Has The Gangrene Spread?

In 1831 the French government sent Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont to the United States to study our prison system. But the underlying reason for their visit was to study our country as a whole, particularly with respect towards our young republic and our democracy. The result of their 271 day visit is Democracy in America with Volume 1 being written in 1835 and Volume 2 being completed five years later.

I recently purchased both volumes in one single paperback book. For the longest time it sat on my shelf because I was apprehensive about starting the daunting task of reading a book of nearly 1,000 pages. Finally I mustered up the courage to open it up and begin reading. I was pleasantly surprised that the reading was not as dry as I had expected. In fact de Tocqueville writes in a style that is quite enjoyable to read. My only concern is that I do not have enough highlighters as I have been highlighting passages left and right as I make my way through it.

However, my purpose in writing this is not to review de Tocqueville’s masterpiece on American Democracy. Instead I would like to comment on one thing he said in Chapter 2 of the first Volume. De Tocqueville wrote, “A MAN has come into the world; his early years are spent without notice in the pleasures and activities of childhood. As he grows up, the world receives him when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed.

This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in his mother’s arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind, the first occurrences that he witnesses, we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.

The growth of nations presents something analogous to this; they all bear some marks of their origin. The circumstances that accompanied their birth and contributed to their development affected the whole term of their being.

If we were able to go back to the elements of states and to examine the oldest monuments of their history, I doubt not that we should discover in them the primal cause of the prejudices, the habits, the ruling passions, and, in short, all that constitutes what is called the national character.”

The National Character…hmmm, what could he possibly mean by that? According to Encyclopedia.com National Character is defined as, “…the enduring personality characteristics and unique life styles found among the populations of particular national states.”

I suppose, using that definition, that the national character of any nation is subject to change as the personality characteristics of the people inhabiting that nation are subject to change over a course of time. But if you want to truly understand how our system of government was supposed to function, and why it isn’t working so well today, then you MUST go back and study the mindset of the people who created it. That is why that quote by de Tocqueville struck me with such force, as his analogy of understanding a person and how you must go back to its infancy, and not its adulthood.

Although there are some Americans who are able to do this, most people examine their government, and how it functions, from the framework of their own short lifetime. For instance, if you were born in 1970 then you examine how your government has changed since 1970 and you believe that for all to be well in America is for our government to return to functioning the way it functioned back in 1970. But, as de Tocqueville correctly asserted, that is a great error. To understand how our system of government is supposed to function you must go back prior to its creation and study the men who established it.

Unfortunately, for most people anyway, that is simply too much work. Most people’s lives are too busy, filled with the things they consider important, to spend reading musty old books about men like Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Adams, and Washington.

That may be their viewpoint, but our nation’s Founders felt differently. They felt that an informed and educated citizenry was the only safeguard for a free republic and the only defense against tyranny and the loss of liberty. That is why, in 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is the duty of every good citizen to use all the opportunities which occur to him, for preserving the documents relating to the history of our country.”

That is why Noah Webster said, “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.”

Our country is unique. It is rare that a people inhabiting a land get to create their own system of government. As de Tocqueville concludes at the end of Chapter 1, “In that land the great experiment of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis was to be made by civilized man; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past.”

It saddens me to watch as the system of government established by our Founders is perverted and powers are usurped by our representatives that it was never intended they possess. It angers me to no end that people are so readily willing to give up their rights without even understanding why our Founders felt it so vitally important to preserve them.

I wonder, instead of de Tocqueville visiting the America’s in 1831 he had come in 2014, what would his thoughts have been on the National Character of the people who inhabit this country? Would he have found them to be a people filled with the love of liberty, full of industry and innovation, or would he have found a nation of people who are slothful, readily willing to surrender their rights, and only concerned with their own self gratification?

A quote from Thomas Jefferson and I’ll let you return to your lives. In a letter to Spencer Roane, written in 1821, Jefferson states, “Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible.”

Has that day come when the gangrene has spread so extensively that our republic cannot be saved? I suppose only history will be able to tell. From my perspective until the people, in far greater numbers than I currently see, begin to care about how our system was supposed to function it is a lost cause.

When I am told by people that they don’t have time, but then I hear them talk about how they watched some sporting event over the weekend, or went out and got drunk, I only see that they have time, but their priorities are out of whack. When I hear people more concerned with the fate of a missing Malaysian airliner than the fact that their government is spying on them I know that their priorities are out of whack.

Mark my words, there will come a day when people will wished they had made the time to learn about and stand up for their rights and their liberty with the same courage and fortitude as the men who established this country 238 years ago. But when that time comes it will be too late, the land of the free and the home of the brave will no longer exist.

About Br'er Rabbit

I'm just one person out of millions of others. The only thing different about me is that I don't walk around with my head up my ass.
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