Democracy in America: A Tocqueville Tidbit

If you have never read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Of Democracy in America then you have missed out on the most incisive work ever written about our country and its character.  Tocqueville accurately pinpointed the strengths and weaknesses of the great American experiment and accurately predicted many of the challenges that would inevitably face the new Republic.

In describing the dangerous down side to the concept of equality within the democratic framework, Tocqueville divines the future nanny state and its force-feeding of passivity and dependence.

It would seem that if despotism were to be established among the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them. I do not question that, in an age of instruction and equality like our own, sovereigns might more easily succeed in collecting all political power into their own hands and might interfere more habitually and decidedly with the circle of private interests than any sovereign of antiquity could ever do.  

I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

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, provident, 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 willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

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.

Political observations made in the 1830s coming home to roost in the 21st century.

You can read the complete two volumes of Tocqueville’s Of Democracy in America at the University of Virginia website.  Or you can purchase an electronic version for your Kindle for just $.99.

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One Response to Democracy in America: A Tocqueville Tidbit

  1. GT says:

    Great passage. Thanks for the link.

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