Monday, January 9, 2017

About America: Alexis de Tocqueville, Then and Now

Alexis de Tocqueville published two trenchant volumes
regarding our then new nation after touring here in 1831.
Democracy in America (1835 and 1840) shrewdly analysed
the characteristics that made America different from European
countries, traits that often weren't/aren't always "positive".
Among the more famous descriptions is one of an American
always hungering after novelty, not delving deeply into important
subjects, etc.

Long before nefariously/infamously/selfishly conservative
capitalist "theorist"/fiction writer Ayn Rand, Alexis de T.
noted the rise of the cult of individualism: "...Individualism
is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen
to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw
into the circle of family and friends; with this little society
formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look
after itself..." (quoted in Rushworth M. Kidder's How Good
People Make Tough Choices, 1995.)

Fast forward to 2017: Closeted in and focused on their personal
lives, far too few adult Americans study the issues, vote, attend
public meetings where they can engage their officials, call up
legislators with suggestions, criticisms and concerns. As Benjamin
Franklin and Alexis de T. understood, these participatory public
practices help insure a stable, democratic republic, one we are in
grave danger of losing, with the cult of wealth and celebrity
overweeningly influencing major events.

Sociologist de Tocqueville's thoughts on our nation are as relevant
today as they were in the 1830s--sadly, even more so. His work
has honesty, observation  and keen intelligence; it inspires
reflection and change among the perceptive.

Let us all be perceptive.

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