"It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor Americans pursue prosperity. Ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach as if they expected to stop living before they had relished them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them."
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Alexis de Tocqueville's "Crystal Ball"
I just rediscovered this great quote from Alexis de Tocqueville's (1801-1859) Democracy in America.
Know when this was published? 1835! Yet it sounds as if he could have penned it for the Times just this week. Although I've written a great deal on American fascism and our nation's changing political discourse of late, I guess the continued relevance of Tocqueville's observation shows that some aspects of our national character haven't changed all that much. As a nation we want to have our cake and eat it too.
Unfortunately, access to those opportunities for prosperity - the ability to attain "that complete felicity" in achieving the American Dream - seems increasingly difficult to realize. And whereas Tocqueville highlighted equality of opportunity as a likely guarantor of democracy's continued health in America, one could infer that the demise of economic opportunity for the many presages a failure of our democratic system and the Republic. Just a thought.