Liberty is encoded in the American DNA … I believe it is our gift to the world. But it is threatened … could you enjoy your life under a creeping soft despotism?
- Government increasingly deciding what is best for you, instead of you deciding
- More and more government regulation over business and economic life
- Increasing difficulty for innovators and entrepreneurs to rise above the crowd
- Initiative, independence, self-reliance and uniqueness seen as in the way of the burgeoning State
We Were Warned About a Soft Despotism
This was an idea first coined by the French historian and political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville. He traveled throughout America in the early 1800’s, seeking what was making the young American democracy successful.
It’s important to know that he was a “classical liberal.” This was not today’s modern liberalism!
- Classical liberalism was a political philosophy committed to limited government, constitutionalism and the rule of law. It was against any form of authoritarianism.
- Classical liberalism believed in natural law and individual rights including freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. John Locke (natural rights), Adam Smith (free markets), Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers were all classical liberals.
- Classical liberalism sought the course that would provide the greatest happiness for the people (utilitarianism). Classical liberals believed in progress.
- As you can see, classical liberalism is much different than modern liberalism and progressivism!
After his American travels, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America (1835 and 1840). If you care about America, it’s certainly worth getting your mind around some of his conclusions. Harvey Mansfield has taught government at Harvard University since 1962. He says de Tocqueville’s book is “the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.”
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the 1830’s, warning America about a national government that could slip into a soft despotism …
Thus, 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, complicated, 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 one’s 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 industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.
For the past 100 years, America has found itself on the slippery slope of soft despotism. We’re descending further right now.
What Does a Creeping Soft Despotism Feel Like?
- Soft despotism advances incrementally with baby steps over time. Otherwise, the people would realize what is happening. There are periods where the pace quickens, like today.
- The government begins to feel like a shepherd (the people sheep?) instead of a protector of individual rights and an ordered society of liberty.
- There are many, many small rules, over-regulation and over-taxation which mount up over time. It stifling.
- Original thought and action begin to be suppressed. Citizens become lethargic.
- The government becomes an expanding, paternalistic state power. Self-government is undermined.
- A Statism emerges … a heavy-handed, all-powerful national government in which the few dictate to the many. At this point, it moves from a soft tyranny to a hard tyranny.
You see, to the Statist, the government will supposedly provide a utopia. But this has never worked. Our individual pursuits … even the right to the “Pursuit of happiness” established in the Declaration of Independence, can be seen as an obstruction to the Statist.
Democratic republics are built upon a real sense of hope. And soft despotism erodes that hope leading to national failure.
Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) (affiliate) and Democracy in America, Volume I and II (Optimized for Kindle) (affiliate).
There’s quite a renewed interest in the Constitution and the first principles of America’s founding. Constitution 101 is a free online course sponsored by Hillsdale College. Ten 40-minute presentations are archived to view at any time. Go ahead. Dive in.
Q4U: How is your “hope meter” doing? Do you feel positive about your future and the future of the nation?
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photo credit: slimninja (Creative Commons)
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