10.15.2009

You Can’t Tell Me What to Think

Or, The American Autocratic Experiment.

We like to think of it as the “democratic” experiment. After all, we elect representatives to run our government. We don’t have any royalty. Winston Churchill, apparently quoting someone else noted, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

I had it stuck in my head that Alexis de Tocqueville had said this, and looking through his lines on BrainyQuote, found all kinds of observations that are still remarkably accurate in the 21st century. I assumed it was him because of his book, Democracy in America. This is going back on my reading list.

In addition to whatever organized religion we do (or do not) ascribe to in this country, we also share in the secular religion of democracy, and our sacred texts are, of course, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Sure, some smart person might bring up the separation of powers, or more particularly “checks and balances,” when arguing for or against the idea of an imperial presidency. But then someone else counters that the Constitution says nothing about checks and balances and that you have to go to personal letters of the framers, and those are practically apocrypha.

I digress. The bit that I’ve been stuck on is the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, plus the purely proverbial “a man’s home is his castle.” Taken together, sacrament and proverb, they push toward an interpretation of “you can’t tell me what to do.” The Roberts Court, our current Supreme Court, continues the Rehnquist trend of pushing back federal rights in favor of states’ rights. The Bill of Rights continues a line toward the individual and away from the federal government.

I can practice any religion, or none. I can carry a gun. I don’t have to incriminate myself (the “fifth,” your honor). The extension of this is that while I elect someone to govern my country, I don’t elect anyone to govern me. It’s not that I’m not necessarily responsible for my actions, but I’m not necessarily responsible to anyone for them.

I’m bringing this up because at the moment, culturally, we seem to be on a collision course between these impulses, fostered, I would argue, by scaremongers like Glenn Beck. YOU are threatened, yes, YOU. What are YOU going to do? Because it’s within YOUR power. YOU are responsible to NO ONE. We do have royalty, it turns out. It's Us. The Constitution says so, and it’s our most holy document.

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