De Koninck on “The Great State”

An excerpt from reading Vallée’s introduction to De Koninck’s Œuvres, II.3:

The Great State [Le Grand État] is an evil in itself, writes de Jouvenal, for a fundamental reason relating to the very nature of the human mind. Incapable of considering the innumerable relations linking a great quantity of objects, it considers them only by reducing them to a small number of classes, a number determined in advance by the quality of the mind. If, then, the quantity of objects is greatly increased, it must happen that the classes embracing each of the growing quantity of objects be of the sort that, if the objects have an individuality, the classes constituted by the mind be a view increasingly distant from reality. . . .  The administration of a State is necessarily, especially blind to individual realities insofar as the State is the larger. It is more inhuman, more geometric, more automatic. . . .

Now, what prevents the Great State from being a political society, that which renders it ineluctably despotic, is not simply the fact that the human mind is incapable of considering the innumerable relations linking a great quantity of objects. The characteristic difficulty arises from this, that the objects in question are despite everything political animals. That man is by nature a political animal is one of these necessities that liberty presupposes but which the Great State cannot tolerate except in name. The Great State faces the past, customs, at all types of contingencies which have shaped persons, peoples, and their diversity. It is this matter—so complex, heterogeneous—which men are . . . [and] which the Great State is constrained to homogenize.

~ C. De Koninck, “La Confederation, rempart contre le Grant État,” 80, 81 (Œuvres II.3; translation mine)

One wonders whether or not the advent of modern computing technology—the aid to a massive bureaucracy and its the “homogenization” that De Koninck critiques—in fact overcomes the “epistemological-political problem” in the first paragraph. It strikes me that the answer is no, for the reason given in the second paragraph. These thoughts are a work in progress.

Categories: Charles de Koninck, Current Reading, Moderns, Moral Philosophy, Politics

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