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Du moment où la foule commence à s’intéresser aux travaux de l’esprit, il se découvre qu’un grand moyen d’acquérir de la gloire, de la puissance ou des richesses, c’est d’exceller dans quelques-uns d’entre eux. L’inquiète ambition que l’égalité fait naître se tourne aussitôt de ce côté comme de tous les autres. Le nombre de ceux qui cultivent les sciences, les lettres et les arts devient immense. Une activité prodigieuse se révèle dans le monde de l’intelligence; chacun cherche à s’y ouvrir un chemin et s’efforce d’attirer l’œil du public à sa suite. Il s’y passe quelque chose d’analogue à ce qui arrive aux États-Unis dans la société politique; les oeuvres y sont souvent imparfaites, mais elles sont innombrables; et, bien que les résultats des efforts individuels soient ordinairement très petits, le résultat général est toujours très grand.
Il n’est donc pas vrai de dire que les hommes qui vivent dans les siècles démocratiques soient naturellement indifférents pour les sciences, les lettres et les arts; seulement, il faut reconnaître qu’ils les cultivent à leur manière, et qu’ils apportent, de ce côté, les qualités et les défauts qui leur sont propres.
As soon as the multitude begins to take an interest in the labors of the mind, it finds out that to excel in some of them is a powerful method of acquiring fame, power, or wealth. The restless ambition which equality begets instantly takes this direction as it does all others. The number of those who cultivate science, letters, and the arts, becomes immense. The intellectual world starts into prodigious activity: everyone endeavors to open for himself a path there, and to draw the eyes of the public after him. Something analogous occurs to what happens in society in the United States, politically considered. What is done is often imperfect, but the attempts are innumerable; and, although the results of individual effort are commonly very small, the total amount is always very large.
It is therefore not true to assert that men living in democratic ages are naturally indifferent to science, literature, and the arts: only it must be acknowledged that they cultivate them after their own fashion, and bring to the task their own peculiar qualifications and deficiencies.
–Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol. 2, ch. ix (1840) in: Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, p. 552 (Pléiade ed. 1996)
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”