December 8, 2009
More than 170 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned Americans of an emerging danger to democracy: "soft despotism." This insidious threat, the French political thinker explained, could reduce a self-governing people to "nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."
Today, that danger is greater than ever. The Left is pushing America toward European-style centralization of power. Liberal panjandrums seek an even more highly regulated economy,nationalization of industries and socialized health care. Lawmakers increasingly leave the "details" of how to implement legislation to unelected bureaucrats.
This isn't progress. It's the revival of a failed, undemocratic and illiberal kind of statism.
Luckily, the slow Europeanization of America isn't inevitable, and it's not too late. There's another way.
To take our country forward, we must renew our commitment to eternal truths about man, politics and liberty -- the truths held by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton.
Reclaiming America's future will require a concerted, monumental effort to push back progressive liberalism's assault on individual liberty and recover the Founders' principles in our political culture. We should focus on six priorities:
Educate for liberty. The classroom should foster understanding and appreciation of founding principles. Instead, high schools tend to minimize or disparage the story of America's founding. They justify neglect of the founding by arguing it's outdated and difficult to explain. Or they give short shrift to the principles of constitutional government and fixate on the Founders' acknowledged flaws.
Engage the American mind. Despite constant scorn by academic elites and popular media, most Americans still believe our country is something special and still respect the Founders' ideas that make it so. Conservatives must repeatedly articulate these core principles and apply them directly to questions of the day, thereby giving voice to the majority of citizens who haven't given up on the American experiment in self-government.
Uphold the Constitution. Public officials take a solemn oath to support the
America's founding principles are not historical curiosities. They still stand as a source of assurance and direction, beacons that can lead us to away from the byways of Europeanization and keep us on track to the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
De Tocqueville was right: Free-born Americans don't need government to be our shepherd. Besides, everyone knows that if government is the shepherd and citizens are the sheep, then we are the ones that get fleeced every time.
Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is director of the Kenneth B. Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation and the author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our
First Appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press