Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tocqueville: On the speedy arrival of despotism

Tocqueville, in his book, Democracy in America, predicted a number of social and political trends that eventually materialized. Indeed, what he penned in 1835 is playing out in 2012. 

The real value of Tocqueville's work is not that he foresaw these trends several years before they developed, but that he understood where the roots lie for both freedom and its counterpart, despotism.

In each quote, Tocqueville points to those principles that are at work in undermining the longevity of America. Just as these four quotes below address our nation's problems about 180 years in before they occurred, so too do they point to the remedy at hand. And if America is to make a u-turn and travel down the road of recovery, Christians and patriots alike must come to terms with certain public institutions that indirectly or directly promote a totalitarian way of governance. In other words, those institutions which set themselves at variance to religion, liberty and virtue ought to publicly discredited.

Religion, morality and despotism:

“Since religion has lost its empire over souls the souls of men, the most prominent boundaries which divided good from evil is overthrown; the very elements of the moral world are indeterminate; the princes and the peoples of the earth are guided by chance, and none can define the natural limits of despotism and the bounds of license.”

Sky View: Religion is the guarantor of morality; morality of law; and law of freedom. Hence, the breakdown of morality inevitably leads to the erosion of freedom. Christianity may seem to be at a disadvantage today in terms of its weak influence, but it's contribution to the restoration of the American Republican is no less necessary than its contribution to America's founding. Keep in mind this fact: The City of God is stronger thanwhat it appears to be; and the City of Man is weaker than what it appears to be. The Church can make great gains just when all seems lost.

Untried thoughts and the demise of thinking:

“In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved of the necessity of forming their own opinions of their own…In the principle of equality I very clearly discern two tendencies: the one leading the mind to untried thoughts, the other inclined to prohibit him thinking at all.”

Sky View: Good education teaches boys and girls how to think. Propaganda teaches them how to conform. Children in under our current State-run education system are learning to conform because "ready-made opinions" are provided for them on a daily basis. They are just as likely to learn about the politically correct response to gay rights as they are arithmetic. And more often than not, the average student will not learn that the founding of America and the framing of the Constitution would have been impossible without Christianity.   
Losing republican institutions:

“If republican principles are to perish in America, they can only yield after a laborious social process, often interrupted, and as often resumed; they will have many apparent revivals, and will not become totally extinct until an entirely new people shall have succeeded to that which now exists…It may, however, be foreseen even now, that when the Americans lose their republican institutions they will speedily arrive at a despotic government, without a long interval of limited monarchy.”

Sky View: Social liberties are lost before political liberties are. Gradually, since the 1940's, Americans have learned to put more value in security than in freedom. We used to be able to hitchhike, to leave doors unlocked, to walk downtown in any city at night without fearing for our lives, let our children play several blocks away without constantly worrying for their safety and our public schools didn't need security guards and a police-force just a short time ago. This is the "laborious social process" that precedes despotism Tocqueville referred to well over a hundred years ago.

How the press modifies public opinion:

“The human intellect may be considered in three distinct states, which frequently succeed one another. A man believes implicitly, because he adopts a proposition without inquiry. He doubts as soon as he is assailed by objections which his inquiries may have aroused. But he frequently succeeds in satisfying these doubts, and then he begins to believe afresh: he no longer lays of the truth in its most shadowy and uncertain form, but he sees it clearly before him, and he advances onwards by the light it gives him.

When the liberty of the press acts upon men who are in the first of these states, it does not immediately disturb their habit of believing implicitly without investigation, but it constantly modifies the object of their intuitive conviction/ The human mind continues to discern but one point the whole intellectual horizon and the point is in continual motion. Such are the symptoms of sudden revolutions, and of misfortunes which sure to befall those generations which abruptly adopt the unconditional freedom of the press…

It has been remarked in great religious fervor men sometimes change their religious opinions; whereas in times of general skepticism everyone clings to their own personal persuasion. The same thing takes place in politics under the liberty of the press. In countries where all the theories of social science have been contested in their turn, the citizens who have adopted one of them stick to it, not so much because they are assured of its excellence, as because they are not convinced of the superiority of any other.

In the present age men are not very ready to die in defense of their opinions, but they are rarely inclined to change them; and there are fewer martyrs as well as fewer apostates.

Another still more valid reason may yet be adduced: when no abstract opinions are looked upon as certain, men cling to the mere propensities and external interests of their position, which are naturally more tangible and more permanent than in any opinions in the world.”

Sky View: When a State-run system of education softens opinions, making them conformable to propaganda, the press can add to this by making an all-powerful State very appealing to the average person. America, today, suffers from the work of two powerful institutions: A State-run education system and a State-run media. The latter may not be controlled by the State but its mission is to promote an all-powerful State. In any case, both of the influence exerted by these two institutions are antithetical to the founding of this nation.