November 9, 2008 by William Hennessy
A Uniquely American Despotism
When I first read Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” the hair on my neck stood at attention like soldiers on a parade ground before some mighty dignitary. A palpable fear shook my psyche. Its reverberations echo in my heart and soul some 28 years later, the way some scientists claim the Big Bang can still be heard pin-balling around the universe.
I allowed myself a few days to digest the reality of last week’s election. I needed only a second. Immediately and constantly Tocqueville’s horrifying paragraphs on Despotism in America spring to mind the way a toy snake launches from the novelty can of nuts.
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] think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change
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.
Tocqueville on the pursuit of the petty:
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.
Tocqueville on isolation:
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.
And the most frightening paragraph ever written about America:
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?
[T]he Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf.
America seems to be lying battered and naked beneath this beast, this antepartum “mild despotism” that makes itself “the sole agent and only arbiter” of our happiness. We know the rapist will, barring some miracle, will penetrate our sacred political virginity taking what was not offered, what is not his to take.
We choose not to fight but to live with the festering wounds inflicted by his desire to control us. We choose not to scream out but to quietly acquiesce to his unholy quest for pleasure.
Many of our fellows long ago reached that state described in the last sentence quoted above. Peggy the Moocher (as Michelle Malkin calls her), the woman who told Fox News that Obama would pay for her gasoline and mortgage so that she need never work again, would celebrate being spared “all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living.”
Tocqueville on that despotic government:
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. 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.
Well, I am energetic, damn it, and I consider my mind original. Most of the people I know and admire, many who will disagree with everything I write, are energetic and original. How dare anyone stop us from rising above the crowd? We are not Peggy the Moocher! We are Americans, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, one of which is the pursuit of happiness. I, for one, would rather be destroyed than nonexistent. Wouldn’t you?
Please read the entire chapter on Despotism in volume 4 of Democracy in America. You should know what’s happening to you even if you lack the will and the fortitude to do anything about it.
It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people