Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Preface to Democracy in America

The following is a re-posted blog for the new visitors who may have missed it:

The fear of neighbor always precedes the fear of government. When the morality of a people breaks down, they no longer trust their neighbor. Increased frequency of crime rates, dishonesty, and exploitation naturally causes distrust of both stranger and neighbor. However, when we no longer trust even our neighbor, we look to the government to protect us from the neighbor we no longer trust.

Take for instance the last six decades: As late as the 1940’s, hitchhiking was considered a safe practice; as late as the 1950’s, the front or the back door to our homes remained unlocked at night; as late as the 1960’s, we were free to walk downtown Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles without fearing for our lives; as late as the 1970’s, parents could leave their children in their cars (with the windows rolled down) while they went shopping; as late as the 1980’s, seals for medication bottles were unnecessary; and as late as the 1990’s, school shootings were unheard of. In this decade, our children’s "playground" is much smaller than what ours were growing up just a few decades ago. We had the whole neighborhood, they have the front or the backyard; usually under the condition that one of the parents is on the lookout.

Slowly but surely, over these last six decades, we have lost our social freedoms without even knowing it. But there is one thing that more and more Americans do know: our civil liberties are becoming increasingly frail...courtesy of our growing and aggressive Federal Government. The immorality we fear in others was only a prelude to the oppression we now fear in our government.

Democracy and liberty is a strict discipline. It unravels when morality is relaxed. Individual morality, enduring marriages and intact families are the foundations on which democracy and liberty rest. But there is another principle which underscores everything, and that is religion. Indeed, liberty, morality and religion hang together. No one made this point better than Tocqueville.

Over one hundred and seventy five years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy in America. He visited America in 1831-32 to study America’s penitential system, institutions and its form of government. His observations of American Democracy and its future trends were right on the money! Although he personally visited and studied America in the nineteenth-century, he, nevertheless, wrote about what would eventually be twenty-first century America. His foresights were that uncanny!

Tocqueville was no prophet. However, he was well versed in history; specializing in the French Revolution. Being a native of France, he knew firsthand how freedom could be lost. And as a Catholic, he understood that religious liberty could be denied by the State in short order. Such was the case when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.

In Democracy in America there are three insightful observations of his worth noting. How relevant they are today! To be sure, every American should know them. Our freedom just may depend on it.

To read Democracy in America: Without Religion? and Democracy in America: Soft Despotism click on the April archives in the right hand column.