Just when I thought Mark Steyn had used all his A-game material, when he couldn’t possibly come up with anything else to add to his greatest hits canon of jaw-dropping, earth-shattering work, I read this essay in The New Criterion where he quotes Alexis de Tocqueville on that observant post-revolutionary Frenchman’s prediction of how America’s sanguine freedom could be corrupted into the kind of tyranny that American and France had so recently both thrown off. Steyn quotes him as follows:
I would like to imagine with what new traits despotism could be produced in the world.
I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.
Over these is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood … it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs…
The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations—complicated, minute, and uniform—through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way… it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own … it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Steyn follows this up with a very droll, “Welcome to the 21st century.”
Now, I assume he’s quoting from Democracy in America, but for the life of me I can’t find that quote to underline it! There doesn’t seem to be a decent online text I can search. Can anyone out there please, please find for me which chapter this comes from? If I find it first, I’ll update this post.