Into the Far Country


From The Valley of Vision- a very short, but very sweet excerpt of a prayer I came across this morning:

I am always going into the far country, 

And always returning home as a prodigal

Always saying, Father, forgive me,

And thou art always bringing forth the best robe.”



Tocqueville Continued. . .

What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?”

Alexis De Tocqueville- Democracy in America

Tocqueville Continued. . .

A Tocqueville 2 for 1 deal.  Two ideas to ponder for the price of one post.

The way I see it, two opposing narratives are put forth regarding the most fundamental principle or virtue that guides America.  The first says she is founded on liberty, while the second argues that America’s chief virtue is equality.   And while both may be found within our founding charter- only one can reign supreme.  After all, all things are not equal.  Equality, therefore, will always require personal, private and invasive government intervention and can only be fully realized at the expense of individual freedom.

It is certain that despotism ruins men more by preventing them  from producing than by taking the fruits of production away from them. . . Freedom, on the contrary, begets a thousand times more goods than it destroys, and in the nations that know it, the resources of the people always grow more quickly than do taxes.”

In this second quote Tocqueville argues that “a time will come;” and yet that epoch he describes sounds so eerily akin to contemporary America that one must wonder if it already has.

When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint . . . . It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. . . . they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.”

Tocqueville Continued. . .

Tocqueville, it appears, may very well have identified the spirit of our oppressive bureaucracy well before it was even conceived:

“Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise 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.” Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Making America Great Again

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With election season upon us we approach the proverbial fork in the road. Regardless of what November 2016 delivers, it is hard to have an optimistic outlook regarding the future of our nation. Many people that I talk to seem to agree- left and right alike. So just how exactly do we aim to make America great again.  I am not entirely convinced that certain people who throw that phrase around have a convincing game plan. I mean sure, there is talk of lowering taxes.  But there is also talk of raising them.  There is talk of building walls.  And yes, every sovereign nation must secure and control its borders.  But some of our biggest threats to liberty aren’t “out there.” Rather, many of our largest problems have arisen from within America  herself.  These, like many others, are certainly issues that need to be addressed- but they will not set America aright again.  What will?

According to current data America currently ranks 13th worldwide in percentage of its population that is college educated and millennials are on track to be the first generation in American history who are less well educated than their parents.  Therein, I would argue, lies the problem.  Though as a Christian my own desire would be to see the restoration that only repentance can bring us as a nation- we must start by finding common ground with our neighbor.  I am convinced no progress can truly be made without a return to the classics- the very books and ideas that made the west great to begin with.  And yet, it seems some of our greatest institutions of higher learning seem to be letting the inmates run the asylum. I always had the impression that the reason one sought a college education was to receive knowledge where one previously possessed ignorance.  No longer so, at Yale, it seems.  The students claim to know better what they need to learn and not learn.  Brush up on said controversy here.

This, of course, is nonsense.  I still remember when I took a course called Western Masterworks at Coe College (which, at the time, was mandatory).  Starting with many of the great Greek Tragedians such as Sophocles and Aeschylus we were exposed to the very roots of Western Democracy.  From there we made our way through Plato, Virgil and Dante.  And what was readily apparent as we made our way through these authors in chronological order was that each successive work dealt in some manner with the ideas in the previous.  These men reached across time to be in conversation with one another. A rich dialogue had occurred.  From my perspective, western history was suddenly seen under a new light, and it was indeed this very conversation that helped conceive and give birth to our own great democracy.  But the candle hardly seems to flicker anymore and the conversation is in danger of being extinguished entirely.

If we want to get serious about Making America Great Again– we must get serious about great books again.  The endless stream of shock and awe you tube current events, tweets and arrogant political memes just won’t cut it.

Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago (1929-1945), discussed the need for such a project nearly 100 years ago in more stark terms:

If leisure and political power require this education, everybody in America now requires it, and everybody where democracy and industrialization penetrate will ultimately require it.  If  people are not capable of acquiring this education, they should be deprived of political power and probably of leisure.  Their uneducated political power is dangerous, and their uneducated leisure is degrading and will be dangerous.  If the people are incapable of achieving the education that responsible democratic citizenship demands, then democracy is doomed, Aristotle rightly condemned the mass of mankind to natural slavery, and the sooner we set about reversing the trend toward democracy the better it will be for the world.”

The Greeks believed that their statesmen ought to attend the theater before exercising political judgement as tragedy, it was argued, purged the soul of fear, pity and other emotions that tend to cloud sound judgement leaving one in a sober state of mind.

Likewise, I’ve decided to thumb back through Alexis De Tocqueville’s perennial classic Democracy in America, November draws closer. It is most fitting for an election season. Over the next few weeks I hope, as often as possible, to post some thought provoking quotes from his masterpiece.  It is a work of non-fiction, yet still a classic in every sense of the word.  Though written over 150 years ago, his insight is still keen and applicable.  This timelessness is indeed one of the marks of a true classic.

“One cannot say it too often: There is nothing more prolific in marvels than the art of being free; but there is nothing harder than the apprenticeship of freedom. It is not the same with despotism. Despotism often presents itself as the mender of all ills suffered; it is the support of good law, the sustainer of the oppressed, and the founder of order. People fall asleep in the bosom of the temporary prosperity to which it gives birth; and when they awaken, the are miserable.”  Alexis De Tocqueville