Wednesday, 12 August 2009

de Tocqueville: The Myth of Democracy

In William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2003):

The Myth of Democracy

It is an odd tyranny Americans suffer. We have no words to describe the squishy dictatorship of the majority, or the satin chains we wrap around ourselves. Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming 200 years ago. “I think,” he wrote, “that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything the world has ever seen.”

In empires and kingdoms, Tocqueville noted, the power of the authorities was absolute, often capricious, and dangerous. But the king’s armies could not be everywhere. And his agents tended to be thin on the ground. Most people living under these forms of government had very limited contact with the authorities. Taxes were low. Regulations were few. And the regulators themselves often lived in fear of being strung up by a mob. The king’s grip may have been awful, but his reach was short.

Democracy is different. It invites people into the governing class and thus turns them into unpaid agents of the government, and ultimately their own oppressors.

Tocqueville predicted:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power [of democracy] then extends its arm over the whole community. 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 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 . . . Thus, their spirit is gradually broken . . . gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves. [People then console themselves at the loss of their liberties] by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians.

Every two or four years, Americans celebrate their democratic freedom by shuffling off to the voting booth. Then, they go back to doing as they are told. [pp.173-174]

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