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The New Despotism

  • The New Despotism_Nisbet
June 15, 1976Robert A. Nisbet

Tags Big GovernmentPolitical Theory

Nothing seems to have mattered more to such minds as Montesquieu, Turgot, and Burke in Europe and to Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin in the United States than the expansion of freedom in the day-to-day existence of human beings, irrespective of class, occupation, or belief. Hence the elaborate, carefully contrived provisions of constitution or law whereby formal government would be checked, limited, and given root in the smallest possible assemblies of the people. The kind of arbitrary power Burke so detested and referred to almost constantly in his attacks upon the British government in its relation to the American colonists and the people of India and Ireland, and upon the French government during the revolution, was foremost in the minds of all the architects of the political community, and they thought it could be eliminated, or reduced to insignificance, by ample use of legislative and judicial machinery.

What we have witnessed, however, in every Western country, and not least in the United States, is the almost incessant growth in power over the lives of human beings-power that is basically the result of the gradual disappearance of all the intermediate institutions which, corning from the predemocratic past, served for a long time to check the kind of authority that almost from the beginning sprang from the new legislative bodies and executives in the modern democracies.

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Institute for Humane Studies, Menlo Park, 1976