Tocqueville, We Are Here

The following remarks were delivered Oct. 6, 2001, at the 9th annual meeting of  State Policy Network (SPN), the professional service organization for America's state-based, free-market think tank movement, in Boulder, Colo.  Colorado state Sen. John Andrews is the founder and a former president of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo.  Mackinac Center for Public Policy President Lawrence Reed is a past president of SPN.

Americans in our determination to win the struggle against our Islamic enemies must be vigilant lest we lose, in the process, our identity as a free society.  Our heritage of liberty will not be overtly abandoned.  But there is the danger that it will be gradually hollowed out by one concession after another in the name of a comfortable and risk-free existence—a powerful impulse in modern culture for decades now, and far more so since Sept. 11.

Alexis de Tocqueville warned that democracy could imperceptibly evolve into benevolent despotism even though the outward forms of freedom may endure.  He saw how our government, legitimized by popular sovereignty, might become "an immense and tutelary power" keeping the people "in a perpetual state of childhood." 

Such a power, Tocqueville remarked, "does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd." And he recognized that this danger is even greater in time of war, "which compels nations to combine all their powers in the hands of the government."

To keep our bearings in America's first war of the 21st century, let's remember the words of Pershing in our first war of the 20th.  Leading the American army into France, he said: "Lafayette, we are here."  Our historical circumstances in 2001 are as uncharted as any the AEF faced in 1917.  The coming months will test us in new ways.

But when paternalistic government pushes on with its enervating expansion—always for the best of wartime reasons—some of us have got to stand firm and say no.  We've got to insist politely that we know where that leads, and we're not going there.  We've got to recall the prophetic warning and draw the line.  For the sake of generations past and generations unborn, we've got to keep the faith and proclaim: "Tocqueville, we are here."

"When paternalistic government pushes on with its enervating expansion-always for the best of wartime reasons-some of us have got to stand firm and say no."