Thursday, April 7, 2011

What would Alexis de Tocqueville say Today?

Was reading this Vanity Fair article the other day; it ended with an interesting historical reference, driving home a point I believe is utterly lost in our contemporary political discourse: that the fate of every member in our system is inherently tied together, not in an egalitarian sense, but in a practical one.

Here's the quote:

"Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late."

This notion was really quite novel at the time. A new, fresh, and contemporary principle that trumped previous social structures and contributed greatly to the success of this country.

So why would we so foolishly abandon it now?

It is in the best interests of the aristocracy (why call it anything else?) to encourage and maintain as large and thriving a middle class as possible. When aristocrats begin to greedily sabotage our revolutionary American class structure (a structure perhaps more important than Representative Democracy itself, I would argue), then bad things will inevitably follow.

No matter where you stand on this issue, the pattern of 25% of wealth in 1% of the populace is indisputably wrong (unless you believe in a tiny elite class!). It is also a very familiar pattern, a mere shadow of the true social stratification evident in Europe in the 19th century and all over the world today.

To return to such a structure is absolute insanity, particularly when an historical precedent already exists regarding how such structures typically come to an end. We already know what will happen: systemic economic collapse, revolution, civil war, human suffering, etc.

And yet, there seems to be a movement afoot of near-giddy, gleeful destruction of basic programs and services. It is one thing to advocate small, streamlined government and a rigid scrutiny of how our public funds are used and misused.


It is another thing altogether to cut into the bone of basic American principles - for instance, the right of every child to receive a quality public education (no matter what your view on union power, etc. that right is indisputably in peril).

More important than ideology (as we all have valid and reasonable opinions, ideas, etc. on how society should work), are the emotional patterns that resonate throughout this debate. A polarizing fracture is underway consisting of seemingly innocuous complaints, poor jokes, innuendo, etc. - that belies a deeper and more fundamental schism tied up in long-standing notions of race, class, and culture.

Let us tackle difficult social issues (like a bloated and unsustainable deficit) with ethical integrity and empathy for our fellow man. This should be true of all of us, but particularly those so fortunate to reside in positions of relative privilege, power, and wealth.

If you make more than a few dollars a day, that's you!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment