restricted access Chapter 12a Why the Americans Erect Such Small and Such Large Monuments at the Same Time
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796 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 1 2a Why the Americans Erect Such Small and Such Large Monuments at the Same Time I have just said that, in democratic centuries, the monuments of art tended to become more numerous and smaller. I hasten to point out the exception to this rule. Among democratic peoples, individuals are very weak; but the State, which represents them all and holds them all in its hand, is very strong.b Nowhere do citizens appear smaller than in a democratic nation. Nowhere does the nation itself seem greater and nowhere does the mind more easily form a vast picture of it. In democratic societies, the imagination of men narrows when they consider themselves; it expands indefinitely when they think about the State. The result is that the same men who live meanly in cramped dwellings often aim at the gigantic as soon as it is a matter of public monuments.c a. 1. In democratic societies, individuals are very weak, but the State is very great. The imagination narrows when you think about yourself; it expands immeasurably when you turn your attention to the State. In those societies, you see a small number of very small monuments and a multitude of very large ones. Example of the Americans proves it. 2. Nor do large monuments prove anything about the prosperity, the enlightenment and the real greatness of the nation. Example of the Mexicans and the Romans shows it (YTC, CVf, pp. 13–14). b. In a note: “It is their very weakness that makes its strength . . . “A piece from ambition could go well there.” c. “In democracies the State must take charge of large and costly works not only because these large works are beautiful, but also in order to sustain the taste for what is great and for perfection” (in rubish of the chapters on the arts, Rubish, 1). small and large monuments 797 The Americans have laid out on the site that they wanted to make into the capital the limits of an immense city that, still today, is hardly more populated than Pontoise, but that, according to them, should one day contain a million inhabitants; already they have uprooted trees for ten leagues around, forfear thattheymighthappentoinconveniencethefuturecitizens of this imaginary metropolis. They have erected, in the center of the city, a magnificent palace to serve as the seat of Congress, and they have given it the pompous name of the Capitol. Every day, the particular states themselves conceive and execute prodigious undertakings that would astonish the genius of the great nations of Europe. Thus, democracy does not lead men only to make a multitude of petty works; it also leads them to erect a small number of very large monuments. But between these two extremes there is nothing. So a few scattered remnants of very vast structures tell nothing about the social state and institutions of the people who erected them. I add, although it goes beyond my subject, that they do not reveal their greatness, their enlightenment and their real prosperity any better. Whenever a power of whatever kind is capable of making an entirepeople work toward a sole undertaking, it will succeed with little knowledge and a great deal of time in drawing something immense from the combiIn Beaumont’s papers you find this note drafted during the journey that they made together to England in 1835: Aristocracy. Democracy. Public institutions./ One thing strikes me when I examine the public institutions in England: it is the extreme luxury of their construction and maintenance. In the United States I saw the government of democracy do most of its institutions with an extreme economy. Example: prisons, hospitals. It seems to me that these institutions cannot be done more cheaply. In England it is entirely the opposite: the government or the administration appears to try to construct everything at the greatest possible expense.What magnificence in the construction of Milbank! What luxury in the slightest details!! 20 million francs spent to hold 2,000 prisoners! And Beldlan [Bedlam (ed.)]! for 250 of the insane, 2 million 500 thousand francs (cost of construction), 200,000 pounds sterling. Isn’t it the spirit of aristocracies to do everything with grandeur,withluxury, with splendor, and with great expenditures! And Greenwich! And Chelsea! (14 May [1835], London) (YTC, Beaumont, CX). 798 small and large monuments nation of such great efforts; you do not have to conclude from that that the peopleis very happy,veryenlightenedorevenverystrong.dTheSpanish...


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