Poison The Root, Poison The Tree

This is less of a post and more of a reminder – sort of a TRNL version of Pintrest.

I’ve been catching up on my reading and re-reading.

One thing is grating to my senses is the conventional wisdom that just because we have democratic elections, we have freedom of that democracy. Democracies do from time to time elect tyrannical leaders and governments. It has been pointed out time and time again that Adolf Hitler was elected. The USSR held “elections”, that is the goal of communism – dictatorship of the proletariat; you guessed it – where there is a global “democracy”.

Democracy is just a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives – it does not guarantee individual freedom.

A democratic country does NOT equal a free country.

As proof that everything old is new again, here is Alexis de Tocqueville from his book Democracy in America. De Tocqueville predicted in 1835 that the American experiment had the potential to devolve into soft despotism and that the greatest danger of this Republic proceeded from the omnipotence of the majority:

GOVERNMENTS usually perish from impotence or from tyranny. In the former case, their power escapes from them; it is wrested from their grasp in the latter. Many observers who have witnessed the anarchy of democratic states have imagined that the government of those states was naturally weak and impotent. The truth is that when war is once begun between parties, the government loses its control over society. But I do not think that a democratic power is naturally without force or resources; say, rather, that it is almost always by the abuse of its force and the misemployment of its resources that it becomes a failure. Anarchy is almost always produced by its tyranny or its mistakes, but not by its want of strength.

What follows is long but is a must read. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or an Independent, you must understand that at some time you will be subject to a majority of another ideology and when guided by majority rule and not the principles recognized by the Constitution, there is tyranny. I think that de Tocqueville would have recognized the “I won, so that means I can do whatever I want” attitude of the Obama administration as tyranny. I believe that he would also recognize the use of procedural votes to pass legislation, as Obamacare being passed by a “reconciliation” bill in 2010 to escape the 60 vote requirement in the Senate, as tyranny.

De Tocqueville even predicts the results:

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.

I wanted to excerpt de Tocqueville’s section describing and defining tyranny of the majority but there is nothing that he wrote in this section of Volume I, Chapter XV that is not important – actually the entire two volume set is a must read:

How the principle of the sovereignty of the people is to be understood–Impossibility of conceiving a mixed government–The sovereign power must exist somewhere–Precautions to be taken to control its action –These precautions have not been taken in the United States –Consequences.

I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim that, politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything; and yet I have asserted that all authority originates in the will of the majority. Am I, then, in contradiction with myself?

A general law, which bears the name of justice, has been made and sanctioned, not only by a majority of this or that people, but by a majority of mankind. The rights of every people are therefore confined within the limits of what is just. A nation may be considered as a jury which is empowered to represent society at large and to apply justice, which is its law. Ought such a jury, which represents society, to have more power than the society itself whose laws it executes?

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind. Some have not feared to assert that a people can never outstep the boundaries of justice and reason in those affairs which are peculiarly its own; and that consequently full power may be given to the majority by which it is represented. But this is the language of a slave.

A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength.3 For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.

I do not think that, for the sake of preserving liberty, it is possible to combine several principles in the same government so as really to oppose them to one another. The form of government that is usually termed mixed has always appeared to me a mere chimera. Accurately speaking, there is no such thing as a mixed government in the sense usually given to that word, because in all communities some one principle of action may be discovered which preponderates over the others. England in the last century, which has been especially cited as an example of this sort of government, was essentially an aristocratic state, although it comprised some great elements of democracy; for the laws and customs of the country were such that the aristocracy could not but preponderate in the long run and direct public affairs according to its own will. The error arose from seeing the interests of the nobles perpetually contending with those of the people, without considering the issue of the contest, which was really the important point. When a community actually has a mixed government–that is to say, when it is equally divided between adverse principles–it must either experience a revolution or fall into anarchy.

I am therefore of the opinion that social power superior to all others must always be placed somewhere; but I think that liberty is endangered when this power finds no obstacle which can retard its course and give it time to moderate its own vehemence.

Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.

In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny. an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can.4

If, on the other hand, a legislative power could be so constituted as to represent the majority without necessarily being the slave of its passions, an executive so as to retain a proper share of authority, and a judiciary so as to remain independent of the other two powers, a government would be formed which would still be democratic while incurring scarcely any risk of tyranny.

I do not say that there is a frequent use of tyranny in America at the present day; but I maintain that there is no sure barrier against it, and that the causes which mitigate the government there are to be found in the circumstances and the manners of the country more than in its laws…

What de Tocqueville is saying is that we get the government that we deserve as a consequence of our culture and character. If we are envious and seek to take from others for ourselves, this is the kind of government we will receive – if  one faction seeks to vest tyrannical control over another via a maze of laws and regulations, we all will see tyranny implemented by law and regulation – and as we have pointed out, no law written on a piece of paper will stop that.

Governance flows from politics, politics flows from culture, culture flows from the individual.

Poison the root, poison the tree.

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2 thoughts on “Poison The Root, Poison The Tree

  1. Bravo, Utah. When we allow covetousness to become the guiding principle of our government, our culture comes to value acquisition more than genuine, individual compassion, that hard work that involves taking it upon ourselves to teach our neighbors to fish instead of demanding the government provide each person with the same quantity and quality of fish. Peace be with you — Kelly

  2. Bravo! “Democracy in America” is a good read — the edition with both volumes, that is. Now, here are a few other related thoughts from good old Alexis:

    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 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.

    [Some people] have a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that, if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism, therefore, appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic times.

    Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

    He also said:


    The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

    In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.

    And, most importantly, he hinted at the ORIGINAL KEY TO AMERICA’S SUCCESS:


    The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.

    Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.

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