I’m grateful to Snowdon not just for demonstrating through careful analysis how embarrassingly flawed The Spirit Level is, but also for introducing me to two fascinating quotations from the 19th century French philosopher Alexis De Tocqueville, who saw it all coming as long ago as the 1840s. A distorted definition of equality, De Tocqueville argued, would one day lead to despotism. Liberties would not be lost overnight but would fade away incrementally:
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.