During my morning literary exercise I stumbled upon a lengthy quote that I think is pertinent to our modern society. Alexis de Tocqeville visited the United States in 1830, and subsequently wrote a treatise describing what he saw. Democracy in America is a literary classic that describes life in our early history. However, the quote I read this morning builds upon my blog entry of yesterday. When we allow our associational life to perish, thus negating a method for creating social capital, something must replace it. That something is the state, which is what de Tocqueville warns us about.
I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they will fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. . .
Above these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood. . .
Thus after taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complimentary, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to ones acting; it does not destroy; it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.
Last night during my class on leadership we discussed why civil involvement has eroded. We focused on technology, Facebook in particular. But I think I agree with Ferguson, who summarizes the above quote, “ Tocqueville was surely right. Not technology, but the state – with its seductive promise of security from cradle to grave – was the real enemy of civil society.”
And that has become my thought for the day!