By Daniel Taylor
“…despotism corrupts the person who submits to it far more than the person who imposes it.”
Alexis de Tocqueville observed the American way of life, government and politics when the country was still young in 1835. His observations – recorded in his book Democracy in America – show that while there are new problems and social issues today, many of them have haunted this country since its early days.
Tocqueville’s observations, in his own words, will be biting and offensive to some Americans, but this is only because the truth in what he says cannot be avoided. He saw a new kind of tyranny rising that was more effective than brute force, a tyranny that went straight to the soul. Tocqueville writes,
“Chains and executioners: such were the crude instruments on which tyranny once relied. But civilization has today brought improvement to everything, even to despotism, which seemed to have nothing left to learn.
Princes made violence a physical thing, but today’s democratic republics have made it as intellectual as the human will it seeks to coerce. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism tried to reach the soul by striking crudely at the body; and the soul, eluding such blows, rose gloriously above it. Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property, and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you… You will remain among men, but you will forfeit your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellow creatures, they will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.”
Tocqueville describes this tyranny as it expressed itself in America during his day,
“In America, the majority erects a formidable barrier around thought. Within the limits thus laid down, the writer is free, but woe unto him who dares to venture beyond those limits… He has no chance of a political career, for he has offended the only power capable of opening the way to one… In the end, he gives in, he bends under the burden of such unremitting effort and retreats into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.”
One thing has remained the same throughout history; The corruptive nature of tyrannical power and its effects on those who wield it as well as those who submit to it. Tocqueville saw different types of people, those who submit to tyranny out of weakness, habit, ignorance, or love of power.
“In absolute governments, the high nobles who surround the throne flatter the passions of the master and voluntarily bend to his whims. But the masses of the nation are not inclined toward servitude; often they submit out of weakness, habit, or ignorance, and occasionally out of love for royalty or the king. It is not unknown for a people to take pleasure and pride of a sort of sacrificing their will to that of the prince, thereby marking a kind of independence of soul in the very act of obedience. In such nations degradation is far less common than misery. There is a great difference, moreover, between doing what one does not approve of and pretending to approve of what one does: one is the attitude of a man who is weak, the other a habit that only a lackey would acquire.”
Tocqueville also saw a stark difference between the leaders in America and the people.
“I have heard Americans speak of their homeland. I have met with true patriotism among the people; I have often searched for it in vain among their leaders. This fact is easily understood by analogy: despotism corrupts the person who submits to it far more than the person who imposes it. In absolute monarchies, the king often has great virtues, but the courtiers are always vile.”
Were all Americans always so malleable? Tocqueville describes a unique character that filled the souls of Americans in earlier days.
“When the American Revolution declared itself, remarkable men came forward in droves. In those days, public opinion gave direction to their wills but did not tyrannize them. The famous men of the day freely took part in the intellectual movement of their time yet possessed a grandeur all their own. Their brilliance, rather than being borrowed from the nation, spilled over onto it.”
The establishment media has served, among other things destructive to our liberty, to marginalize truth tellers, whistle blowers, and groups who pose a threat to established thought and power. We are to believe that we are alone. No one else feels the way we do, so we are told. Fortunately for us, a variety of developments have effectively broken this mechanism of control for millions. The internet is connecting like minded people world-wide, and the alternative media is exploding.
Bring back the grandeur and independence of thought that once filled this nation. Tyranny has been brought to a science while sophisticated social engineering practices have emerged in the many years after Tocqueville’s writing, but even they cannot take hold of your soul.