trip to the US inspired Alexis de Tocqueville to write the famous
1835 essay entitled "Democracy in America." In it he warned
"of the dangers of a nurturing government extending its arm
over the whole community," and he contemplated presciently
how "a democratic state of society, similar to that of the
Americans, might offer singular facilities for the establishment
before, in de Tocqueville's estimation, had a rule undertaken without
force to direct and bring all its subjects into uniformity. For
all their brutality, even the Roman emperors left the "details
of social and private occupations" to their subjects. Not so
this benevolent tyranny, which seemed capable of degrading men without
tormenting them. In its mission to eradicate the natural inequalities
of men, de Tocqueville feared this "administrative despotism"
would also diminish their imagination and their passions.
outsized infants of the contemporary victim movement, who can bring
to its knees an entire industry with the aid of benevolent public
health bureaucrats, lobbyists, and sycophants of the law, would
have de Tocqueville gasping, "I told you so." For he warned,
not of tyrants, but of the ruler as guardian. Unlike a parent, this
guardian would not be "preparing men for manhood," but
seeking to keep them in perpetual childhood by sparing them the
trouble of thinking and living.
would de Tocqueville have said about the "free agency"
of an individual whose demand for a risk-free society is met with
a safety militia so intent on saving him from himself that it compels
him to coddle his spineless frame with an ergonomic seat at his
place of work; it fits his aspirin bottle with a cap only the jaws
of life can pry open; it monitors the supplements he takes, and
even promises to find a way to teach him to leave off the fries
he so loves to eat. Most frightening is that, as this benevolent
power robs him of his ability to make full use of himself, the individual
will paradoxically see the losses as benefits.
governance "does not destroy, but prevents existence; it does
not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies
a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than
a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government
is shepherd." According to de Tocqueville, it would be futile
to call on a people "which has been rendered so dependent on
the central power, to choose from time to time the representatives
of that power". When people sink "below the level of humanity,"
even voting – ostensibly an act of free will – is meaningless.
is a perverse irony that has people concerned more with the insane
ramblings of Nostradamus, than with the coming full circle of de
Tocqueville's closely argued words. The effect of the creeping statism
de Tocqueville foresaw, however, fails to give pause, because the
minds and hearts of people have been conquered. For a large portion
of the population, government has become a source of wealth through
its redistribution of money, benefits, services, contracts, franchises,
and licenses. In the US and Canada, government spending at all levels
now accounts for approximately 50 percent of national income. Over
half of the Canadian population receives more money in benefits
than it pays in taxes. In addition to directly employing approximately
20 million American civilians, the US government allots half of
its spending to social welfare.
the banditry of expropriating and then redistributing some people's
wealth, citizens reward governments with the power to continue doing
the same in perpetuity.
rugged individualism is indeed in retreat. A survey conducted for
the First Amendment Center in NY revealed that the Amendment is
facing a veritable onslaught from the American public, a majority
of whom would happily restrict the kind of public speech certain
groups find offensive. Those surveyed applauded government involvement
in rating TV shows, as did they feel that while campaign contributions
are a form of free speech, they should be restricted. Fully 51 percent
of the sizeable sample surveyed felt the press has too much freedom,
and 20 percent feel government should be able to veto what newspapers
after de Tocqueville, Lenin declared that freedom was no more than
a "bourgeois prejudice". Canadians have lived by this
credo. They have always donned their penchant for government as
a sign of civility, and they take pride in a Constitution that expressly
promotes limits to freedoms. Americans, on the other hand, are guilty
of betraying their very souls. By relinquishing their proud radical
libertarian roots, Americans have confirmed the worst of Alexis
de Tocqueville's fears.
Mercer [send her mail]
a freelance writer. She is an ex-South African, an ex-Israeli, and
about to become an ex-Canadian! She’s currently en route to the
State of Washington from where she hopes not to be ex-communicated.