2009 by George I. Greene

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24 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the lay person
Perhaps I should not yet write a review since I haven't finished the book. On the other hand, it may be some time before I do. This work is not for the lay person, and it's nothing you'd want to read at the beach. I started reading the book over after about 75 pages, the second time with a pen in hand to underline key points as a tool to hold my concentration. I find...
Published on July 21, 2009 by Consumer


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85 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The drifting of Democracy, April 29, 2009
By 
George I. Greene (Chappaqua, New York) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
Paul Rahe has written an exceptionally fine book. As a historian, he places Montesquieu's, Rousseau's and Tocqueville's writings within context. Furthermore, he reads these thinkers closely as they weigh both the strengths and weaknesses of modern democracies as they drift toward soft despotism--the administrative state. He demonstrates how Rousseau and Tocqueville draw from the peculiar modern political science that Montesquieu developed. For students of "classic" political thought, it is a must read as Rahe demonstrates how these thinkers draw from Pascal's psychology which is separated from its theological roots in order to develop institutions that guarentee individual liberty.

There is also a polemical part to Rahe's book. Paul Rahe is more than concerned about the administrative state here in the United States which he believes erodes our liberties as a result of bureaucrats exercise greater control of our daily lives. He finds that this shift occurred as a result of the Progressive Era's devaluation of our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Although that may be a part of the analysis, it would appear to be somewhat incomplete. As I understand the Progressive Era, it was a reaction to political corruption in which it was believed that the political system could not be trusted. Instead, it was believed that solutions to political problems could only be solved outside of this corrupt system through neutral expertise. The failure of the Progressive Era was that it did not see that the neutral expert would become vested in the system or bureaucracy that he or she created.

In his conclusion, Paul Rahe somewhat softens his rhetoric against the administrative state. Although there are clear excesses under these Federal bureaucracies, his argument reminds me of Huck Finn's father. I would have liked him to take a more difficult case to analyze from the administrative state such as the EPA which is to protect the environment or the FDA which is to make sure that ethical pharmaceuticals and/or medical devices are safe and effective. He also does not address due process which allows individuals to challenge these bureaucracies as a means of exercising individual liberties.

All in all, it was an excellent read and an impressive achievement. I look forward to his next book on Montesquieu which is also to be published this year by Yale University Press.
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54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Synthesis of Montesquieu, Rousseau and de Tocqueville in Service of the Defense of Liberty, June 5, 2009
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
Prof. Paul Anthony Rahe does service to the cause of freedom by producing a profoundly useful work entitled _Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, de Tocqueville and the Modern Prospect_. The author attempts to explain what de Tocqueville called many years ago, "democracy's drift." Meaning its descent into a "soft despotism" of centralized administration, barely perceptible over time. Rahe seeks serious philosophical support for his libertarian conclusions by appealing to the works of three great French thinkers. Montesquieu, whose work _The Spirit of the Laws_ reflected his study of the English national constitution and first suggested the efficacy of separation of powers. Rousseau, who was voluminous works, including the _Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men_, provided for an attack on individual liberty as the safeguard of societal progress, and argued that societies need to trade liberty for equality. And of course, the great de Tocqueville, in whose magnum opus, _Democracy in America_ astutely observed the habits of the early 19th century American population and through which he developed a theory of how societies can avoid democratic drift.

It is useful to review a quote from de Tocqueville that the author puts in his conclusion:

"Certain peoples pursue liberty obstinately in the face of all sorts of perils and misfortunes. It is not the material goods that it offers them that these peoples then love in it; they consider it itself as a good so precious and so necessary that no other good console them for its loss and that they find, in tasting it, consolation for everything that occurs. Other peoples tire of it in the midst of their prosperity; they allow to be snatched from their hands without resistance: for fear of jeopardizing by such an effort the very well-being they owe to it. What do they lack with regard to remaining free? What, indeed? The taste itself for being free. Do not ask me to analyze this sublime taste, it is necessary to experience it. It enters of its own accord into the great hearts that God has prepared to receive it: it fills them, it inflames them. One must renounce making mediocre souls understand what they have never felt."

In short, de Tocqueville is stating Rahe's hypothesis that with time and prosperity, free societies allow their Liberties to be selectively chipped away, which the author sees as having been happening to the United States for the past 75 years.

Rahe breaks his book down into four distinct parts; the first three dealing with the works and political insights of the philosophers mentioned above. In this he provides a valuable service for people who are interested in *why* these philosophers are important to the history of political thought and of Liberty, but don't necessarily want to slog through the large amount of material produced by them.

In this, the author is similar to others like Karl Popper, who digested Plato and Hegel in his _The Open Society and its Enemies vols I & II_, Allan Bloom, who provides for an excellent review of Nietzsche in _The Closing of the American Mind_, and Francis Fukuyama, who does similar work for Hegel and Koejeve in _The End of History and the Last Man_.

The last section of "Soft Despotism..." synthesizes the political insights of these authors in support of Rahe's conclusion that democratic society essentially harbors the seeds of its own destruction. That a drift towards a centralized administrative "soft despotism" is a natural part of the life-cycle of a free society and must be actively resisted. His arguments are not new, but they are convincing, and he has done a great service by demonstrating that the fear of democratic drift is not a recent phenomenon. In fact the three great French philosophers that are the focus of this book had no trouble in discerning the possibility of it.

A key concept that runs through each of the philosopher's thought is that of "uneasiness" (inquietude) that all three mark as a characteristic of all free societies. It is this uneasiness, about one's place in society, one's future prospects (the treadmill effect to be more modern about it) that is the force that drives free men to slowly proffer up their Liberties to an administrative despotism that convinces them it can relieve their insecurities.

Rahe's remonstrances against gently accepting the administrative despotism in which one could argue we are currently living is an important clarion call for all those who are interested in the cause of Liberty. Backed up by serious political philosophy and analysis, it deserves to be widely read.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A courageous work, August 25, 2009
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
Dr. Rahe, a Rhodes scholar, is a well-respected political historian and professor of history at Hillsdale College, an institution noted for its fierce independence and unbiased stance on many of today's key issues. This, his seventh book, is perhaps his most significant.

Although it is a scholarly work, it effectively demonstrates the slippery slope the US and other Western democracies have been on as they've slid semi-consciously towards depotism and tyranny at the hands of an ever more powerful nanny state. While this is clearly be the author's personal belief, the most compelling testimony comes from the likes of Alexis de Tocqueville, who anticipated today's trends over a century ago. Seeing today's reality as the manifestation of the worst fears of yesterday's best minds proves to be a powerful message.

The book is full of wonderful quotations from Tocquevill and others, including one of my favorites: "...finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd". If you've never been exposed to the likes of Montesquie or Rousseau, their thoughts will prove haunting when you think about them in today's context.

Unfortunately, while Dr. Rahe's work is well-written and no doubt meticulously researched, it's not likely to be subject matter for some mass-market TV series. His important message is therefore likely to remain unheard, until perhaps it becomes too late to reverse the trends he speaks about. That is the real tragedy of our times.

Recommended without reservation.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudition Demanding Concentration--Need Lay Chapter or Pamphlet, October 12, 2009
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
This is an extraordinary book offering a very detailed and superbly integrated examination of the consistencies and differences among Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Tocqueville, both to illuminate precisely what was in the Founding Father's minds when they sought to create a Republic of, by, and for We the People; and how distant we have migrated from that ideal.

As other reviewers have noted, this is not for the lay person or even the average Libertarian, for whom I would like to see (and would benefit myself) a pamphlet or article version. This is erudition in its highest form, offering a painstakingly devised integration and application of the works of three author's to the question: "what is the ideal state of unfettered democracy, and where does the USA stand in that regard?"

The book begins with an utterly devastating full page quote from Tocqueville in which I underline the words "petty and vulgar pleasures," "elevated an immense, tutelary power," "a network of petty regulations," and "it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born."

Published in 2009 this book is totally current with our recent financial collapse based on Congressional failures of integrity combined with Wall Street moral hazard and bad judgment, and the author notes that as of 2008 25% or more of US citizens were not happy with the state of America or its government. I believe a more telling statistic is the migration of over 44% of the population away from the two-party tyranny and toward declared Independent status. See also:

Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Substance of Governance; Legitimate Grievances; Candidates on the Issues; Balanced Budget 101; Call to Arms: Fund We Not Them; Annotated Bibliography)

I learn a great deal from this book, which once again confirms my view that most college courses are wasted on the young and should be reserved from more mature reflection. I read all this stuff in the 1970's in the original, and did not extract--could not comprehend--the nuances and catalytic connections I can appreciate today.

I am fascinated by the author's discussion of how one must read Montesquieu with a full appreciation for the double-talk necessary in a time of repressive and punitive censorship, and the author's clear depiction of how to read in the context of history, psychology, and sociology of the time being read.

See also:
The Lessons of History
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past

This book is nothing less than a primer for those new to the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers, and also a master's seminar for those ready to reflect anew on prior learning.

See also:
The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States

The bottom line comes early and is confirmed throughout the book: the American Empire is bankrupt and divorced from its past--it has followed in the paths of France, Germany, and Russia, instead of the more enlightened paths intended by the founders and summed up in Ron Paul's book of speeches, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship.

Early on the author draws out the importance of education and especially of the formation of the young, and how political liberty, once won with hard-fought battle, must be maintained with education or it will have to be fought for again. We have failed our young and this is for me the center of gravity for the future, apart from Electoral Reform (see Electoral Reform Act of 2009).

See also:
Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

I learn of Roseau's emphasis on corruption as the most likely destroyer of democracy, especially within its legislative branch; of Rousseau's anticipation that "courtiers" would become the norm in the academic and media classes; of his view that political ideology would displace religion as a means of moving crowds with fantasy; and of his concern that representation (intermediaries) is inconsistent with popular sovereignty.

Today the Nobel Prize for Economics was announced, and one of the two winners is Elinor Ostrom, who has pioneered collective decision-making with respect to common resources. Montesquieu was there first, maintaining that one *can* achieve peace and prosperity without giving up liberty, and I consider this to be a solid foundation for welcoming the honor rendered to Elinor Ostrom today.

This book helped me think about the inherent complementarity rather than opposition between politics as the art of achieving consensus on means, ways, and ends, and intelligence (decision-support). I realized in reading this book that the one constant that can assure that politics and intelligence work as they should, in the public interest, is INTEGRITY. I now see integrity as the grease that ensures the whole system of systems works well, and am certain Buckminster Fuller saw this in the same way.

The core concept presented by the author is that all three of the antecedent minds came to grips with the reality that if liberty is achieved and then lost, the intermediaries or tyrannies that will arise are much worse than those that were displaced (monarchy, nobility, clergy). The tyranny of the majority and legislative despotism are much less rational and much less equitable.

I am at the end of my allowed word limit and will finish this at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog.
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24 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the lay person, July 21, 2009
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
Perhaps I should not yet write a review since I haven't finished the book. On the other hand, it may be some time before I do. This work is not for the lay person, and it's nothing you'd want to read at the beach. I started reading the book over after about 75 pages, the second time with a pen in hand to underline key points as a tool to hold my concentration. I find the topic interesting and appreciate the author's tackling this project. Nonetheless, the writing style does not bring this topic to life. Part of the problem, in my view, is that the author insists on quoting extensively from original works, so his sentences are often structured to fit around the quotes. Much he says could have been said more simply and efficiently -- thus, the need to really focus on what you're reading.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Guide to Understanding Our Times and Trajectory, August 31, 2010
This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
An important new book for students of history and anyone interested in the direction of modern democratic societies. It would make a fine political theory text for any homeschooler or autodidact. Certainly reading the book along with the original works it surveys would be far more beneficial than any political science class taught by modern politically-correct faculty.
Dr. Rahe considers the writings and thought of the most influential political thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries - Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. Interestingly, all were French men who observed, studied, and influenced the transitioning governments in England, America, and France. Rahe concludes the three main sections on these giants with summary observations and speculation about future destinations of the modern western democracies. I have a much more comprehensive review on my blog Every Good Path ([...])
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile read, August 23, 2009
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in conservatism, our founding, and what could be done to get our country back on the right track towards liberty for all. The author offers a few very specific steps we can take in his conclusion.

It took a while to get used to the "academic" style of writing. This is not an easy read, at least for me. But it is a very worthwhile read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, September 4, 2014
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This review is from: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Hardcover)
Found item easily on Amazon, item works as expected, good price good item very happy.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars confusing, February 4, 2013
By 
Jim Shaffer (College Station, TX) - See all my reviews
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Read Montesquiew, Rousseau, and Tocqueville before this book. twelve more words may be required butthey are not needed nor will be provided.
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10 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars For those wondering if the Tea Party and Anti-Federalists are constructive critics or nihilists, July 12, 2010
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I would really like to have given this book five stars AND one star as a mark of its profound internal contradictions and the reactions it is likely to provoke in someone who values logic and consistency. While I am sympathetic to Rahe's desire to expand human dignity, I profoundly disagree with the policy recommendations that he thinks will lead to that end. This book is a useful read, however, for those wondering if it is possible to forge a society that is both modern and complex and JUST, and yet manages to avoid a large-scale administrative apparatus. In other words, it's a guide book for Tea Partiers or those who are wondering if the Tea Party can be constructive and actually govern, or if it is only one more species of contradictory nihilism, know-nothingism, and denialism. For those without the time or patience to wade through Rahe's commentaries on Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Tocqueville, the Conclusion provides an interesting summary of what Rahe's purpose is in writing this book. On the one hand he believes in the military-industrial complex and interventionist foreign policy: "For our own safety, we must, then, attempt to shape the larger security environment in which we live and trade, and this demands on our part a sizable defense and intelligence establishment; careful planning and provision with regard to defense industries, strategic materials, and technological development; and a genuine and unmistakable readiness to resort to force." (274) On the other hand, he seems to believe that these policy goals and readiness to resort to force can be achieved by Jefferson-style yeoman farmers or Massachusetts-style town meetings of the kind that Tocqueville admired as the model of community spirit in the 1830s. Therefore Rahe recommends disbanding the Federal Election Commission (276), the Department of Education (277), and does not agree with the rights enumerated in FDR's "second Bill or Rights" such as the right to adequate medical care (278). But can complex weapons systems, information flows, or the task of feeding, clothing, and sheltering 7 billion people without destroying the planet be achieved without vast webs of inter-related and inter-dependent organizational structures; i.e., administrators and, yes, bureaucrats? Bureaucracy need not be a "drifted" or low-grade democracy so long as bureaucracy means rule by responsive and responsible officers and not abstract offices (bureaus). Nor should one discount the ways in which the enlightened definition of an office (by other elected officials) can shape the behavior of future office-holders -- this is what the original Federalists desired and hoped would happen, I believe, when it comes to elected and non-elected officials. In all, as someone interested in Tocqueville, I admire Rahe's work as another illustration of how Tocqueville has been read and used (selectively) on both the Left and the Right for almost 200 years now; but I shudder at the HARD despotism that would likely result were Rahe allowed to get up from his endowed chair and actually start implementing his policy recommendations. Rahe would like us to reclaim as our watchword "Don't Tread on Me", I would recommend instead "Give me Liberty, or Give me Soft Despotism".
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Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect
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