13 February 2010

The Public as Master


Sharing a bite from the dessert of my day (my reading):

I have always thought that servitude
of the regular, quiet and gentle kind
might be combined more easily than is commonly believed
with some of the outward forms of freedom;
and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions;
they want to be led,
and they wish to remain free;

as they cannot destroy either one or the other of these contrary propensities,
they strive to satisfy them both at once.
They devise a sole, tutelary [protective, guarding, support-giving], and all-powerful form of government,
but elected by the people.
They combine the principle of centralization
and that of popular sovereignty;

this gives them a respite;
they console themselves for being in tutelage
by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians.

Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings*
because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons,
but the people at large that holds the end of his chain.

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence
just long enough to select their master,
and then relapse into it again.

~ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

* Leading strings in the 19th century were strings by which children were supported when beginning to walk. To be in leading strings was to be in a state of infancy or dependence, or in pupilage (a ward or minority) under the guidance of others.

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