by Don Boudreaux on May 10, 2009

in Nanny State

I read Tocqueville's Democracy in America well over a decade ago.  I now want to read it again.  This desire is prompted by this passage below, taken from today's column by George Will.  I'm chagrined to admit I do not recall, from my own long-ago reading of that great book, the Tocqueville quotation :

In "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville anticipated people
being governed by "an immense, tutelary power" determined to take "sole
charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate." It
would be a power "absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident and
gentle," aiming for our happiness but wanting "to be the only agent and
the sole arbiter of that happiness." It would, Tocqueville said,
provide people security, anticipate their needs, direct their
industries and divide their inheritances. It would envelop society in
"a network of petty regulations — complicated, minute and uniform."
But softly: "It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and
directs them" until people resemble "a herd of timid and industrious
animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

So what today seems as modern as Matisse once seemed was foreseen 17 decades ago.

I have in my living room an engraving of New Hampshire's state motto, "Live Free or Die."  It's a proud and worthy sentiment for a free people, but not one shared generally by Americans today — or by any other peoples, it seems.  Increasingly, Americans' sentiments would be more aptly captured by the motto "Exist as Coddled Children or Cry."

And I have hanging in my office a replica of the revolutionary-era flag "Don't Tread on Me" — another proud sentiment worthy of a free people, but one that now, in America, ought to read "Please Care for Me."

Update: My friend Fred Foote suggests that the image to accompany the motto "Please Care for Me" would be, not a fierce and coiled snake, but a begging piglit.


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