I started reading a new book a few days ago and I came across this passage quoted from Alexis de Tocqueville. The relevance of this 150 year old passage to our current economic and political condition is frightening.
Tocqueville describes how a government could slowly, and quite simply destroy personal freedoms and create an entire country of “timid and industrious animals” whose will had been subtly broken by government “not tyrannizing, just getting in the way” thus making everyone a tool of the state, a cog in the wheel, where everyone’s needs and desires are paid for by everyone else. A guaranteed condition of mediocrity where the lazy and unambitious half of society lives off the backs of the hardworking and tyrannized other half.
The italics and bold are mine.
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 fill their souls [think Facebook and Twitter where we feel so self-important that we assume the whole world wants to know what we’re doing every second].
Over these is an immense, tutelary [guardian] power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident [a provider], and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood…it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs…
The sovereign [Big Government] extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations – complicated, minute, and uniform – through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way…it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own…it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way; it curtails, it enervates [exhausts, makes tired], it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Welcome to the 21st century.
Lest we need any proof beyond simply looking around us at the economic crater our Big Government has created for us to live in, CNN Money reports on Nightmares on Main Street, and how Keeping Compliant is a Full-Time Job and Closed Due to Regulation and $125 an Hour Inspectors to Make BBQ and 120 Hours of Paperwork and $8,000 in Fees and It Seems Like We Are Running in Circles and Frustrated with Washington and Too Much Bureaucratic Football and as my last example from millions of examples of government regulation “getting in the way” to reduce us to “a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd,” How Government Regulation Destroys Competition and Creates Monopolies.
Alexis de Tocqueville. You were spot on.