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Cincinnatus Shrugged

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Cincinato_abandona_el_arado_para_dictar_leyes_a_Roma,_c.1806_de_Juan_Antonio_Ribera (2)

Artist: Juan Antonio Ribera, 1806

The absolute batshit-crazy lurch to the right in this country with the election of Donald Trump in 2016 set my hair on fire (scroll blog for reference) and since that time I just can’t seem to stop complaining about THE DONALD. My fear is that his dumb, red hat wearing minions will go down the slippery slope of stupidity with him (see the creepy Mark Meadows, Tom Cotton or Devin Nunes for reference) toward outright anarchy – in what we might best describe as ‘mobocracy.’ With the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper’s assessment that the Russians swung the election in 2016 to Trump, I have to remind myself that these intelligence folks usually have their hair on fire more than I do – and Clapper is totally bald. I have a full, luxurious head of hair so I’m trying not to panic and begin building a bomb shelter, but Trump’s latest fumble on the international stage, with Kim Jong-untrustworthy in charge, has got me drawing up escape routes, just for fun!

Looking back on the last election, it struck me as strange that the Democrats were holding off an aging, grumpy Socialist from Vermont from upstaging standard-bearer and front-runner, Hillary Clinton. To this day, I can’t figure out how Bernie got so many damned votes. Isn’t it entirely plausible to believe that the coordinated Russian, Saudi and Emirates attack on our election had some effect on the Democratic nomination outcome? Isn’t it also strange that certifiable idiot Donald Trump beat out the best the Republicans had to offer after eight, long years of ‘Obamacare’ during the nomination process? If Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina and the dozen or so other serious Republican contenders in the 2016 election don’t realize that they were compromised in the same way the entire country was compromised just a few short months later, then maybe they’re just a big bunch of idiots as well, but we all knew that – except for John Kasich of Ohio (maybe)?

The byline under this website has been in the name of John Underhill since our inception back in 2012, because when choosing a name, I found that ‘NewsFromAmerica.com’ was taken by a company called ‘Buy Domains’ dot com and I wasn’t about to pay a lot of money for a long website address, no matter how grammatically correct. WordPress offered a few suggestions to available websites and right there, http://www.NewesFromAmerica.com was sitting like a cute, little puppy. I then discovered that one of the earliest newspapers in America was a broadside titled Newes From America (see masthead), written by a man named Captain John Underhill. The Olde English spelling of ‘Newes‘ kind of summed up what this blog was all about – old fashioned ideas, cast aside in modern times – and I was sold! The full title of Underhill’s single edition newspaper was the Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A True Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado.

Captain Underhill may be a war criminal, but that fact was little appreciated by me when I chose the nom de plume, however that’s just half the story. What really interests me is the history of the United States prior to the Revolutionary War. We were known as ‘British America‘ for almost as long as we’ve been the United States of America and that history – the history made before we were an independent nation – is far more interesting to me than recent American history. I learned very little about our country’s pre-Revolutionary history in classrooms, even through college, where it seemed the history track operated on two gauges: Western Civilization (or Western Civ) and straight-up American History. In Western Civ, we studied the Greeks and the Romans until the decline of the West and the onset of the Dark Ages (sometime in the 1200-1300’s). American history, accordingly, goes far beyond the common knowledge that George Washington once fought for the British government (against the French) in the French and Indian War, many years prior to the American Revolution. The great-grandfather of our nation was a man named John Washington, the English immigrant and paternal great-grandfather of George Washington. As with the Washingtons, the Underhills were also early ‘immigrants’ to British America (Underhill’s family having previously fled his home in Warwickshire, England to the Netherlands), and as keepers of the Queen’s wardrobe for many generations, the Underhill family found themselves pushed by the Puritan-fueled migration that populated early British America. He served in the army of the Prince of Orange before coming to New England, yet ultimately rejected Dutch claims to America and strongly asserted his patriotic commitment to Britain. In 1630, Underhill was hired by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and assigned the rank of Captain, he was then asked to help train the Colony’s untested militia and he and his Dutch wife emigrated on the ship Arbella later that same year. In 1634, Captain Underhill was appointed to the General Court and later elected Selectman from Boston. Starting construction of the first fortification in America on Castle Island in Boston Harbor with future Founder of the Connecticut Colony, Major John Mason, Underhill’s association with Mason in the Peqot War laid the foundation for almost 250 years of American ‘Manifest Destiny.’

The United States Constitution, enacted in 1779 in Philadelphia, was really just a ‘compendium’ of grievances that cropped up many years before. Included in the language of the Constitution are early contributions by Benjamin Franklin to the under-appreciated Albany Congress as far back as 1754 – dealing with a common defense against the French and Indian threat. This period of time in North American history fascinates me, for this is the time our great nation was forged, a continuing process that runs through the American Revolution, through the Civil War, through two World Wars and now, through the reign of one Donald J. Trump. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America almost 200 years ago, he carried with him a copy of French compatriot Charles-Louis Montesquieu’s book on politics, The Spirit of the Laws, published in the English language in 1750. The book was influential to Founding Father James Madison as well, following where Montesquieu laid out a fine comparative law argument for republican democracy and the constitutional form of government – with the separation of powers and the preservation of civil liberties at it’s core. Montesquieu borrowed heavily from English philosopher John Locke, the ‘Father of Liberalism,’ who in turn also profoundly influenced Madison and the other Founders. Montesquieu defined three forms of leadership that were revealed in most governments: despots, monarchs and demagogues. He discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each form of government in his work and ultimately reasoned that democracy was the best of all forms of government, finding that a blend of representative democracy in a republican system to be the most successful. He strongly advocated for constitutional monarchy over despotic rule of any kind, revealing that all – Montesquieu, Locke and Tocqueville – feared pure ‘democracy’ the most of all forms of government. Democracy, they worried, would create the ultimate demagogue – observed hundreds of years before Adolph Hitler was ‘freely’ elected Chancellor of Germany.

That great voice of democracy, the Roman historian Polybius, author of The Histories, 40 volumes in all, was a scholar with an unmatched appreciation of the underpinnings of Greek history to Western thought. His voluminous study on the Roman Constitution, really one of the first ‘compendiums’ of law in the West, stands as a first-hand, observational account of Roman politics and history. His writing on the exploits of Scipio Africanus, the name (or cognomen) given after his conquest of Hannibal in 203 BC and the routing of the armies of Carthage under Hannibal’s brother, Hannibal Barca, are his most controversial. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, or ‘Scipio Africanis’ would return to Rome a hero of unequaled accomplishment, yet his two stints as Consul of Rome were bitter experiences (including trials for treason) that soured Scipio’s love of Rome. He retired to self-exile, vowing that his remains would never rest in his hometown, which so scornfully spurned him. To this day, Scipio Africanus’ burying place has never been found. Scipio and his adopted grandson, Scipio Africanus the Younger, or Scipio Aemilianus (himself a war hero and Roman Consul) had their greatest defender in Polybius, a contemporary and associate of Aemilianus, yet regardless of favoritism, Polybius’ dedication to fact and his deep understanding of political philosophy make him one of the greatest Western historians and political thinkers after Aristotle. Especially in Book Four of Polybius’ epic history, his observations were deeply influential in the formation of the Constitution of the United States.

One mustn’t overlook the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, a monarchist and a favorite of King Charles II, he was best known for his concept of the ‘social contract’ put forth in his 1651 book, The Leviathan, which presented the most influential work on social contract theory. His ideas would be refashioned in a liberal-democratic government (as opposed to a monarchy) by John Locke, also a forefather of our radical Founders – Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Jay and Adams – and all pay homage to the brilliant historian Polybius. Western scholarship was molded by the minds of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle – yet the modern West, in a Realpolitik sense, began with Polybius and the Romans, which was refined and perfected by the English, French and American philosophers Edmund Burke, John Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, Adams and Hamilton. Alexis de Tocqueville, the historian and political philosopher most favored by history to examine the success or failure of the early American experiment in democracy, found the most perfect expression of democratic government in his travels through our new country, yet he also worried of the death-knell to democracy, tyranny and despotism:

[W]hen citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence.

Since Aristotle, the idea that governments ‘evolved’ was understood as an essential component to an understanding of political philosophy; Polybius, seeing three distinct ‘good’ forms of government that could take hold, matched them with five forms of ‘bad’ government, in what he termed Anacyclosis, where the sequence follows: 1. monarchy, 2. kingship, 3. tyranny, 4. aristocracy, 5. oligarchy, 6. democracy and finally, 7. ochlocracy (or mob rule). As Polybius explains, people will by this last stage in political evolution decide to take matters into their own hands. This concept was based on Aristotle’s concept of Kyklos, and the idea of anacyclosis was a central theme in political thought and practice prior to the American experiment in democracy. This cycle sees the emergence of what we now call ‘liberal democracy’ as well as the full expression of the ‘rule by the many’ – and in the same way that the descendants of kings and aristocrats abused their political status, so too the descendants of democrats have abused theirs. Unchecked Democracy degenerates into ‘ochlocracy‘ where according to Polybius, the people will have become corrupted and develop a sense of entitlement – and will be conditioned to accept the pandering of demagogues. Eventually, the state is engulfed in chaos and the competing claims of tyrants culminate in a single (sometimes virtuous) demagogue claiming power as absolute ruler, bringing the state full-circle back to monarchy.

General George Washington, the Father of our Nation, famously preferred the title (and limitations) of a president over a king, yet for some reason lately, I’ve been thinking about the attraction of a benevolent dictator. I’m a really big fan of liberal democracy, yet if you told me that instead of invoking The 25th Amendment or impeachment in the next year that we could just appoint someone like Kenneth Feinberg, the effective and officious Special Master charged with overseeing the September 11th Victim’s Compensation Fund, I’d say ‘Go for it!’ In Western history, we have the example of Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, or simply ‘Cincinnatus,’ a Roman patrician, statesman and military leader of the early Roman Republic who’s become a legendary figure of civic virtue. A conservative opposed to the forces of egalitarianism taking hold among Roman plebeians during the reign of King Tarquin, the last King of Rome, Cincinnatus was sought by the Roman citizens in his retirement after they were besieged by their enemies, the Aequi, in 458 BC. A Roman delegation was sent to him and found him working his fields. They then hailed him as dictator and ordered Cincinnatus back to Rome, where he crossed the Tiber and was greeted on his return by his three sons and most of the Roman Senators. After soundly defeating the Aequi, Cincinnatus disbanded the army and promptly returned to his farm, ceding dictatorial control fifteen days after it had been granted to him, with the crisis averted.

When King George III was our sovereign ruler, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay all wrote in America as Publius, a pseudonym, with Jay writing the earliest articles on the law and Hamilton and primarily Madison writing on the formation of a federal republic. In 1788, Madison used familiar language surrounding America’s Puritan founding to convince fellow citizens of the need for a diversity of thought in Federalist 51:

Society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, [so] that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects.

Tocqueville directly observed this ‘diversity system’ at work in early America, himself a modern thinker, smart and perceptive, he convinced the French government, then busy examining the results of the bloody Reign of Terror (which followed the British Glorious Revolution) to send him off on an all-expenses paid junket to the then-adolescent United States of America. He would meet presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, as well as Senators Daniel Webster and Sam Houston on his famous trip, however it was the ordinary American citizen that interested him the most. He traveled through American cities and small towns with his notebook in hand, and after returning to France, delivered his required report about U.S. prisons, then set about to publish his expanded findings in the seminal work, On Democracy in America (1835). The book examined why republican democracy had succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places such as his home country of France.

Tocqueville’s tour, starting in New England and passing through Ohio toward the West, couldn’t have given him a better view of the new democracy that had taken hold in the former British America. He made sure to visit old Virginia and Connecticut, along with Rhode Island and Massachusetts and the northern plantations before venturing to the South and the West on his epic journey. In 1998, C-SPAN’s wonderful Brian Lamb invited viewers on a bus tour of Tocqueville’s original visit to America, titled the Alexis de Tocqueville Tour: Exploring Democracy in America. The inimitable TV host stopped at 55 communities in America, starting in Newport, Rhode Island on May 9, 1997; visiting Cleveland on July 22nd; Boston on September 9th; Philadelphia on October 13th and Cincinnati on December 1st. The C-SPAN tour roughly followed Tocqueville’s original route of 1831, stopping in each American town, as the great writer had before, to examine a different part of America’s test case in democracy. Lamb visited and conversed with Americans for the whole year (the year prior to Bill Clinton’s impeachment) about the idea of democracy in our country, using Tocqueville’s famous voyage as a template for the fantastic TV series. Come to think of it, I sure miss Brian reading his yellow-highlighted morning newspapers every day on C-SPAN.

In 1671, the so-called ‘river towns’ of Connecticut petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Colony to separate from the agreement, and in doing so, Connecticut formed their very own ‘constitution’ long before the drafting of our United States Constitution. Today, this history is commemorated in the Connecticut state motto: the ‘Constitution State.’ The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were earlier adopted by the Connecticut Colony on January 14, 1639, and Tocqueville believed that the Puritans who came to British America established an unwavering principle of equality, beginning with the basic rights enumerated in Fundamental Orders and the American Revolution then popularized this equality principle for all. The ‘Manifest Destiny’ of America, then, began in earnest with the opening of the Connecticut Western Reserve in what is now northeast Ohio. Many similarities still exist between Northern Ohio and the State of Connecticut because of this history and many place-names in the Cleveland metro area derive their names from their original Connecticut lineage. General Moses Cleveland, a land speculator employed by the Connecticut Land Company in 1796, laid the blueprint for almost all Western expansion in the first half of the 19th Century, with each town square spreading outward as more and more immigrants relocated and called these new American towns their home. Unshackled from the binds of Old Europe, this new American democracy, the French Revolution clearly fixed in the rear-view mirror, attempted to forge a new government, utilizing the very best ideas in the West, put forth from the best minds in Western political thought. Alexis de Tocqueville saw the separation of powers as the only remedy to any possible ‘mobocracy’ in a republican system and found no better place than Ohio to observe this phenomenon, where once the citizens of ‘Cincinnatah’ tore down the county courthouse for no other reason than they were just a bunch of pissed-off assholes. Tocqueville’s prescience about the world is one of the hallmarks of his work, as true today as when he wrote his study on American democracy in 1835. He foresaw the ascendance of America as a world power and predicted a competing superpower to our hegemony, on the other side of the planet:

There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans… Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.

Tocqueville was a realist and his thinking was seasoned with an upper class, aristocracy-weary view of society and government that was complicated, to say the least. He wrote of the differences between aristocracy and democracy, “Aristocracy links everybody, from peasant to king, in one long chain. Democracy breaks the chain and frees each link,” yet was opposed to slavery and highly critical of the treatment of Native Americans in America and after he returned to France and staked his claim as an expert on government and policy in Europe, was named colonial administrator to Algeria – and his time in office was a disaster. The geopolitical importance of France’s stake in Algeria meant that Tocqueville would suffer the ‘victimization’ of many great historians, or the results their decisions. To this end, Tocqueville recognized the inherent weakness of democracy to deal with tyranny, defined in his famous “tyranny of the majority” line, so similar to Madison’s thinking when writing in the Federalist Papers, his ‘violence of majority faction’ idea published in Federalist 10 spoke directly to the antidote to tyranny and despotism: a system of checks and balances for a separation of powers. With the publication, wide readership and acceptance of the so-called Federalist Papers (really just opinion articles printed in US newspapers), James Madison sat down at his desk and wrote our system of government into reality.

The demarcation line of Western expansion are the meandering Appalachian Mountains and the great Mississippi River, separating the Northern Territory of Ohio (including Cleveland and Columbus) from the southern half, the commercial center of which became known as the City of Cincinnati. It’s unlikely that Tocqueville met Harriet Beecher Stowe during his time in ‘The Queen City,’ twenty years before she would write her landmark novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (1852) however, he endorsed the power of her world-changing book in 1867 – in a blurb. Her novel was the best selling book, after the Bible, of the 19th Century. Stowe was inspired to write the book after reading the 1849 autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Stowe’s title character was based on the heroic Reverend Henson, a Canadian national hero, born into slavery in Maryland in 1789. Today, near Dresden, Ontario, lies the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, a 5-acre complex that’s part of the original 200 acres of land purchased by Josiah Henson in 1841 to establish the British-American Institute (today, Anti-Slavery International) and the famous Dawn Settlement, a community for escaped slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe also based many of the characters in her book on interviews conducted with runaway slaves as part of her work in support of the Underground Railroad and also in her writing for the abolitionist periodical the National Era.

Areas of Cincinnati had been destroyed in the Cincinnati riots of 1829, when Irish settlers attacked African-Americans to push them out of the City, and Stowe met a number of these citizens who’d suffered in the attacks – and their experiences contributed greatly to her book as well. Riots in Cincinnati took place once again in 1836 and 1841, also driven by native-born anti-abolitionists. It seemed that race riots were as reliable in Ohio as the infamous Mississippi River floods – In 1829, 1846, 1853 and 1856, white immigrants from Ireland, then Germany, ran as many free blacks and abolitionist supporters out of the town of Cincinnati as they possibly could. The famous Wilberforce Colony of Ontario, Canada was also established by African-Americans fleeing Cincinnati and the State of Ohio. We all remember the 1992 LA Riots, a terrible blemish on our democracy that has yet to heal, yet the Cincinnati Riots of 2001, sparked after 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed African American man shot and killed by Cincinnati Police, stands as the largest civil unrest in America since those tumultuous times.

It was after his visit to Cincinnati that Tocqueville wrote his most pointed remarks about the nature of this new, expanding American democracy, spreading to the South and West. He noted that the Puritan ethic of independence and grit – with it’s built-in acceptance of a variety of political and religious opinions – marked these new Americans as firebrands in a new style of government, but he would later compare his visit to Cincinnati to his experiences in Algeria, of all places. In the first pages of On Democracy in America, Tocqueville wrote poetically about the biggest problem to face our young country, while traveling up the Ohio River between slave State Kentucky and free State Ohio. On the C-SPAN bus tour following Tocqueville’s path, host Brian Lamb interviewed African-American Judge Nathaniel R. Jones on his stop in Cincinnati, discussing Tocqueville and the law on December 1st, 1997. The show opened with this clip of Tocqueville’s keen insight while traveling by steamboat along the banks of the Ohio River, from Wheeling, West Virginia to Cincinnati:

C-SPAN Bus Tour – Tocqueville on the U.S. Justice System

The stream that the Indians had distinguished by the name of Ohio, or the Beautiful River, waters one of the most magnificent valleys which have ever been made the abode of man. Undulating lands extend upon both shores of the Ohio, whose soil affords inexhaustible treasures to the laborer; on either bank the air is equally wholesome and the climate mild, and each of them forms the extreme frontier of a vast state: that which follows the numerous windings of the Ohio upon the left is called Kentucky; that upon the right bears the name of the river. These two states differ only in a single respect: Kentucky has admitted slavery, but the state of Ohio has prohibited the existence of slaves within its borders. Thus the traveler who floats down the current of the Ohio to the spot where that river falls into the Mississippi may be said to sail between liberty and servitude; and a transient inspection of surrounding objects will convince him which of the two is more favorable to humanity.

The famous individualist and conservative firebrand Ayn Rand fashioned herself a reason-based superman, embodied in protagonist John Galt in Atlas Shrugged (1957), representing for her and millions like her the ultimate in individuality – directly the opposite of the self-sacrifice praised by Tocqueville. Rand saw the selfless man as no better than one who commits suicide and according to her, the altruist is the very worst sort of person – one who sacrifices friends and family for his enemies. Fans of Ayn Rand’s dry best-seller have long toted dog-eared copies of the book, dewy-eyed, railing against the Socialist state America has become under this dystopian view. I have to remind myself that this is one of the best selling books of all time. Rand’s upbringing in Soviet Russia informed her hatred of Socialism and gave her a shiny pair of rose-colored glasses that made most millionaires look like upstanding, moral agents-of-change. Her open hostility to altruism (and empathy) was so off-putting to conservative icon William F. Buckley, after a scathing review of the book, Rand refused to speak to him ever again.

Ayn Rand’s personal story, so mythologized by conservatives who adopt her as their own (Paul Ryan’s Catholic version and lest we forget, Rand Paul was named after the author for God’s sake, etc.), revealed a far more complicated personality, as with Tocqueville. When Rand emigrated to the United States, she committed perjury after she lied to a visa officer that she had a fiancé waiting for her back in Russia whom she intended to marry after a short visit with relatives in Chicago. Rand quickly married in 1929 and became one of the most appreciative naturalized Americans in history. Under Donald Trump, it’s highly unlikely someone with Ayn Rand’s deep character flaws would have been allowed entry into the Greatest Country on Earth, even back then she was unable to arrange for her family to join her in the US and was separated from them for the rest of her life. Born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, Rand benefited the most in her life from the fruits of Soviet communism – getting a free education at Petrograd State University (now Saint Petersburg State University), the oldest university in Russia – when a college education was nearly impossible to achieve for a woman anywhere in the world. She graduated in 1924 at the age of 19, taking along with her a nasty hatred of religion, and by 1929 Rand had arrived in New York and later married actor and artist Frank O’Connor in Los Angeles, where she would then gain American citizenship in 1931.

With the famous refrain, ‘Who is ‘John Galt?‘ Rand sets her futurist fantasy as a whodunnit, (a screenwriter, she was then working for uber-racist Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille when she met her husband) written in weird, stilted prose – really a compilation of conservative set pieces than a well-told story, and I’d bet 99% of the American population couldn’t say what Atlas Shrugged or Rand’s other, best selling book about selfishness, The Fountainhead (1943) was really about. She optioned the latter book into the movie with Gary Cooper playing Howard Rourke, Rand’s virtuous CEO in this far-better rendition of the individualistic ‘superman’ as an agent-of-change. In Atlas, Rand imagines that the defeated, corrupt Socialist regime that America had become in the novel could only be saved after it had been totally destroyed. Near the end of the book, the corrupt American State, fearing the teeming mobs, begs – then demands – John Galt to play ball and fix the corrupt economy. When Galt refuses and suffers the consequences of his inaction, society finally revolts in full and Galt and his acolyte-lover are left as the most super of supermen left on Earth. He can fully exercise his mantra: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Having studied history and philosophy in Russia, Rand’s Aristotelian underpinning formed her Objectivist ideology, a largely forgotten philosophy of individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism and corporate individualism and she favored a “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire Capitalism.” In Rand’s famous quote, “Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator,” she conjures Trump:

Reason is the enemy he dreads and, simultaneously, considers precarious; reason, to him, is a means of deception; he feels that men possess some power more potent than reason—and only their causeless belief or their forced obedience can give him a sense of security, a proof that he has gained control of the mystic endowment he lacked. His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality. What he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it, their mind, the power to interpose his will between existence and consciousness, as if, by agreeing to fake the reality he orders them to fake, men would, in fact, create it.

Rand also spoke forcefully against totalitarianism – both Fascist and Socialist – and I can imagine her take on Donald Trump would be nuanced, at best. She often told conservative friends that they were “Too smart to believe in God,” yet her almost religious devotion to Aristotelian logic would have undoubtedly caused her to reject Donald Trump as a modern version of John Galt or Howard Rourke. If anything, Trump’s abuse of the social welfare system in winning his fortune lend most conservatives to conclude that Trump is actually the embodiment of Ayn Rand’s uber-villain, Jim Taggert. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville reasoned that America’s strengthening democracy, pushing outward from each town square in America, was effective at connecting citizens to each other in the body politic, casting aside the isolation of selfish individualism:

In times of equality people tend to be individualistic, disposing each citizen to isolate himself and limit his interests to a small circle of relatives and friends. This individualism is dangerous to society because it eventually merges into egoism, which “sterilizes the seed of every virtue”… Because despots have every interest in keeping people isolated, the individualism resulting from equality makes despotism a great danger to democracy. Exercising freedom through participation in public affairs is therefore extremely important, because it gives people a personal interest in thinking about others in society. Local self-government forces the people to act together and feel their dependence on one another.

France, long England’s archenemy, especially after the upheaval of the French Revolution and the resulting ‘mobocracy’ that followed, looked to America as a ‘petrie dish’ of democracy, a double-blind study in a new form of government. Tocqueville studied the 700 year history of democracy, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, drawing upon this knowledge to map the future of our burgeoning nation. His chief worry about democracy and it’s chances for success were the same as Aristotle, Polybius and Montesqieu: despotism. Tocqueville saw the finest examples of American democracy in the rural counties and small towns dotting the lush American landscape and he viewed these simple folk as our ultimate strength. Liberty requires constant effort and vigilance and if we are ever to fulfill the demands of our forebears – as we dive headlong into the 21st Century – we must never forget where we’ve come from.

John Underhill
May 29, 2018


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