Thursday, July 4, 2013

Born on the 4th of July

And observed half a century later by a visiting (and astute) Frenchman;
The people have neither the time nor the means for an investigation of this kind [to form a just estimate of the character of a single individual]. Their conclusions are hastily formed from a superficial inspection of the more prominent features of a question. Hence it often happens that mountebanks of all sorts are able to please the people, while their truest friends frequently fail to gain their confidence.
Which is as true today as it was in 1830 when Tocqueville wrote the above. He continues;
It cannot be denied that democratic institutions strongly tend to promote the feeling of envy in the human heart; not so much because they afford to everyone the means of rising to the same level with others as because those means perpetually disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy.
Occupy Wall Street wouldn't have surprised him.
This complete equality eludes the grasp of the people at the very moment when they think they have grasped it, and ....[they] are agitated by the chance of success, they are irritated by its uncertainty; and they pass from the enthusiasm of pursuit to the exhaustion of ill success, and lastly to the acrimony of disappointment.
Which just happened to the Egyptian people too, it seems.
Whatever transcends their own limitations appears to be an obstacle to their desires, and there is no superiority, however legitimate it may be, which is not irksome in their sight.
That was written before, say, Michael Jordan, of whose fortune few people are envious. So, there are some exceptions to Tocqueville's rule, but many do find irksome the fortunes of CEO's of corporations.
In the United States the people do not hate the higher classes of society, but are not favorably inclined towards them and carefully exclude them from the exercise of authority. They do not fear distinguished talents, but are rarely fond of them. In general, everyone who rises without their aid seldom obtains their favor.
Hard to imagine Mitt Romney disagreeing.
I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice. Whatever its advantages may be, this is not one of them.
Nor should we expect that political choice would be an advantage in the distribution (or, re-distribution) of the productive endeavors of a society, for the same reason. Which is a good thing to keep in mind tonight when we enjoy the rockets' red glare at the fireworks party.

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