2 books I read many years ago on the subject are certainly classics. One, The Federalist Papers, was written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison on the records of the Constitutional Convention that took place at Philadelphia in 1787. It’s been 46 years since I read it, but they were a series of essays on why the Founding Fathers decided what they did in creating the Constitution.
Here they set terms of the Legislative and Executive branches going into detail about the why they did things as they did. They set up the 2 houses of the Legislative branch, the Senate and the House. If I remember correctly, they even go into detail on why they set up the Electoral College. A lot of the debates and (not adopted) proposals are recorded for posterity.
It is something I have to read again. Political candidates of both parties are woefully ignorant about the “why” things were set up as they were.
The other book, Democracy in America, was written by a young French Nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville.
“In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. In his later letters Tocqueville indicates that he and Beaumont used their official business as a pretext to study American society instead. They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, studying the prisons, and collecting information on American society, including its religious, political, and economic character. The two also briefly visited Canada, spending a few days in the summer of 1831 in what was then Lower Canada (modern-day Quebec) and Upper Canada (modern-day Ontario).”
His observations delved into the American character, and some ways it is unique. I should read that again, as some of his observations seem to be coming true 187 years later.
The reason I have posted this is that I received an email with one of those predictions today:
“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting.
Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it 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.”
Restrained from acting.
de Toqueville termed this trend self despotism.
In my more cynical moments, I believe that legislatures legislate because….they can. They don’t consider whether it is all wise, or is it the desire of men (and women) to exert power over the citizenry?
But I think where this de Tocqueville quote resonated with me is how businesses are functioning more and more with the government as overseer. The more regulations they enact about how one runs a business, and developed a product, the less innovation results.
I look at California which, until the 70s, was the envy of the world. Now through regulations (and admittedly a high cost of living) 100s of thousands of business have been driven out of state. And yet our bureaucracies and legislature keep producing more laws and regulations.
It was the freedom to develop and produce things – start a business – that made California the envy of the world.
I remember a post from Lex on the efforts of environmentalists halting the efforts of the Navy in developing improved means of submarine detection.
I’m starting to go on a rant here, and realized to give examples I could spend the next week, and it is getting late.
But I believe self despotism is becoming a reality not only in California but the West in general.
update 12-03-18: Lex wrote a bit about de Toqueville, too.