Contrary to partisan bugaboos, the United States remains an exceptional nation, even in regard to its own unique despotism.
While partisans worry and wait for the next tyrant in our midst, raising the specter of Hitler or Stalin or even the dried-over bloody shirt of the Civil War and Jim Crow to slander their political opponents, the country does not resemble any such hellscapes — at least, not one most of us would be officially encouraged to recognize.
America is not Stalin’s Soviet Empire or Hitler’s Nazi Germany. America doesn’t even resemble its own sinful past, despite President Biden’s recent self-serving allusions to Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.
No, as Americans are directed to look at these ready-made past horrors and tyrannies, we keep missing our own present brand of “soft” despotism right under our noses. It’s as though, whenever we get close to looking in the mirror as a nation, our official history lessons and partisan filters leave us blind to the present moment.
This is by design. Naked political power must necessarily be dolled up in a carefully manufactured history, else the people see how truly ugly, naked power is.
Yet, a beautiful thing about history is that it can also undress power and provide us the much-needed perspective to see our current moment. This is especially true when history comes in the form of very old predictions about the future.
Alexis de Tocqueville provided such a prediction nearly two centuries ago. In 1840, the second volume of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was published. In the chapter “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,” Tocqueville muses on the future of democratic societies and their potential for tyranny.
After dispensing with the idea that democratic despotism will look anything like the tyranny of the ancients, Tocqueville ventures a picture of the future whereby a nation of isolated men, in pursuit of self-interest, are close to their fellow citizens without seeing them, touching one another without any real sense of feeling.
See if you recognize our nation’s present face in the reflection of Tocqueville’s vision:
“Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness, such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."
The resemblance is uncanny; though sadly, I suspect if this prediction were shown to the majority of Americans, they would shrug — if they could read it in the first place.
I cannot help but worry that this is the worst effect of soft despotism: that the majority of Americans are simply too comfortable or too scared, too apathetic or even too earnest for “equality and fairness” to care for liberty at all.
However, after two years of pandemic politics, maybe I’m wrong to be so cynical.
Maybe, just maybe, more Americans than ever before are seeing through the manufactured narratives of the corporate media, including the official histories designed to control the future.
Maybe, just maybe, more Americans than ever before are now refraining from blaming every tragic twist of fate on a lack of central government control, turning instead to their local communities for support and succor in tough times.
Maybe, just maybe, more Americans have stopped conflating “liberty” with “agency” — realizing we cannot guarantee our freedom while also trying to guarantee zero risk of harm and an equality of outcome that inevitably treats some more equal than others.
And maybe, just maybe, more Americans than ever before know in their hearts it is better to die taking risks and facing dangers than to live in fear and dependency, yoked together under a democratic despotism that purports to protect us from ourselves by saving us from all the troubles of our God-given liberty.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email email@example.com The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.