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The meaning and beauty of democracy in america today

Politics and law Arts and Culture Alexis de Tocqueville was a more prophetic observer of American democracy than even his most ardent admirers appreciate.

From there, they crossed the Carolinas into Virginia, visited Washington, and returned to New York to embark for home with a trunkful of notes and American histories. He had researched The Old Regime by reading mountains of official reports and correspondence from the 1750s onward in the archives, chiefly of Tours and Paris. All this allowed him to document what had been inspired but mostly theoretical speculation in volume 2 of Democracy in America. And, already at 17, he had fathered a child, whose fate is unknown, with a servant girl.

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Still, he at least remained faithful to democracy: The earliest Anglo-American settlers had crossed the sea to begin the political world afresh. Liberty looks upon religion as its comrade in battle and victory, as the cradle of its infancy and divine source of its rights.

They believe that every person is born with the faculty to govern himself and that no one has the right to force happiness on his fellow man. Why are your ships not built to last? Tocqueville once asked an American sailor. Naval architecture improves so quickly, the sailor replied, that the finest ship would be obsolete before it wore out. A Silicon Valley engineer would sound the same today. Not surprisingly, a culture that leaves men free to judge for themselves in religion and politics nurtures independent self-reliance from the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today on.

Even in the schoolyard, American children make up their own rules and punish infractions themselves. As adults, they never think of waiting for government to solve everyday problems. If a road gets blocked, they organize themselves to fix it. If they want to celebrate something, they spontaneously join together to make the festivities as fun and grand as possible.

Spring 2016

Their offspring will blanket all of North America. Wealth, power, and glory will inevitably be theirs some day, yet they hasten after this immense fortune as though they had but a moment left to lay hold of it. The Mother Country was only too pleased to see its turbulent Puritans slip over the horizon, and it ignored them for well over a century.

So America developed from the village up, rather than from a metropolis down. Colonial politics were resolutely local. Local citizens elected their magistrates, levied and collected their own taxes, raised their own militias, maintained their own roads, provided for their own poor, and, in New England at the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today, established their own schools and made their children attend them.

In New England, too, they did this directly, not through representatives, so, despite their Puritan individualism, they learned from the start how to cooperate.

He teaches himself about the forms of government by governing. He watches the great work of society being done every day before his eyes and, in a sense, by his hand.

One of those duties is the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today service, which shapes the national character by giving citizens firsthand respect for equity and the rule of law. A century and a half after the Puritan settlers established the little republics of New England, the Constitution carefully preserved the spirit of localism in its federal structure.

Congress takes charge of such national matters as foreign relations, war, and international trade, but, lacking any means of knowing the innumerable details of local needs and customs, as Friedrich Hayek later argued about the inevitable failings of centralization, it leaves local matters to the state legislatures and the town meetings.

It still kept the spiritual realm and its values vibrantly present in minds otherwise materialistic.

Powering the frenzy of American activity is a high-voltage charge of anxiety. After the Revolution, most states outlawed entail, the inheritance rule that the owner of an estate must leave it to his eldest male heir, with pittances to the other children. Thus not only does democracy cause each man to forget his forebears, but it makes it difficult to see his offspring and cuts him off from his contemporaries.

Again and again it leads him back to the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today and threatens ultimately to imprison him altogether in the loneliness of his own heart.

It leaves the dissident his life, liberty, property, and civic privileges, but it makes them useless to him by making him a pariah, unable to gain the votes or the esteem of his fellow citizens, who will shun him for fear of being shunned themselves. Little wonder, therefore, that America has produced no great writers. Even though it inestimably benefits the nation by ensuring its monetary stability, Jackson happily attacks it, accusing its directors of being an aristocracy in the making, opposed to the democratic majority—and, incidentally, to Jackson as well.

However, the modest scrap of elitism that the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today in America does the country much good, Tocqueville judges. The people directly elect their congressmen, while the popularly elected state legislatures elect the senators, a two-step process that refines and ennobles the choice and that Tocqueville recommends for democracies everywhere.

But note, he remarks, that even the best democracy will give you a broadly prosperous nation, with little real misery, rather than a brilliant one. Part of the genius of the U.

Constitution, Tocqueville thinks, is that it not the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today prevents Congress from making laws for localities but also provides no central administrative system that could carry them out if they existed. Given the threat of majoritarian tyranny, such as reigns over U. From a glowing panorama, to some gathering shadows, to this? What makes him say this—and then harp on it as the keynote of volume 2 of Democracy?

Yet, as Tocqueville discovered in his researches for The Old Regime and the French Revolution, not only did such an idea arise under many a royal crown, but a long progression of sovereigns gradually made it a reality. Here, briefly, is how.

During the fourteenth century, no taxation without consent was as firm a principle in France as in England. But around 1440, Charles VII sweet-talked the nobles into pushing the Estates-General to let him levy a new tax, the taille, at his pleasure—a tax from which the nobles would be exempt. And as the nobles gradually sold off their land, tied their fates to the central government by investing the proceeds in its bonds, and moved to Paris, they ceased to feel any obligation or concern for their former tenants, the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today their role as a revered corporate body that once had mediated between the people and the sovereign.

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What filled the power vacuum was the Royal Council, an ancient body that, by the eighteenth century, had become supreme, with a Controller General as its executive officer, and faceless bureaucrats, who shunned publicity and beavered away silently in the shadow of the throne, as its members. The Controller General administered the entire nation through 30 intendants, one per province. Obscure middle-class the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today like the Royal Councilors, they and their subdelegates apportioned and collected the taille in every parish, managed poor relief in every town and village, and, as the eighteenth century progressed, tried to teach peasants scientific agriculture, told them where they could plant this or that crop, and built and maintained roads and canals.

Believe it or not, the French kingdom is ruled by thirty Intendants. Throughout the eighteenth century, moreover, royal decrees and orders from the Royal Council declared that any disputes that resulted from them would be heard by the intendant, with a right of appeal to. The intendants and their subdelegates were exempt from personal lawsuits, making them untouchable.

Even private property lost its sanctity, when Louis XIV promulgated the long-held but judicially rejected feudal belief that all landed estates were held conditionally and that their true owner was the state. And the state gradually swept into its coffers donations willed to charitable institutions over centuries, until in 1780 the king seized the ancient endowments of the hospitals, in return for a government annuity.

Everything would be produced under state supervision, placed in state warehouses, and distributed to citizens according to need. But his were the intuitions of genius, and what he foresaw came to pass not only in Europe but also in the United States, starting half a century after his death. We created a giant administrative regime, just as Tocqueville feared, composed of such executive-branch agencies as the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the The meaning and beauty of democracy in america today Protection Agency, the Federal Elections Commission, and on and on.

As for the congress whose legislation gave life to these bodies, it is as much a sham as the old French town corporations or magnificently titled nobles.

And the Constitution that gave life to the government Tocqueville so cherished is, if not dead, then dying. And when the New Deal took administrative government to new depths of unconstitutionality, Franklin Roosevelt and his brain trust used almost Tocquevillian language in explaining why, in the age of giant corporations more powerful than any individual citizen or mediating institution, only an equally mighty government could protect the wee, timorous, cowering individual.

He seldom forces anyone to act but consistently opposes action. He does not destroy things but rather prevents them from coming into being. Rather than the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today, he inhibits, represses, saps, stultifies, and in the end reduces each nation to nothing but a timid and industrious flock of animals, with the government as its shepherd.

Today the iron cage of administrative rules prevents new businesses from opening, old ones from hiring, doctors from treating patients as they think best, groups of citizens from uttering political speech, even a landowner from moving a the meaning and beauty of democracy in america today of sand from one spot to another on his property, purportedly because it could affect a navigable waterway 50 miles away. It slows projects to a crawl, so that building a bridge, a skyscraper, a power plant takes years—whereas in the old America, the Empire State Building rose in 11 months.

And whatever traditional American mores defined as good and bad, moral and immoral, base and praiseworthy, the sovereign has redefined and redefined until all such ideas have lost their meaning. His latest book is The Founders at Home.