Part 11. The Oligarchy’s Solution: "Happiness House."
“Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief! That is, hot ice and wonderous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?”
-- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream --
Act V, Scene 1[i]
An American disaster could submerge the modern world in chaos. You know what it is; you live it. The rich are getting richer; the poor poorer; the middle class smaller.
Is there a remedy? If not, men who heretofore had been parallel to history will create history without parallel. Not Character is Destiny but Characters are Destiny -- weirdoes with gun and knife in hand, nuclear arms too, will tell you what to think, how to live. And you thought Mad Max was just a movie -- that you had seen the end of bin Laden.
The Second American Revolution is the only real alternative to high-tech and low-tech pandemonium without precedent. That Revolution seeks to reinstall -- with crucial changes -- the form of government founded by Washington, Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers. It forever changed world history.
That system, contrary to everything you have been told, was NOT a democracy. It was a политей – a polity or hybrid of oligarchy and democracy which tends towards more democracy. The American polity died in 2008-2009, replaced by an oligarchy.
A polity is moderated by a large middle class. No large middle class, no polity. No polity, no Second American Revolution.
To repeat, The Second American Revolution resurrects the polity but with major changes. Those changes give more power to the democratic component, less power to the oligarchy. Without that better balance, any “remedy” is not worth a child’s tear.
And remedies there are. I count 10.
If there are remedies, why is there a problem?
Well, some remedies are more remedies than others. It all depends on which problem you have in mind...
This post looks at the three remedies proffered by the ruling mega-rich, the top 1% of all American households receiving 20% of the revenues. They make more in one minute clipping coupons while watching iCarly than you do working hard all year. You think her vacuous presence isn’t a role model for oligarchs? At $180,000 per episode, think again.
I would skip entirely the oligarchy’s remedies were they not creating the prevailing feeling-tone of America today:
(1) We need to unleash Adam Smith’s guiding hand. Unbridled capitalism will unfailingly find the solution. Leave the market alone, give the mega-rich more megabucks, cut their taxes, and everything will be fine. Honest.
I give this remedy two minutes of coupon-clipping time because it creates the crisis it pretends to solve. Of course, for the hyper-rich, what crisis? They are richer than ever; hence, the remedy is indeed a remedy.
Oligarchs and iCarly aside, virtually nobody believes in unbridled capitalism. For those disappearing few who still believe and who are not oligarchs, I will step aside and let your fate be determined by the guiding hand you trust so much : the hand giving you a court order and the guiding hands waiting nearby -- of the movers, reaching out, taking your personal belongs (yep, home entertainment center, Apple Computer, wife’s car and jewelry, kids’ toys); the guiding hand putting the “For Sale” sign in the front yard; the guiding hand guiding your wife and family away from divorce court to a new life after you lose; the guiding hand giving you a subpoena after you missed your first child support payment; the guiding hand giving you a pink slip after 35 years of faithful service; the guiding hand handing you $50 and a mystery package, then intoning the guiding words, “All ya gotta do is…”; the guiding hand closing the door to your cell where other guiding hands eagerly await you; the guiding hand committing you to a retirement home where visible hands become invisible hands when it comes time to empty bedpans; the guiding hand throwing dirt on your casket. Your two minutes are up.
(2) Incompetence and (3) corruption. These solutions must be put together -- increasingly so. They are forming a new fact of life under rule by an oligarchy: incomcruption.
In the long run, capitalism’s simplification of tasks and its reduction of educational and training levels (see prior post) sap the economic foundation of the service sector middle class. That simplification and sapping cannot be stopped, much less reversed. However, it is possible to retard them.
Given capitalism’s primordial quest for higher profits, incompetence and corruption -- along with the enormous public and private subsidies needed to finance them -- are totally, completely, absolutely unacceptable. Nevertheless, they are accepted because they are preferable to the collapse of the middle class.
Wonderous, strange new snow , indeed.
One need only look at the most important institution of the middle class, the United States Government. Incompetence and corruption are one thing, but to recognize them and not correct them -- to be incapable of correcting them because the means of correction are themselves incompetent and corrupt[ii] -- is another.
I lived in Moscow in 1994; a joke was circulating everywhere: in the days of the Soviet Union, the people pretended to work and the government pretended to pay them. In the U.S.A., the joke doesn’t work because the government really, truly, does pay them.[iii] Such is a crucial difference between the U.S.S.R. and America.
Incompetence and corruption, along with their manifold derivatives -- bureaupathic behavior, inefficiency, duplication of effort, waste -- have an indispensable place in the Western world. That world talks and acts as if they were not necessary -- but they are. The preservation of the middle class is paramount, the vexations and traumas of individuals involved therein, incidental.
The pre-capitalist, feudal-guild heritage that Adam Smith so accurately described -- exploitative, jealous, secretive -- of the service sector middle class (see prior post) facilitates its willingness to accept endless public and private subsidies.
Rich richer; poor poor; middle class smaller. Faced with a calamity that could create a Dark Ages darker and longer than the last one, American politicians and oligarchs seek above all to be “realistic.” They behave as if Realism = Competence; such is the 2000 millennium American code.
The trick is to recognize that realism and competence are not equivalent -- unlike incompetence and corruption.[iv] The latter are morphing from fraternal to identical twins. Shakespeare caught the drift:
"We came into the world like brother and brother;
And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another."[v]
As for distinguishing incompetence from corruption, with time that distinction is becoming less and less important -- indeed, possible.[vi] Together, hand in hand, they provoked the most disturbing speech ever delivered by an American president.
On July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter delivered from the White House his famous -- or infamous -- Malaise Speech. “This is not a message of happiness or reassurance,” he announced, “but it is the truth and it is a warning.”
Carter spoke of a “crisis of the American spirit” striking “at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will”:
"The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America…
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. "
President Carter summarized the malaise as “paralysis and stagnation and drift.”[vii] But if he correctly described the symptoms of the disease, he completely failed to identify the germ.
That germ, incomcruption, can be understood only if (i) the crucial importance of socio-economic class is accepted -- an acceptance most Americans reject -- and (ii) it is recognized that the political system prevailing in America until recently was not a democracy but a polity, the hybrid of oligarchy and democracy.
A clarification is called for:
Tocqueville believed that in the United States, “where public officials have absolutely no class interest they want to prevail,” incompetence and corruption were not systemic. The reason was that in any so-called democracy such as America’s,
"the bad administration of a public official is an isolated fact that only has influence during the short term of that administration. Corruption and incompetence are not mutual interests which can tie men together in a permanent manner.
A corrupt or incompetent public official will not combine his efforts with another official on the sole basis that the latter is incompetent and corrupt like him, and these two men will never work together for the goal of having corruption and incompetence flourish in their great-nephews. The ambition and maneuvers of the one will serve, on the contrary, to unmask the other. The vices of an official in democracies are in general entirely personal, individual.
But public officials in an aristocracy have a class interest that forms…a mutual and durable connection. It invites them to unite and to combine their efforts toward a goal that is not always the happiness of the greatest number…
Why should one be surprised if an official in an aristocracy is completely unable to resist? Also, one often sees, in an aristocracy, the spirit of a class carry in its wake those whom it does not corrupt, and makes them, without them being aware of it, accommodate society little by little to their practices, and prepare it for their descendants.[viii]
The economic meltdown of 2008-2009, showed billions of times that Tocqueville’s hypothesis that incompetence and corruption in the United States are entirely individual and personal, is, if it was true in the 1820s when he came to America, no longer valid. A landmark legal case in the year 2000, which furnished an early warning, involved CUC International where a culture of corruption was in place:
NEWARK, New Jersey. In pleading guilty to fraud, three former executive of CUC International said that for almost the entire history of the company, its top executives directed a conspiracy to inflate profits so as to meet Wall Street analysts’ forecasts and to keep the stock price high.
The three former executives pleaded guilty to federal charges in what the authorities said was the largest and longest accounting fraud in history, continuing at least 12 years and costing investors $19 billion…
“It was a culture that had been developing over many years,” Cosmo Corigliano, the former chief financial officer of CUC and the most senior executive to plead guilty, said when asked by Judge William Walls why he had participated in the conspiracy.
“It was just ingrained in all of us, ingrained in us by our superiors, over a very long period of time, that that was what we did,” said Mr. Corigliano. He said the conspiracy to falsify the company’s books had been directed by his corporate superiors, although he did not identify them…
In a packed courtroom, Judge walls tried to cut through the accounting jargon. “Don’t we call that cooking the books?” he asked [Casper. Sabatino, a CUC accountant].
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Sabatino replied.
“Why did you do it?” the judge asked.
“Honestly, your honor, I just thought I was doing my job,” Mr. Sabatino replied."[ix]
Incompetence and corruption which are systemic or cultural, then, testify -- applying Tocqueville’s logic -- to the presence of an oligarchy/aristocracy.[x] Once the importance of the latter is recognized, however, it follows that the system under consideration is not a democracy. This conclusion logically follows Tocqueville’s thesis that if there are no classes in America, then any incompetence or corruption there can only be individual.
The recognition of socioeconomic class and of an American oligarchy is fundamental for explaining the malaise President Carter described. That recognition, however, is almost nonexistent in America today. No wonder that, in searching for an explanation of the general feeling tone of that country -- that it is on the wrong track -- silence and mystery prevail.
Unbridled capitalism, incompetence, corruption: Tocqueville caught the drift of where the oligarchy’s three remedies could take us. His fear would resonate 150 years later, in President Carter’s speech…
Tocqueville foresaw an anti-utopian future for America. “I think that the type of oppression which menaces democratic peoples will be unlike anything that has come before it.” He presented this 1984 Big Brother scenario:
“I see an immense crowd of men all alike and equal who turn around themselves ceaselessly, in order to acquire small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill up their souls. Each one, marginalized, is a stranger to the destiny of all the others…, and although he may still have a family, it can be said that he has no country.
Above all of them is an immense, titular power, which designates itself to be the sole provider of their joys and to look over their fate. That power is absolute, detailed, regular, attentive, and soft. It would be like a paternal power if it had as a purpose the preparation of men to be adults; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them irrevocably in infancy. It wants its citizens to be joyful, as long as they dream only of being joyful. It works willingly for their happiness; but it wants to be the only agent and arbitrator of happiness. It provides for its citizens’ security, anticipates and takes care of their needs, facilitates their pleasures, takes in hand their major affairs, directs their industry, regulates their successions, divides their inheritances. Can it not take away entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?
Thus, with each day that passes, the titular power renders less useful and rarer the work of an independent arbitrator;…it does not break people’s wills, but it softens them, bends them, directs them. It rarely compels people to act, but it endlessly opposes their actions. It does not destroy, it stops from being born; it never tyrannizes, but it bothers, it upsets, it snuffs out, it creates problems, and it reduces in the end each nation to being a herd of timid and hardworking animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
I have always believed that sort of servitude, controlled, sweet and peaceful, which I have depicted, could combine itself better than is generally imagined with some of the exterior forms of liberty, and that it would not be impossible for it to establish itself in the very shadow of the sovereignty of the people.”[xi]
Far more than any prison, hospital wards incarnate the soft, tranquil servitude Tocqueville so eloquently portrayed. Timid and hard-working animals: such is the emerging “Happiness House.”
In the end, the oligarchy’s overall solution to the American crisis is Orwell’s animal farm without the training wheels. Merry and Tragical in Shakespeare’s words.
The oligarchy’s gently violent paternalistic state implies, for the middle class, the continuing development of underdevelopment:
As the middle class economically deteriorates, the function of class reconciliation will be taken over by an institution identified with that class -- the government. Here the state does not wither away; it is the middle class that withers away. The class that heretofore had been politically indispensable, is disposed of. Other than serving as Mandarin bureaucrats of that state, the middle class no longer meaningfully exists.
“Happiness House or chaos,” the oligarchy will tell you. Shakespeare’s hot ice. Fortunately, other real life alternatives exist.
We’ll look at them in the next and final post of this series on The Second American Revolution -- the concord of this discord.
[i] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, in William Shakespeare, The Comedies of Shakespeare, Random House, New York, undated, p. 533.
Washington. In June , officials at the General Services Administration were short of people to process cases of incompetence and fraud by federal contractors, and they responded with what has become the government’s reflexive answer to almost every problem.
They hired another contractor.
It did not matter that the company they chose, CACI International, had itself recently avoided a suspension from federal contracting; or that the work, delving into investigative files on other contractors, appeared to pose a conflict of interest…
Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion in 2006 from $207 billion in 2000…
The most successful contractors are not necessarily those doing the best work, but those who have mastered the special skill of selling to Uncle Sam. The top 20 service contractors have spent nearly $300 million since 2000 on lobbying and have donated $23 million to political campaigns.
Scott Shane and Ron Nixon, “Contractors take seats in government offices,” International Herald Tribune, February 5, 2007.
[iii] The reference point was visible when George Bush shouted at Michael Moore, “When are you going to get a real job?”
[iv] The definition of incompetence is found in the measurement of an observable performance in relation to a specific objective; thus, the term is relatively clear, operational. The definition of corruption, however, remains obscure after centuries of dispute. I offer the following observation: competition worsens the performance of a corrupt competitor; it improves the performance of a healthy one.
[v] William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, in William Shakespeare, The Comedies of Shakespeare, op.cit., p. 336. (Act V, Scene 1.)
[vi] Incompetence or corruption? The issue is at the heart of the war in Iraq:
A Pentagon audit of $8.2 billion in American taxpayer money spent by the U.S. Army on contractors in Iraq has found that almost none of the payments followed federal rules and that in some cases, contracts worth millions of dollars were paid despite little or no record of what, if anything, was received…
In one case, according to documents displayed by Pentagon auditors at the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a cash payment of $320.8 million in Iraqi money was authorized on the basis of a single signature and the words “Iraqi Salary Payment” on an invoice. In another case, $11.1 million was paid to IAP, an American contractor, on the basis of a voucher with no indication of what was delivered.
Mary Ugone, the Pentagon’s deputy inspector general for auditing, told the committee that the absence of anything beyond a voucher meant that “we were giving or providing a payment without any basis for the payment.”
“We don’t know what we got,” Ugone said…
The report is especially significant because while other federal auditors have severely criticized the way the United States has handled payments to contractors in Iraq, this is the first time that the Pentagon itself has acknowledged the mismanagement on anything resembling this scale…
Concerning the “Iraqi Salary Payment,” the article notes that in the “quantity” column, the number “1,000” appears, showing the number of people paid. Conclusion: each person received $320,800. James Glanz, “Iraq spending broke rules, Pentagon says. No paper trails exist for army contracts worth billions, a military audit reveals,” International Herald Tribune, May 24/25, 2008.
Incompetence or corruption? A week after the controversy-riddled American presidential election of the year 2000, Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, observed,
“If you put 100 lawyers in a strike force, as we now have in Florida, into any one of the 50 states, in two weeks you will have enough horror stories to convince you that the system is rigged…That’s how bad it is…There is some fraud and corruption, but most is just sloppiness and messiness.”
Yet there are no obvious alternatives…
“If would be wrong to conclude that one election system is better than another,” said John Seibel, president of True Ballot, which runs union elections. “My fear is that we will jump into a system that will solve one problem, only to get involved in a much larger one.”
Leslie Wayne, “Voting System in U.S. Has Long Been Faulted,” International Herald Tribune, November 11/12, 2000.
Sorry, True Ballot, your position is false. Some election systems are better than others. The dilemma goes far beyond this or that voting system, however, for the general distinction of incompetence from corruption is becoming less possible as they become more confounded and widely spread. A second example from the year 2000 of this emerging entanglement, i.e., incomcruption, is provided by the private sector:
"In 1977, I stood huddled with three terrified children and other mother on the shoulder of Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley, all of us shaking as we stared at a 16-inch (40-centimeter) tear in the wall of the Firestone tire that had blown out, almost killing us. I felt shock and rage when I learned, at the gas station we limped to, that this tire was notorious for failing…
Galvanized by a mother’s fury, I wrote a magazine article on the Firestone 500 tire that spurred, in 1978, congressional hearings and the largest tire recall in U.S. history. Firestone, nearly bankrupt, was saved with a buyout by the Japanese tire maker Bridgestone.
To read about the current case -- Firestone’s recall of 6.5 million tires on Aug. 9, six months of growing complaints and lawsuits, and a federal investigation -- brings back the lessons of 1978…
Behind 41 deaths attributed to the Firestone 500 by American government investigators were 14,000 complaints from disgruntled tire owners, their trunks full of failed, ripped, blown 500s -- like me, alive by luck. Now, as in that scandal, drivers have complained, and dangers have been known but not acted on.
The 500 was the product of a hidebound industry adapting antiquated equipment and mind-sets to try to catch the wave of steel-belted radials sweeping in from technologically superior Michelin. But Firestone has had 22 years to improve the manufacture of steel-belted tires, and today’s parallels alarm me.
I see the came corporate smoke screen, made even more dense by the symbiotic involvement of two companies. Proof does not come to light, because confidentiality is often the condition of the settlements that grieving families choose over the prolonged pain of a trial, although it is in the courtroom that evidence can be exposed and the finger of guilt pointed publicly by a jury.
I see the same old tire industry culture that perpetuates low technology, the same blame-the-consumer attitude, the same penny-pinching prorated tire replacement policies. And, above all, the same cynical willingness to let cascading reports of dangerous problems pile up. Even as Ford was replacing the suspect tires on its Explorers in overseas markets last year, the dangers were kept from the American public.
As Ford tries to focus the heat on Firestone, as Firestone argues that Ford and its customers trade safety for the smoother ride of under-inflated tires, the basic issue must not be obscured: Firestone tires are failing. The results, given the tendency of sport utility vehicles like the Ford Explorer to roll over in highway blowouts, are even more lethal than the ones in the 1970s."
Moira Johnston, “Failing Firestone Tires: More Lessons to Learn,” International Herald Tribune, August 22, 2000.
Incompetence or corruption? A few days after Johnston’s article was published, Bridgestone announced that the recall of 6.5 million tires in the United States would reduce its net earnings by 48.5% for the first six months of the year. Cynthia McCafferty, Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman, announced, “We still haven’t determined that a problem exists with these tires.” (Author not identified, Reuters, “Recall Pummels Net Earnings At Bridgestone,” International Herald Tribune, August 26/27, 2000).
Incompetence or corruption? The billions and billions of Bush-Obama bailout dollars has finally created -- by sheer volume alone -- The Second American Revolution’s definitive answer to that timeless question: Incompetence or corruption, it makes no difference.
[vii] A video of President Carter’s speech can e viewed at:
What is extraordinary for a political speech is that today, a quarter of a century later, the Malaise Speech is still hotly debated and widely discussed. (Sarah Vowell, “Oh, how a girl can dream,” International Herald Tribune, July 14, 2005; Richard Bernstein, “A German mood swing. Malaise could affect the next elections,” International Herald Tribune, March 24, 2004; Adam Nagourney, “A political decision not to say ‘I’m sorry’. Bush advised not to apologize over 9/11,” International Herald Tribune, April, 16, 2004; Steven R. Weisman, “All the President’s Intellectuals,” International Herald Tribune, January 11/12, 2002.) Indeed, President Carter strummed a deep chord.
After the Malaise Speech the presidential election of 1980 was never in doubt. Ronald Reagan, President Carter’s Republican opponent, claimed there was no crisis of the American spirit; rather, the problem was that the federal government had grown too large. (See his inaugural address: http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/first.asp). The voters elected Ronald Reagan. Thus, the as-if ideological world of reassurance was reinstalled, up and running just as before, when “The Greatest Show on Earth” won the Academy Award for best picture of 1952. The bill for Reagan’s as-if world would not come due until 2008-9. A bill, by the way, paid in real dollars.
[viii] « où les fonctionnaires publics n’ont point d’intérêt de classe à faire prévaloir »:
La mauvaise administration d’un magistrat, sous la démocratie, est d’ailleurs un fait isolé qui n’a d’influence que pendant la courte durée de cette administration. La corruption et l’incapacité ne sont pas des intérêts communs qui puissent lier entre eux les hommes d’une manière permanente.
Un magistrat corrompu, ou incapable, ne combinera pas ses efforts avec un autre magistrat, par la seule raison que ce dernier est incapable et corrompu comme lui, et ces deux hommes ne travailleront jamais de concert à flaire fleurir la corruption et l’incapacité chez leurs arrière-neveux. L’ambition et les manœuvres de l’un serviront, au contraire, à démasquer l’autre. Les vices du magistrat, dans les démocraties, lui sont, en général, tout personnels.
Mais les hommes publics, sous le gouvernement de l’aristocratie, ont un intérêt de classe [sic] qui […] forme entre eux un lien commun et durable. Ce intérêt forme entre eux un lien commun et durable; il les invite à unir et à combiner leurs efforts vers un but qui n’est as toujours le bonheur du plus grand nombre […].
Comment s’étonner s’il [le magistrat aristocratique] ne résiste point ? Aussi voit-on souvent, dans les aristocraties, l’esprit de classe entraîner ceux mêmes qu’il ne corrompt pas, et faire qu’à leur insu ils accommodent peu à peu la société à leur usage, et la préparent pour leurs descendants.
Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique I, op.cit., pp. 267, 268. (II, VI).
[ix] Floyd Norris et Diana B. Henriques, “Fraud Was Part of Job at Cendant, Executives Admit,” International Herald Tribune, June 16, 2000.
In August 2005, E. Kirk Shelton, the number two executive at CUC International, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He claimed he had no knowledge of the fraud. Floyd Norris, “Ex-Cendant executive gets 10-year jail term,” International Herald Tribune, August 4, 2005.
In January 2007, the former head of Cendant/CUC, Walter Forbes, was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison and a restitution of over three billion dollars. During his trial Forbes stated, as did Shelton, that he did not know about the fraud. (Author not identified, “Former Cendant chief is sentenced and ordered to pay $3.275 billion,” AP, International Herald Tribune, January 17, 2007).
Is a consensus emerging regarding the systemic nature of corruption in America? A Washington Post editorial in February 2002 summed up the Enron affair this way:
The weekend’s revelations about Enron make it tempting to see the scandal as an epitaph for the 1990s bubble. The firm seems to have assembled the various strains of hubris found in different corners of the country: the technological vanity of Silicon Valley mixed with the financial alchemy of Wall Street, the influence peddling of Washington fused with the ten-gallon brashness of Texas. Not content with earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, Enron’s senior executives cooked the books so that they could pocket millions. Not content with having created a wonderful new market in energy derivatives, they lied and cheated to create an illusion of impossibly fast earnings growth. Contemplating Enron’s self-destructive arrogance, Senator Byron Dorgan has spoken quite accurately of “a culture of corporate corruption.”
Author not identified, “A Culture of Corruption,” International Herald Tribune, February 6, 2002.
[x] Tocqueville’s distinction of an oligarchy from an aristocracy is not clear. He wrote about an “aristocracy of money” (« l’aristocratie d’argent ») that existed between the polar opposites (for him) of an aristocracy of birth and a democracy. This aristocracy of money “often forms a transition between the two, and one does not know if it spells the end of the rein of aristocratic institutions, or if it already is opening up the new era of democracy.” (« elle forme souvent comme une transition naturelle entre ces deux choses, et l’on ne saurait dire si elle termine le règne des institutions aristocratiques, ou si déjà elle ouvre la nouvelle ère de la démocratie. ») Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, « Notes Deuxième partie », op.cit., pp. 855, 856. Although Tocqueville’s insight has valuable connotations, for the purpose of this essay I prefer to keep aristocracy (birth) separate from oligarchy (money).
[xi] [« l’espèce d’oppression dont les peuples démocratiques sont menacés ne ressemblera à rien de ce qui l’a précédée dans le monde. »]
Je veux imaginer sous quels traits nouveaux le despotisme pourrait se produire dans le monde. Je vois une foule innombrable d’hommes semblables et égaux qui tournent sans repos sur eux-mêmes pour se procurer de petits et vulgaires plaisirs, dont ils remplissent leur âme. Chacun d’eux, retiré à l’écart, est comme étranger à la destinée de tous les autres […] et, s’il lui reste encore une famille, on peut dire du moins qu’il n’a plus de patrie.
Au-dessus de [tous] s’élève un pouvoir immense et tutélaire, qui se charge seul d’assurer leur jouissance et de veiller sur leur sort. Il est absolu, détaillé, régulier, prévoyant et doux. Il ressemblerait à la puissance paternelle si, comme elle, il avait pour objet de préparer les hommes à l’âge viril ; mais il ne cherche, au contraire, qu’à les fixer irrévocablement dans l’enfance ; il aime que les citoyens se réjouissent, pourvu qu’ils ne songent qu’à se réjouir. Il travaille volontiers à leur bonheur ; mais il veut en être l’unique agent et le seul arbitre ; il pourvoit à leur sécurité, prévoit et assure leurs besoins, facilite leurs plaisirs, conduit leurs principales affaires, dirige leur industrie, règle leurs successions, divise leurs héritages ; que ne peut-il leur ôter entièrement le trouble de penser et la peine de vivre ?
C’est ainsi qu tous les jours il rend moins utile et plus rare l’emploi du libre arbitre ; […] il ne brise pas les volontés, mais il les amollit, les plie et les dirige ; il force rarement d’agir, mais il s’oppose sans cesse à ce qu’on agisse ; il ne détruit point, il empêche de naître; il ne tyrannise point, il gêne, il comprime, il énerve, il éteint, il hébète, et il réduit enfin chaque nation à n’être plus qu’un troupeau d’animaux timides et industrieux, dont le gouvernement est le berger.
J’ai toujours cru que cette sorte de servitude, réglée, douce et paisible, dont je viens de faire le tableau, pourrait se combiner mieux qu’on ne l’imagine avec quelques-unes des formes extérieures de la liberté, et qu’il ne lui serait pas impossible de s’établir à l’ombre même de la souveraineté du peuple.
Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, in Œuvres, op.cit., pp. 836-8. (IV, VI).