Every hour of every day in this political season, some candidate is either demanding or promising “change now”. It seems as if the public is very dissatisfied with the way things are. There is a lot to be dissatisfied with; four-dollar a gallon gas, house prices falling, foreclosures soaring, factories closing, high medical costs and more and more and more. The complaints are easy, everyone wants low gas prices, increasing values of our investments and secure jobs, but who or what do we want to change these things? The apparent answer is very troubling. The majority of Americans seem to want the government to change these things they are unhappy with and to solve all their other problems as well.
America was once known for its rugged individualism. Our founders established a classless society where each man or woman could rise to the highest level of his ability. No one was guaranteed anything and many failed to advance. Many more chose to remain as they began. The founders also understood government to be a dangerous threat to free people rather than a panacea. These ideals had propelled the United States to the top of the world at the end of The Great War. For the most part during this time [excluding the Civil War era] government for law-abiding people was inconsequential.
Despite the freedom and prosperity he saw in America in the mid nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher foresees in his seminal work Democracy in America, a gloomy prospect for this thriving republic. As he toured the United States he began to sense that democracy might spawn a despotism more oppressive and all encompassing than that of any king or emperor.
This absolute rule would take “a different character” than those of the past. It would be “more extensive and mild” and would “degrade rather than torment” its subjects. This new type of tyranny would be “unlike anything ever seen in history”. In his prophecy, Tocqueville saw a massive leviathan of power, “absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild”. Government so established would rule “as a parent” but one not working to prepare its people for manhood, but rather to keep them in “perpetual childhood”. He goes on: “For their happiness such a government willing labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities; facilitates their pleasures; manages their principle concerns; 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…. 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”.
Just as the ancient Israelites failed to heed the prophets of old so have Americans ignored this very prescient warning; for as indicated by the whining and pandering of this year’s Presidential campaign, here we have come in the year 2008. If we are not so already, we are surely becoming a nation of “timid industrious sheep of which the government is the shepherd”.
Every American ought be ashamed of this condition and terrified of its portents. Surely each of us would feel obliged try to reverse and undo the processes and ideas that have led to this forlorn state. Yet I fear that if Toqueville’s prophecy were presented in special prime time editions of the several news networks - as having been fulfilled in our time - the vast majority would react with strong indignation and denial! Let us all cry out together: “Baaa! Baaa!