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SALENA ZITO: America’s Dearth of Civil Society:

Freemasons are civic leaders, and the room is filled with men of all ages, races and backgrounds, about to meet over what they can do next to further the betterment of their community. They are members of a dying American tradition that once drew young men by the hordes, in particular after the end of World War II when memberships in fraternal organizations like the Mason’s, Elks, and Rotary Clubs swelled with young veterans reared on the ethos of community service.

America today has a recession of civic activity as we emerge into a society that less united in a common endeavor with fewer people willing to listen to elders who could guide young men and women with the skills of cooperation and citizenship.

For the past 200-plus years Americans eagerly formed countless associations within their communities. It didn’t matter if their neighborhoods were in large cities, small towns, or spread out in expansive rural farming areas. We liked to form associations; a lot.

Some were serious, some were frivolous, some had ties to commerce in a town or were wedded to a church and some were exclusive, but nearly all of them were formed to advance or foster a better community or a better city.

Or as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of America’s burgeoning democratic order and the rapid formation of civic groups, through example “they form a society.”

But we don’t join things the way we used to. The question is why? The first obvious answer is we are busy, but so were our parents and grandparents and they joined the Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis.

The second obvious answer is technology. It does everything for us and connects us to people instantly so why would we want to connect in person?

You can answer that one by looking around yourself at an America with an eroded public square. Things are not going well.

Traditional member-based organizations, especially the do-goody ones, rarely included politics and brought diverse different ideas together that helped make communities and societies form cohesively.

Yes, read the whole thing. I made a similar point yesterday.

HAVING APPARENTLY NEVER READ DE TOCQUEVILLE, The New Yorker is puzzled by the Cajun Navy.


In her badly flawed book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, historian Nancy MacLean gets many, many things wrong about the history and purposes of libertarianism. Jonathan Adler, David Bernstein (see also here), Phil Magness (also here), Russell Roberts, and Michael Munger, and others, have highlighted some of her most important fallacies and distortions.

On one issue, however, she is largely correct: it is indeed true that libertarians want to impose tight limits on the power of democratic majorities. Calling this agenda a “stealth plan” is, of course, ridiculous. It is much like saying that pro-lifers have a “stealth plan” to restrict abortion, or that Bernie Sanders has a secret agenda to expand government control over the economy. Skepticism about the power of democratic majorities has been a central – and completely open – feature of classical liberal and libertarian thought for centuries. Most of the Founding Fathers, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, and many others held such views. It was Thomas Jefferson, writing in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts, not James Buchanan and the Koch brothers (the central villains of MacLean’s story), who wrote that “[i]n questions of power,… let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Regardless, MacLean tries to use libertarians’ suspicion of unconstrained democracy as a cudgel with which to deligitimize them and prove that they are outside the bounds of reasonable political discourse. Why would anyone want to put “chains” on democracy, if not to empower a narrow oligarchy of the wealthy, as she claims libertarians want to do?

Yet libertarians are far from the only ones who want to chain down democracy. Consider a group MacLean may have some sympathy with: mainstream modern left-liberals. Are they populist champions of the will of the people? Do they want to empower democratic majorities to rule as they see fit? Pretty obviously not. In some ways, the left wants to put even more chains on democracy than libertarians do.

That’s different because shut up.

COMBATING THE CULTURE OF COMPETITIVE VICTIMHOOD: What Tocqueville Can Teach Us About Microaggressions.

IT IS NEEDED: Teaching American Government.

HOPE: “#FreeStacy: The Old Regime and the Twitter Revolution

The whole thing reminds me of the book Alexis de Tocqueville wrote after Democracy in America. In The Old Regime and the French Revolution, he examined the failed promise of France’s rebellion against monarchy. What concerned him was not just the Terror and the beheadings, but the fact that the French toppled all of their institutions and tried to remake their politics, only to see all the old institutions re-assert themselves. They ended up with the same system, just under new rulers. The main similarity between the new system and the Ancien Régime was its administrative centralization, the way everything was controlled out of Paris, sapping all power and initiative from local institutions.

This strikes me as a good analogy for what’s been happening with the old regime and the Internet revolution. The impact of the Internet has been a radical decentralization, the breaking down of gateways and barriers to entry for the transmission of information. But the old imperatives for centralization and control are still there, and they’re trying to reassert themselves.

Read the whole thing.

Centralizers gotta centralize, and they have all-new digital tools for doing just that. But those same digital tools can be used against the control-freaks posing as technological liberators.

Say, didn’t someone write a book about that?

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON IN THE L.A. TIMES on How the widening urban-rural divide threatens America:

How did the new Californians deal with the drought? Not as in the past. Enthralled by a fantasy of a pristine 19th century California that has it all — from daily fresh organic tomatoes to schools of fish jumping amid white water, without understanding what it takes to grow those tomatoes — urbanites have argued that farmers can make do with less but wildlife needs ever more. Millions of acre-feet of precious stored water were released out of rivers as urban environmentalists hoped to increase the population of 3-inch delta smelt and to restore salmon to the upper San Joaquin River. Despite millions of acre-feet of released water, both fish projects have so far failed. Meanwhile, under pressure from environmental groups, the state canceled water projects such as the huge Temperance Flat reservoir on the San Joaquin River.

Common sense would have warned that droughts are existential challenges, the severity and duration of which are unpredictable. Droughts are times to bank water, not to release it for questionable green initiatives. Such common sense would assume, though, that millions of Californians had seen a broccoli farm or a Flame Seedless vineyard and had made the connection that what they purchased in supermarkets was grown from irrigated soil.

The founders and early observers of American democracy, from Thomas Jefferson to Alexis de Tocqueville, reflected a classical symbiosis, in which even urban thinkers praised the benefits of life in rural areas. Jefferson famously wrote: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

Read the whole thing — and then ponder how the typical bobo Los Angeles Times reader would respond to VDH’s harsh truths.

HE WAS A SMART MAN: Alexis de Tocqueville Predicted the Tyranny of the Majority in Our Modern World. Our Constitution, of course, was not originally designed to be majoritarian.

MICHELLE MALKIN: Entrepreneurs Are Not “Lottery Winners.”

For radical progressives, life is a Powerball drawing. Success is random. Economic achievement is something to be rectified and redistributed to assuage guilt. Only those who take money, not those who make it by offering goods and services people want and need, act in the public interest. Those who seek financial enrichment for the fruits of their labor are cast as rapacious hoarders in Obama World — and so are the private investors who support them.

Wealth-shaming is a recurrent leitmotif in the Obama administration’s gospel of government dependency.

In 2010, the president proclaimed, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

Maybe he was thinking of Hillary. Plus:

The progressives’ government-built-that ethos is anathema to our Founding Fathers’ first principles. They understood that the ability of brilliant, ambitious individuals to reap private rewards for inventions and improvements benefited the public good. This revolutionary idea is a hallmark of American exceptionalism and entrepreneurship. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the doctrine of enlightened “self-interest rightly understood” was a part of America’s DNA from its founding. “You may trace it at the bottom of all their actions, you will remark it in all they say. It is as often asserted by the poor man as by the rich,” de Tocqueville wrote.

Francis Grund, a contemporary of de Tocqueville’s, also noted firsthand America’s insatiable willingness to work. “Active occupation is not only the principal source of their happiness, and the foundation of their natural greatness, but they are absolutely wretched without it. …Business is the very soul of an American,” he wrote.

Here is the marvel Obama and his command-and-control cronies fail to comprehend: From the Industrial Age to the Internet Age, the concentric circles of American innovation in the free marketplace are infinite. This miracle repeats itself millions of times a day through the voluntary interactions, exchanges and business partnerships of creative Americans and their clients, consumers and investors. No federal Department of Innovation or Ten-Point White House Action Plan for Progress can lay claim to the boundless synergies of these profit-earning capitalists.

No, but those government programs produce superior opportunities for graft.

ERIC S. RAYMOND: People Want To Make The Garner Killing About Race — If Only That Were True!

The truly terrifying thing about Eric Garner’s death is that I don’t think the cops in that video hated anybody. They were just doing their job. And their job included strangling a man to death for having sold “loosies” – untaxed cigarettes. Something he wasn’t doing when he was killed; he had just broken up a fight that the police came to investigate.

Garner had just broken up a fight. The police hassled him, based on his record as a (gasp!) vendor of untaxed cigarettes, and when he protested the force of law came down on him and snuffed him.

In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy In America that has been justly celebrated for its perception about the young American republic ever since. In it, he warned of the dangers of what he called “soft despotism” – that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules”, all justified in soothing ways to achieve worthy objectives. Such as discouraging people from smoking by heavily taxing cigarettes.

Eric Garner died in a New York minute because “soft despotism” turned hard enough to kill him in cold blood. There was no anger there, no hate; the police simply failed to grasp the moral disproportion between the “crimes” he wasn’t even committing at the time and their use of force. And an investigating grand jury did no better.

Violent racists, as evil as they are, generally understand on some level that they’re doing wrong. That understanding is written all over the excuses they make. These cops didn’t need an excuse. They were doing their job. They were enforcing the law.

Remember, when you pass a law, you need to be willing to see people killed to enforce it.

MENTAL CONFUSION. PROBABLY FROM THAT CONCUSSION. Hillary flubs history lesson; thinks Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1930s.

MICHAEL BARONE: Millennials’ Path of Least Resistance:

Today the Millennials, write the Pew analysts, are “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion,” and significantly more unattached than the age cohorts (Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, Silent Generation) that came before.

Politically, 50 percent of Milennials classify themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans, compared to about 36 percent of their elders.

Millennials largely voted for Barack Obama — 66 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012. But only 49 percent approve of his performance now, just a bit more than among Xers and Boomers. Only 34 percent of white Millennials rate Obama’s performance positively.

Most Millennials say they believe in God, but it’s a smaller majority than among older age groups, and only 36 percent say they see themselves as “a religious person,” versus nearly 60 percent of their elders. Some 29 percent of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated. They’re evidently moving away from their parents’ religion but not moving toward one of their own.

One reason may be that people tend to join churches when they marry and have children — and Millennials, so far, aren’t doing much of either. Only 26 percent of Millennials age 18 to 32 are married, far lower than other generations were at their age (Xers 36 percent, Boomers 48 percent, Silents 65 percent).

Millennials aren’t entirely rejecting parenthood, but 47 percent of births to Millennial women are outside of marriage. Even so, about 60 percent of Millennials, like their elders, say that having more children raised by a single parent is bad for society.

Unlike Tocqueville’s Americans, and unlike the generations just before them, Millennials seem to be avoiding marriage, church and political affiliation, and to lack a sense of social trust. Only 19 percent say that generally speaking most people can be trusted, compared to 31 percent to 40 percent among older generations.

This is in line with Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s thesis that social trust is declining in America.

So is that just sort of happening? Or are things being pushed in that direction?

JAMES HUFFMAN: The Real Public Servants. “Tocqueville recognized what nineteenth-century Americans understood and practiced—the public good is served by the individual pursuit of ‘self-interest well understood.’ Among our most public-spirited citizens are those who work with others, without the intervention or aid of government, in creating and sustaining the businesses upon which our economic and social prosperity rest. We should celebrate their public service.”

PAUL RAHE: China Chooses Despotism.

PAUL RAHE: Toqueville In China. “If Tocqueville’s book is being read, it is because at least some of the men who rule China are wondering whether their country is near a tipping point — in which a seemingly minor event (the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, for example) sets off a conflagration. Twenty-three years ago, at the time of Tiananmen Square, China very nearly came apart. Some Chinese, who know a lot more than I do about the state of affairs in their country, evidently think that it may do so again, and the very fact that are contemplating such a nightmare suggests that it may be on the horizon. If and when such a regime stops delivering the goods — even if only for a short time — there will be a fury unleashed.”

GONNA BE SOME HARD TIMES COMING DOWN: Starting with that allusion to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Victor Davis Hanson explores the Anatomies of Electoral Madness:

The crux for the next four years is whether we become California or transform into a sort of socialist Germany, where the work ethic, fiscal sobriety, and ingenuity trump counter-productive energy and social policies. In other words, will the frackers, horizontal drillers, farmers, engineers, Silicon Valley, Napa Valley, the American farm belt, the coal industry, Boeing, Apple, and Caterpillar just keep chugging along, pulling the rest of us into the accustomed prosperity despite, rather than because of, us? Will the American spirit, like German industriousness, override socialist redistribution, or succumb to it?

As far as why a majority voted as it did, I prefer the wisdom of the Old Oligarch, Plato on Democratic Man, or Tocqueville to the latest spin from Republican grandees.

Read the whole thing.™

FUTURE FRENCH FIRST LADY NICKNAMED ‘ROTTWEILER:’ Obama Immediately Extends Invitation to White House:

The 57-year-old Socialist has openly admitted that he “does not like the rich” and declared that “my real enemy is the world of finance”. This means taxing the wealthy by up to 75 per cent, curtailing the activities of Paris as a centre for financial dealing, and ploughing millions into creating more civil service jobs.

Add an explicit threat to renegotiate the euro pact to replace austerity with “growth-creating” spending, and you have one of the most vehemently left-wing programmes in recent history.

“France is doomed, but you already knew that,” blogger JammieWearingFool adds. At the Corner, they’re tolling the funeral bell for the rest of the continent as well:

In one sense, Europeans have no place left to go. They tried fascism and Communism; those proved deadly flops. That left state socialism’s “mixed economy.” The European Union was created in 1992 at the end of the Cold War — a victory, we note, of America’s making, not Europe’s — as a monument to socialism’s ideal of large centralized planned economies and societies. It’s the same ideal Obama and his liberal friends have worshiped for a generation — with only slightly less disastrous results here.

* * * *

Who knows. Maybe at the end of all this, Europeans will discover their own culture buried under two centuries of socialist and Marxist garbage: the Europe of Adam Smith and Tocqueville, of von Mises and Hayek, of Aristotle and Aquinas. Maybe they’ll realize their birthright as the original home of liberty and freedom, at long last.

I suspect “the end of this,” when and if Europe stumbles over what Tom Wolfe calls “The Great Relearning,” will be a long and painful time arriving in Europe.

MICHAEL LEDEEN: It’s Not The Constitution, Stupid! “It’s about power. And freedom. Power, because the president and his people think that, since they are smarter and better than the rest of us, anyone who tries to limit their power is bad, and has to be brought into line. Thus, the tough words of warning to any Justice contemplating voting against Obamacare. Freedom, because the accumulation of power in the hands of the executive branch comes at our expense, bit by bit and law by law, precisely as Alexis de Tocqueville feared.”

HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY: Prechter: The Last Time The Market Looked Like This Was Right Before The ’87 Crash.

Related: Fortune: Is this finally the economic collapse? The contrarian view, of course, is that once we start seeing these headlines, things are about to turn up. We’ll see. But there’s this:

Lest our doom and gloom seem built entirely on technical measurements, what they boil down to is actually quite simple — an idea about our country which dates back to 1835. Alexis De Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, which was published that year, seemed to warn of this day when he wrote: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Ugh. Yeah.

UPDATE: Various readers point out that the Tocqueville quote, while common, is misattributed.

ROGER KIMBALL: Laffer vs. Zakaria — Who’s Right? “I do not expect that argument to make much of an impression on Fareed Zakaria or anyone else carrying water for the Democratic establishment. Why not? Because the economic effect of reducing taxes is for them a secondary consideration. What matters most to them is the political effect of raising taxes. . . . I believe the primary motivation was touched upon by Alexis de Tocqueville when he observed that the passion for equality was such in America that many people would ‘rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.’ And here we touch upon the toxic core of Obama’s economic policy: the admixture of economics, which is a pragmatic art or science, with the idea of ‘fairness,’ which is a moral or (more accurately) a moralistic issue.”

Personally, I believe that “fairness” consists in the fruits of my labor not being taken by corrupt hacks to redistribute to their cronies in exchange for votes.


What happened to the rich and powerful’s power? While the federal government debates Barack Obama’s proposals to milk the well-to-do, New York is poised to approve a substantial personal-income-tax hike for people making more than $500,000. New York’s business elites are now wondering how they lost out. . . . Dan Cantor, who runs the labor-affiliated Working Families Party, gave his own diagnosis. “We just work much harder than the right-wingers. They think they can just do it by writing checks to the politicians. We don’t have money. We have our passion.”

That’s not quite true. In Albany, the wealthiest and most well-connected groups often are representing the little guy. The teachers unions burn through $4 million a year on donations to state lawmakers and lobbying expenses, rivaling the outlays of the state’s hospital associations, which also pressed for a tax hike. Since December, the supporters of the rich tax—an alliance of organized labor and community-activist groups—waged a campaign that further weakened Governor Paterson. They spent millions on ads attacking him and staged feisty protests. (At one near City Hall last month, 1199 SEIU president George Gresham mocked his adversaries: “Where are the wealthy going to go? Iowa?”) . . .The idea of a moneyed underclass isn’t a new one. Tocqueville, a contemporary of President Jackson’s, saw wealth as a “cause of disfavor and an obstacle to gaining power” in America. The rich, he wrote, “never form a body which has manners and regulations of its own,” and prefer to retreat into private life than to “engage in an often unequal struggle against the poorest of their fellow citizens.”

Read the whole thing.

IN THE MAIL: From Yale Press, Paul Rahe’s Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.

AUSTIN BAY: Tea Parties, Flash Mobs, and Tocqueville.

A TEA PARTY IN GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA: “Mike Miller brought his young daughter downtown Friday night to the “Greenville Tea Party” rally at the RiverPlace complex, as the Upstate Young Republicans and others protested the government spending in President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. They weren’t alone. A crowd estimated at 800 to 2,000 people took part in a loud hourlong rally, one of an estimated 60 around the country.”

Plus, a roundup from around the country.

Despite terrible weather in many cases, citizens braved the wind, cold, and rain to exercise their Constitutional right to protest the current direction of the country under Barack Obama and the Democrats.
In St. Louis, over 1500 attended the Tea Party at the famous arch.

In Chicago, between 800 and 1000 braved the bad weather to gather to protest the massive spending of taxpayers’ money by the federal government.

Atlanta was the site of another well-attended Tea Party.

Many smaller towns and cities participated in the semi-simultaneous events around the country, such as Shelby, Alabama, Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Reader Kaye Evans writes:

You have posted pictures of the Nashville Tea Party gathering at the Legislative Plaza on February 26, and there was much to be learned from the folks who came out on that rainy day.

I was there and spent more time studying the assembled crowd than listening to the speakers. I was struck by how the crowd grew throughout the lunch hour. Many I spoke with had traveled to be a part of the protest.

It was glaringly obvious that these folks were not the $250+K fat cats whom Obama castigates. These people represented the middle class who, ostensibly, will be “helped” by the stimulus spending bills. They clearly were not convinced; they were angered by the class warfare components of his economic policies and the awareness that the burden of his ruinous spending will eventually become theirs to bear.

On a related note, may I suggest an appropriate coda for the New American Tea Party?

In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

I think we’ll see more people upset about this as time passes.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here are a couple of pictures from the Sarasota Tea Party. More on that here.

And here’s TV coverage from Neil Cavuto.

And reader Miles Wilson says don’t give Rick Santelli too much credit: “Just wanted to remind you that the Rick Santelli ‘rant’ was not the genesis of this movement – in fact, at least four events (Seattle, Denver, Mesa, Overland Park) occurred before the coining of the term ‘tea party’. So credit where credit is due – to the grassroots organizers far from the madding media crowd.”

(Had it as “Mike” Wilson earlier; sorry for the error.}

PLAGIARISM CHARGES AIMED AT SAM BROWNBACK: Seems like pretty weak tea to me.

Some thoughts of mine on plagiarism, including a defense of Joe Biden, can be found here. And read this, too.

UPDATE: The “Toqueville quote” is apparently spurious anyway.

WELL, DANG: It looks as if the Times Literary Supplement review of Jim Bennett’s new book isn’t going to be available online to nonsubscribers, at least not today. But North Sea Diaries has a bit of it. And I’ve got a bit more below — click “read more” to read it.

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