Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tocqueville's impassioned plea

Yesterday, Michael Barone suggested that Republican House members should follow French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville's advice in order to reverse Obama's 'soft despotism'. Let's look at the passages from Democracy in America that Barone focuses on...then let's talk about how Barone's attitude about constitutional conservatives being impatient and too passionate is wrong! First, de Tocqueville quotes:

. . . an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that.

Thus, taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.

So, does Barone understand what he's quoted? Does he not understand that these slow drifts of the progressive sovereign leads nonetheless to despotism? And I'm not just referring to Obama. Of course 'patience is a virtue', but after a hundred years or more, has patience not turned to complacency? When would Barone become passionate about returning our nation to constitutional rule? And why can't he see that both prudence and passion have a role in the Republican fight to reverse Obama's soft despotic policies? Tocqueville's warnings are not subtle hints to idly sit upon. Likewise, before Barone bemoans tea partiers, conservative bloggers and like-minded House members, perhaps he should not detach the passion of the Declaration from the rules of the Constitution.

ADDENDUM: To be fair, there was another part of Barone's piece that he got right: "Tocqueville, after describing in Democracy in America how Americans avoided the perils of equality by forming voluntary associations, engaging in local government, and believing in religions that disciplined their pursuit of self-interest into a pursuit of virtue, painted the picture of a darker future." Rush chose to target this portion of the piece and expanded on that yesterday.

"Now, stop and think of that for a moment: "The perils of equality." Everybody can't be equal. They knew in 1830 that that would be the death of the country, the concept of everybody was equal in terms of outcomes."

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