These are unconnected but related observations about America. Subjective observations, one man’s views. I am confident you will find them of interest. Comments are welcomed!
After 200 years of success — even more counting the years as a colony, during which the uniquely American character evolved — America has developed some disturbing characteristics.
The American character
Our State has grown so great that we have grown small. Under its administrative tutelage we have developed a taste for grovelling, selfish, materialistic equality — becoming acquiscent to a centralized, authoritarian government. How can we rekindling the love of liberty that blossomed in 1776?
Liberty is the only corrective for our vices, new and old. Only liberty can drag us away from the worship of money ad our preoccupation with our small private affairs. There are times when liberty alone can relacethe love of comfort with higher and more active enthusiasms, can provide ambition with loftier aims than the acquisition of wealth and can shed enough light to lead people both to see and judge their vices.
Liberty is a school of virtue in which men and women learned to be citizens by exercising their rights and carry out their duties. Only as citizens do people attain their fullest stature.
The easy slide to soft despotism
A soft despotism fosters the growth of those defects to which we are especially prone, and drives us in the direction we were already going due to our natural inclinations.
A free market economy easily combines with a society devoted to personal independence to produce motes. Men are no longer tied to each other by race, class, unions, or family. We are too ready to think merely of our own interests, to think merely of our own interests, to consider no one but themselves — to withdraw into a narrow individualism where all public good is snuffed out.
Despotism, far from fighting against this tendency, makes it irresistible since it deprives all citizens of shared enthusiasms, mutual needs, the necessity for understanding, opportunities for collective action. it confines us to private life. We were moving towards isolation; despotism confirms it.
We are cooling in our feelings for one another; despotism will freeze them solid.
A natural, easy, and wrong response to growing government power
A growing number of people are not taken in by a pretence of an increasingly illusionary freedom. They have stopped taking an interest in government and live in effect within their own walls. Occasionally our leaders attempt to revive the patriotism which had led to so many wonderful achievements in our past, but over time each such effort produces less result.
Our leaders wish that we vote whatever they believe necessary to maintain the empty charade of a free election, but over time more and more people stay away. History has no more common spectacle than this. Almost ever ruler who has destroyed freedom sought to keep its outward form, from Augustus through today. Thus ruler flattered themselves that they would be be able to add to their power the moral authority which comes from public consent,
All the above might still allow us to stumble along for generations. Unfortunately there is an approaching danger which might bring things to a boil. As former Comptroller-General David Walker and others have long warned, our government has run up liabilities that we cannot pay.
Worse, the ramshackle finances of our government are inextricably bound up with private vested interests of all kinds that reform, however necessary, is impossible. The current regime appears doomed to bankruptcy, and its crash might bring down the whole structure of society — which must afterwards be rebuilt brick by brick.
This is the best thing I have ever written. Or it would be, except that these words were written first by Alexis de Tocqueville. The bad news is that these excerpts are not from Democracy in America — but from The Ancien Regime and the Revolution, describing life in the last generation or so of the doomed monarchy of France.
Written between 1852 and 1856, its warnings should today ring loud and clear to us.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it
- Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
- Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
- The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
- We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
- The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008
For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.