by Bruce Nye on Wednesday, February 21, 2012 at 11:08pm
I’ve been searching long and hard for reference to an oft-quoted maxim, usually attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.“ To my never ending amusement, it is a mis-attributed quotation. I commenced to find the source for the quote and came upon discussions relating two notions, published eight years apart, which generated an intrigue of thought about the solutions available to us in modern times. As food for thought, here are the two quotations:
“Paradoxically enough, the release of initiative and enterprise made possible by popular self-government ultimately generates disintegrating forces from within. Again and again after freedom has brought opportunity and some degree of plenty, the competent become selfish, luxury-loving and complacent, the incompetent and the unfortunate grow envious and covetous, and all three groups turn aside from the hard road of freedom to worship the Golden Calf of economic security. The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.
At the stage between apathy and dependency, men always turn in fear to economic and political panaceas. New conditions, it is claimed, require new remedies. Under such circumstances, the competent citizen is certainly not a fool if he insists upon using the compass of history when forced to sail uncharted seas. Usually so-called new remedies are not new at all. Compulsory planned economy, for example, was tried by the Chinese some three milleniums ago, and by the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was applied in Germany, Italy and Russia long before the present war broke out. Yet it is being seriously advocated today as a solution of our economic problems in the United States. Its proponents confidently assert that government can successfully plan and control all major business activity in the nation, and still not interfere with our political freedom and our hard-won civil and religious liberties. The lessons of history all point in exactly the reverse direction.”
- Henning W. Prentis, 1943, “Industrial Management in a Republic”, p. 22
“Two centuries ago a somewhat obscure Scotsman named Tytler made this profound observation: ‘A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.’
This ought to be a waring sign of the times, for never before in this nation has there been such temptation to use the formal mechanism of democracy as a means for gratifying the selfish designs of the individual citizen. This applies not only to the corrupt high official who sells influence or conspires with crooks to steal money from the public. It applies, likewise, to the individual voter who seeks to profit personally by laying a heavier burden on his neighbor, through subsidies and other government gifts.
The hard core of freedom is the unselfish spirit of the citizen. Democracy cannot live long without this agency of conscience.
Unselfish motivation in politics is much more than a gesture of good morality. It is a practical factor without which democracy canot exist. In the long run nothing else will work.”
-Elmer T. Peterson, December 9, 1951, “This Is The Hard Core of Freedom”, The Daily Oklahoman, p. 12-A