Alexis de Tocqueville & the Government ShepherdPosted by Dr Snyder on November 13th, 2012
Seeing where we are now headed for the next four years as a nation has reminded me of a prescient quote from Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study Democracy in America. Tocqueville toured the United States in the late 1820s, fascinated by what he saw in the infant republic. Yet he also saw some warning signs. Here’s one of them, which is unfolding before our eyes. Speaking of a government that seeks to “care” for its citizens, he writes,
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.
So while the government cares for us, it is actually treating us like children. The sad part is that so many of our fellows want to be treated like children. Tocqueville continues,
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 troubles of living?
In the guise of “helping” everyone, this government takes over every aspect of their beings, even to the point of doing their thinking for them. This is the essence of paternalistic socialism. What becomes of free will?
Thus, it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.
Obamacare, anyone? We want the “benefits” and loathe personal responsibility. The final paragraph leads to an inexorable conclusion:
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power 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 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 be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
I find that description chilling, and what makes it more so is how close we are to experiencing its reality. We need to stop acting like children and become responsible men and women once again. Through the mercy and grace of God, it can happen.