Tocqueville: Democracy vs. Socialism

I have been reading over Alexis de Tocqueville’s September 1848 speech on socialism, which he gave before the French Parliament. I cannot resist sharing another excerpt of it here. As Americans we should be proud of the fact that Tocqueville had such high regard for American democracy. We should also be saddened at America’s slide away from the principles that once made her great. This is true because, collectively speaking Americans have made too many poor choices. The U.S.A. is now, without a doubt, on a path towards less individual freedom, more state control and national bankruptcy. We have a national administration that picks and chooses which laws to enforce, thus destroying that sound principle that the United States is a country governed by laws rather than a country governed by the whims of our temporary leaders. The belief system that has poisoned the minds of so many Americans – Socialism – is at the root of many of our current national problems.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s speech before Parliament September 12, 1848 (excerpted):

I look for democracy where I have seen it, alive, active, triumphant, in the only country on earth where it exists, where it could possibly have been established as something durable in the modern world—in America.

There you will find a society where social conditions are even more equal than among us; where the social order, the customs, the laws are all democratic; where all varieties of people have entered, and where each individual still has complete independence, more freedom than has been known in any other time or place; a country essentially democratic, the only completely democratic republics the world has ever known.

And in these republics you will search in vain for socialism. Not only have socialist theories not captured public opinion there, but they play such an insignificant role in the intellectual and political life of this great nation that they cannot even rightfully boast that people fear them.

(In America) you will find a society where social conditions are even more equal than among us; where the social order, the customs, the laws are all democratic; where all varieties of people have entered, and where each individual still has complete independence, more freedom than has been known in any other time or place; a country essentially democratic, the only completely democratic republics the world has ever known.

America today is the one country in the world where democracy is totally sovereign. It is, besides, a country where socialist ideas, which you presume to be in accord with democracy, have held least sway, the country where those who support the socialist cause are certainly in the worst position to advance them I personally would not find it inconvenient if they were to go there and propagate their philosophy, but in their own interests, I would advise them not to.

No, gentlemen, democracy and socialism are not interdependent concepts. They are not only different, but opposing philosophies. Is it consistent with democracy to institute the most meddlesome, all-encompassing and restrictive government, provided that it be publicly chosen and that it act in the name of the people? Would the result not be tyranny, under the guise of legitimate government and, by appropriating this legitimacy assuring to itself the power and omnipotence which it would otherwise assuredly lack? Democracy extends the sphere of personal independence; socialism confines it. Democracy values each man at his highest; socialism makes of each man an agent, an instrument, a number. Democracy and socialism have but one thing in common—equality. But note well the difference. Democracy aims at equality in liberty. Socialism desires equality in constraint and in servitude.

Transcription and translation of Tocqueville’s speech courtesy of “The Best of the Online Library of Liberty.” – oll.libertyfund.org

Alexis de Tocqueville on Socialism

Will Americans be foolish enough to elect a socialist to be the next President? Time will tell. A vote for Hillary, or Bernie or perhaps any national Democrat running for President will be a vote for more socialism. That is really what Hillary Clinton meant by her euphemism “It takes a village.” These people simply do not believe in the sanctity of the individual. To them, “the people” are just cogs in a gear that powers the machine of their personal ambition. Thus, they seek to place individuals in groups and conjure up grievances that do not exist or are highly exaggerated. These groups are told they are victims ( for instance the “War on Women”) and that Hillary or Bernie or Joe or Obama is needed to step in in order to right the wrongs of their victimhood. This is how the unscrupulous politician rises to his or her position of power. These propagandists pit Americans against one another and all the while America continues to decline, structurally, spiritually, morally and economically.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was a believer in the sanctity of the individual and understood the corrosive effects of socialism on liberty, or freedom:

“Now, a third and final trait, one which, in my eyes, best describes socialists of all schools and shades, is a profound opposition to personal liberty and scorn for individual reason, a complete contempt for the individual. They unceasingly attempt to mutilate, to curtail, to obstruct personal freedom in any and all ways. They hold that the State must not only act as the director of society, but must further be master of each man, and not only master, but keeper and trainer.”

The whole speech can be read in it’s entirety here:

http://lf-oll.s3.amazonaws.com/titles/2667/Tocqueville_Socialism1848.pdf

Thankful for the Pilgrims – Tocqueville’s Tribute

The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, December 1620

The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, December 1620

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years; but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city ( Heb. xi. 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

Here we re-post from last year Alexis de Tocqueville’s short tribute to the Pilgrims. His is the best short history of those brave men and women that I have ever found. For me, as an American, it is a great source of pride that this great 19th century French intellectual recognized the significance of what the Pilgrims had accomplished. Too bad more Americans don’t understand their unique contribution to freedom, and democracy.

Frotho

From Democracy in America, Part I, first published in France in 1835:

“In the English colonies of the North, more generally known as the New England states, the two or three main ideas that now constitute the basis of the social theory of the United States were first combined. The principles of New England spread at first to the neighboring states; they then passed successively to the more distant ones; and at last, if I may so speak, they interpenetrated the whole confederation. They now extend their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world. The civilization of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hill, which, after it has diffused its warmth immediately around it, also tinges the distant horizon with its glow.”

“The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. Nearly all colonies have been first inhabited either by men without education and without resources, driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers greedy of gain. Some settlements cannot even boast so honorable an origin; Santo Domingo was founded by buccaneers; and at the present day the criminal courts of England supply the population of Australia.”

“The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, and we may almost say neither rich nor poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, perhaps without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without families; the immigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality; they landed on the desert coast accompanied by their wives and children. But what especially distinguished them from all others was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country; the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea.”

“The immigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves, the Pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.”

“A few quotations will throw more light upon the spirit of these pious adventurers than all that we can say of them. Nathaniel Morton, the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject:”

Gentle Reader, I have for some lengths of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. the first beginners of this Plantation in New England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the Sacred Scriptures: that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us ( Psalm lxxviii. 3, 4 ), we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen ( Psalm cv. 5, 6 ), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning and progress of the planting of New England, his wonders and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this wilderness; that he cast out the heathen, and planted it; that he made room for it and caused it to take deep root; and it filled the land ( Psalm lxxx. 8, 9 ) . And not only so, but also that he hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance in respect of precious Gospel enjoyments: and that as especially God may have the glory of all unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed Saints, that were the main instruments and beginning of this happy enterprise.

“It is impossible to read this opening paragraph without an involuntary feeling of religious awe; it breathes the very savor of Gospel antiquity. The sincerity of the author heightens his power of language. In our eyes, as well as in his own, it was not a mere party of adventurers gone forth to seek their fortune beyond seas, but the germ of a great nation wafted by Providence to a predestined shore.”

“The author continues, and thus describes the departure of the first Pilgrims:”

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years; but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city ( Heb. xi. 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready; and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love. The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loth to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers unto the Lord and his blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

“The emigrants were about 150 in number, including the women and the children. Their object was to plant a colony on the shores of the Hudson; but after having been driven about for some time in the Atlantic Ocean, they were forced to land on the arid coast  of New England, at the spot which is now the town of Plymouth. The rock is still shown on which the Pilgrims disembarked.”

But before we pass on, continues our historian,  “let the reader with me make a pause, and seriously consider this poor people’s present condition, the more to be raised up to admiration of God’s goodness towards them in their preservation: for being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectation, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour: and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts, and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes ( save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew; if they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

“It must not be imagined that the piety of the Puritans was merely speculative, or that it took no cognizance of the course of worldly affairs. Puritanism, as I have already remarked, was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine. No sooner had the immigrants landed on the barren coast described by Nathaniel Morton than it was their first care to constitute a society, by subscribing the following Act:

IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, &c.& c., Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and the honour of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; Do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience, etc.”

“This happened in 1620, and from that time forwards the emigration went on. The religious and political passion which ravaged the British Empire during the whole reign of Charles I drove fresh crowds of sectarians every year to the shores of America. In England the stronghold of Puritanism continued to be in the middle classes; and it was from the middle classes that most of the emigrants came. The population of New England increased rapidly; and while the hierarchy of rank despotically classed the inhabitants of the mother country, the colony approximated more and more the novel spectacle of a community homogeneous in all its parts. A democracy more perfect than antiquity had dared to dream of started in full size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal society.”

DEMOCRACY vs. SOCIALISM

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in constraint and servitude. — Alexis de Tocqueville, 1848

La démocratie et le socialisme ne se tiennent qu par un mot, l’égalité; mais
remarquez la différence: la démocratie veut l’égalité dans la liberté et le
socialisme veut l’égalité dans la gêne et dan la servitude.

 

A THANKSGIVING TRIBUTE TO THE PILGRIMS

I was really hoping this Thanksgiving Holiday to publish a fitting tribute to those brave Pilgrims who planted themselves on the New England coast all those years ago. Thankfully, today, I rediscovered Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings on the subject and I realize that there can be no better tribute.  His is the best short history I have ever found on the Pilgrims. It explains so eloquently why what the Pilgrims accomplished was so important and so unique. So here it is:

(Note: No part of this story is meant as a kind of proselytizing for a certain Puritan or even Christian faith. Americans of every denomination, most of whom descend from immigrants who came here for a better life, should be inspired by the courage and ideas that motivated the people known as the Pilgrims.)

Frotho Canutus

From Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Part I, first published in France in1835:

“In the English colonies of the North, more generally known as the New England states, the two or three main ideas that now constitute the basis of the social theory of the United States were first combined. The principles of New England spread at first to the neighboring states; they then passed successively to the more distant ones; and at last, if I may so speak, they interpenetrated the whole confederation. They now extend their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world. The civilization of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hill, which, after it has diffused its warmth immediately around it, also tinges the distant horizon with its glow.”

“The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. Nearly all colonies have been first inhabited either by men without education and without resources, driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers greedy of gain. Some settlements cannot even boast so honorable an origin; Santo Domingo was founded by buccaneers; and at the present day the criminal courts of England supply the population of Australia.”

“The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, and we may almost say neither rich nor poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, perhaps without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without families; the immigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality; they landed on the desert coast accompanied by their wives and children. But what especially distinguished them from all others was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country; the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea.”

“The immigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves, the Pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.”

“A few quotations will throw more light upon the spirit of these pious adventurers than all that we can say of them. Nathaniel Morton, the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject:”

Gentle Reader, I have for some lengths of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. the first beginners of this Plantation in New England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the Sacred Scriptures: that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us ( Psalm lxxviii. 3, 4 ), we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen ( Psalm cv. 5, 6 ), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning and progress of the planting of New England, his wonders and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this wilderness; that he cast out the heathen, and planted it; that he made room for it and caused it to take deep root; and it filled the land ( Psalm lxxx. 8, 9 ) . And not only so, but also that he hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance in respect of precious Gospel enjoyments: and that as especially God may have the glory of all unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed Saints, that were the main instruments and beginning of this happy enterprise.

“It is impossible to read this opening paragraph without an involuntary feeling of religious awe; it breathes the very savor of Gospel antiquity. The sincerity of the author heightens his power of language. In our eyes, as well as in his own, it was not a mere party of adventurers gone forth to seek their fortune beyond seas, but the germ of a great nation wafted by Providence to a predestined shore.”

“The author continues, and thus describes the departure of the first Pilgrims:”

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years; but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city ( Heb. xi. 16), and therein quieted their spirits. When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready; and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love. The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loth to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers unto the Lord and his blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

“The emigrants were about 150 in number, including the women and the children. Their object was to plant a colony on the shores of the Hudson; but after having been driven about for some time in the Atlantic Ocean, they were forced to land on the arid coast  of New England, at the spot which is now the town of Plymouth. The rock is still shown on which the Pilgrims disembarked.”

But before we pass on, continues our historian,  “let the reader with me make a pause, and seriously consider this poor people’s present condition, the more to be raised up to admiration of God’s goodness towards them in their preservation: for being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectation, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour: and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts, and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes ( save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew; if they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

“It must not be imagined that the piety of the Puritans was merely speculative, or that it took no cognizance of the course of worldly affairs. Puritanism, as I have already remarked, was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine. No sooner had the immigrants landed on the barren coast described by Nathaniel Morton than it was their first care to constitute a society, by subscribing the following Act:

IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, &c.& c., Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and the honour of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; Do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience, etc.”

“This happened in 1620, and from that time forwards the emigration went on. The religious and political passion which ravaged the British Empire during the whole reign of Charles I drove fresh crowds of sectarians every year to the shores of America. In England the stronghold of Puritanism continued to be in the middle classes; and it was from the middle classes that most of the emigrants came. The population of New England increased rapidly; and while the hierarchy of rank despotically classed the inhabitants of the mother country, the colony approximated more and more the novel spectacle of a community homogeneous in all its parts. A democracy more perfect than antiquity had dared to dream of started in full size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal society.”

TOCQUEVILLE vs. LIBERALISM

A friend of mine recently complained that the reason the American dream has become so hard to obtain is because too many Americans selfishly “gun for themselves” at the expense of other Americans who are merely struggling to make ends meet.  She says this is why we need to re-elect President Obama and other Liberals who simply want the rich to pay their “fair share” so that common folks can get things like a “living wage,” affordable health insurance, food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, or subsidies for a college education. This liberal friend of mine like so many liberals puts her faith in the promise of an all-powerful, benevolent central government, run by Democrats and liberals, of course. Let’s begin by examining my friend’s premise of the prevalence of selfish individualism. Perhaps her view is not quite accurate.

Let’s put aside the current state of affairs for the time being, we can have a look at that later. First, let’s look at the assumed existence of selfish individualism in America’s past. Surely it must have existed prior to the assent of the federal government during Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s. If that’s true, how did the people of our nation get along for the first 150 years? I have confidence there is ample evidence in the historical record that shows that a widespread state of selfish individualism never existed at all. In fact, just the opposite is true.

I refer you to the observations of a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville was a French aristocrat who came officially to the U.S. in 1831 to study the American penal system. What he observed during his travels around the United States inspired him to do much more than just report on the American justice and prison system. Shortly after returning to France Tocqueville published his two-part masterpiece Democracy in America. It is one of the most insightful and descriptive works ever written on the state of and essence of American Democracy.

One thing Tocqueville noticed that set America apart from other nations was the prevalence of voluntary associations among the people.

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.”

While leading Liberals often intentionally blur the distinction between government action and voluntary private action by using phrases like “it takes a village,” or “you didn’t build that,” Tocqueville distinguished between these two different forms of action.

“Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”

“Thus the most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have, in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires and have applied this new science to the greatest number of purposes.”

Tocqueville’s observation of the prevalence of voluntary associations in America shatters the myth of selfish individualism in America prior to the New Deal that so many liberals claim made and continues to make government-run social programs necessary. It was not a widely held view in early America that all worthy outcomes required the determined and organized action of the central government. As we shall see later, just the opposite was true.

One of the basic differences between modern day conservatives and their liberal counterparts is the view of the role of the federal government. Conservatives generally believe like Tocqueville that private associations are preferable to the coercive action of centralized governments. Modern day Liberals turn to the central government whenever they see a problem that exists. While Liberals generally distrust institutions like corporations and religious organizations, they somehow put their full faith in government as though somehow government intentions are always pure and immune to the shortcomings of its stewards. Conservatives, like many of the founding fathers, generally mistrust the central government and believe that often big-government solutions create more unintended consequences that are worse than the original problem. Conservatives generally believe that the people closest to the challenges are better judges of the efforts needed to achieve the desired results. Federal help is less efficient, wasteful, prone to systemic corruption, less nimble, more costly, and almost always comes with strings attached. The federal government is currently $16 trillion in debt with no relief in sight and yet Liberals claim that this government needs to do more. We must not be getting a good bang for the buck if we still have all these problems that need to be solved even though we have already spent trillions of dollars on social programs and remain $16 trillion in debt.

Tocqueville continued:

A government might perform the part of some of the largest American companies, and several states, members of the Union, have already attempted it; but what political power could ever carry on the vast multitude of lesser undertakings which the American citizens perform every day, with the assistance of the principle of association?

In democratic countries the governing power alone is naturally in a condition to act in this manner, but it is easy to see that its action is always inadequate, and often dangerous. A government can no more be competent to keep alive and to renew the circulation of opinions and feelings among a great people than to manage all the speculations of productive industry.

No sooner does a government attempt to go beyond its political sphere and to enter upon this new track than it exercises, even unintentionally, an insupportable tyranny; for a government can only dictate strict rules, the opinions which it favors are rigidly enforced, and it is never easy to discriminate between its advice and its commands.”

Clearly Tocqueville felt that the central government could not effectively do what individuals could do for themselves by acting in concert through private associations. Furthermore, the central authority would become tyrannical through coercive measures; a consequence that he admits may be “unintentional,” yet “insupportable.”

So this idea that the central authority in Washington is solely equipped to solve this nation’s problems is simply not true. Tocqueville’s observations clearly demonstrate that prior the increase and consolidation of the federal power in America in the 20th century it was commonplace for private citizens to take on and solve problems of all kinds through united efforts organized by voluntary associations. The view that Americans are a selfish lot and are only out to “gun for themselves” is bogus and yet it is a view that is unfortunately held by too many Americans like my friend. Hence the popularity of Occupy Wall Street. It is a lie perpetuated by those who seek more power over our lives and this always comes at the expense of our liberties.

Americans are some of the most generous people on the face of the Earth. It’s time to deemphasize the role of the central government in Washington so that we can begin to restore America to the greatness that Tocqueville recognized. Charity, good deeds and problem solving can be collectivized on a national scale, but are generally much more effective and less likely to bankrupt the nation when left to the people.

That’s all for now. In a future post we will examine how centralized entitlement and welfare states corrupt society.

Canutus