Alexis de Tocqueville was one smart Frenchman.
He was sent to the United States in 1831 at the age of 25 to study our prison system. He ended up writing a two volume classic entitled “Democracy in America,” which is – or was – required reading for all political science majors.
At the risk of losing you, I want to quote from his chapter entitled “Despotism in Democratic Nations.”
Stay with me. This is good stuff. He warned that we might become
an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provi-dent, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government will¬ingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and sup¬plies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their prin¬cipal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of prop¬erty, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
In short, the Frenchman predicted that America might morph into a nation of myopic, self centered pleasure seekers, governed by a nanny state that controls our lives from the cradle to the grave.
That’s the danger when people think they can vote themselves rich, healthy, happy and secure.
H. L. Mencken, the cynical sage of Baltimore, pointedly observed that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
That dark sentiment surfaced this afternoon in an email from a very good friend. He was responding to my last blog touting Convention USA. Here’s what he said:
GUILTY AS CHARGED! I can’t tell you how many times I came within a micrometer of sending in my subscription to the cause only to fall victim to my ongoing and ever increasing malaise of hopelessness. I must admit it is my own weakness and I have to deal with it but I cannot make myself believe anyone or any group will ever be able to get the people of this nation to agree to real change for the better. There are too many vested interests to fight against, too many who just don’t give a damn and just too many really ignorant folks out there. I again must tell you how much I enjoy your blogs, how much I agree with your point of view and insights and how much respect I have for you as a highly intelligent, clear thinking and dedicated patriot. I just don’t hold the majority of folks in this nation in a similar regard
It’s hard to be critical of a guy who says such nice things about you.
But the fact is that the shoulder shrugging “What’s the use?” attitude so prevalent among good folks, well meaning folks, common sense folks in every corner of our land constitutes a mountain of inertia that protects and perpetuates all the things these same folks complain about at the barber shop and the hairdresser.
I have always believed that the generality of mankind can recognize truth, and that in the long haul, the truth is what sets us free.
I believe in democracy because I trust the intuitive wisdom of the great unwashed.
Does every jury of average citizens always come up with the right verdict? Of course not.
But in the lives of human beings and of nations, decision making is not an exact science.
I have a good friend who subjects his choices to the “smell test.” We all do something like that.
The American people are essentially conservative. Not in the political sense, but they are conservative in that they have a strong bias in favor of the status quo. They prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.
The ideologs and the crazies will always gravitate toward a convention for proposing amendments to the constitution. They will bring brief cases full of ideas. Radical ideas. Unworkable ideas. Just plain goofy ideas. And a few damn good ones.
It will take some patience to hear them out. It will take discernment to recognize the solid, the practical, the acceptable proposals, and it will take courage and determination to see them through to public consensus.
But that is what self government is all about.
The mid term elections are over. The party is over. It’s time to go to work.