Toqueville on Democracy in America

The great advantage of the Americans is, that they have arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution; and that they are born equal, instead of becoming so

– Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in AmericaHonestly, I’m very disturbed by the latter part of the quote , “that they (Americans) are born equal.” What Toqueville might have in mind was a selective number of people, not all Americans equally. Condoleezza Rice , in a recentspeech, notes that “Black Americans were a founding population,” she said. ” Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding.” Furthermore, she notes that “What I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn’t love and have faith in them — and that’s our legacy.”

Am I perhaps misreading Toqueville? What say you?


On Liberalism

In his influential work, THE LIBERAL TRADITION IN AMERICA :
An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution
, Louis Hartz defines liberalism in the following words,

One can use the term ‘Liberal Reform’ to describe the Western movement which emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century to adapt classical liberalism to the purposes of small propertied interests and the laboring class and at the same time which rejected socialism. Nor is this movement without its ties to the earlier era….But the American movement, now as during that age itself, was in a unique position. For swallowing up both peasantry and proletariat into the ‘petit-bourgeois’ scheme, America created two unusual effects. It prevented socialism from challenging its Liberal Reform in any effective way, and at the same time it enslaved its Liberal Reform to the Alger dream of democratic capitalism.”

– (Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America , 228)

Quote du Jour

Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of…Those who are governed at the will of another, or others, and whose property may be taken from them by taxes or otherwise without their own consent and against their wills are in the miserable condition of slaves.

– Stephen Hopkins, “The Rights of Colonies Examined” in Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750-1776, 507-508.

Noll’s lecture on Race, Religion, and American Politics

Mark A. Noll, perhaps the most proninent Christian Historian in American soil, gave a series of lecture on “Race, Religion, and American Politics from Nat Turner to George W. Bush” at Princeton University. Click here to listen

Part 1: ``The Bible, Slavery, and the Irrepressible Conflict`
Pt 2 – Race, Religion, and American Politics from Nat Turner to George W. Bush
Pt 3 – Race, Religion, and American Politics from Nat Turner to George W. Bush

Vernon Louis Parrington (1871–1929)

For many contemporary historians, Vernon Louis Parrington, was the greatest literary historian in America. A two-time graduate from Harvard University, 1893 and in 1897 respectively. Upon graduating from Harvard, he was hired as an instructor of English and Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma. Parrington is known for his Pultitzer winning magisterial work for history (1928), Main Currents in American Thought. In the three volume work, Parrington brought to the attention of the American people important political figures from Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, and public concerns of the American political life; that is, ” Of American letters from colonial times, postulating a sharp divide between the elitist Hamiltonian current and its populist Jeffersonian opponents, and making clear Parrington’s own identification with the latter.” For example, he forcefully defended the doctrine of state sovereignty and successfully (?)disassociated the movement from the the cause of slavery in America. For, he contended that both movements (the state sovereignty and slavery in America) had not supported and advanced American democracy, instead proven “disastrous to American democracy.” (source)

“Ideas are not godlings that spring perfect-winged from the head of Jove; they are not flowers that bloom in a walled garden; they are weapons hammered out on the anvil of human needs.”
— Vernon Louis Parrington

For further reading-
Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians (1968)
Robert Allen Skotheim, American Intellectual Histories and Historians (1966)
Alfred Kazin, On Native Ground (1942)
Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950)

Vernon Louis Parrington’s Main Currents in American Thought

Obama, The Charismatic American!

From the outset, Barack Obama presents himself to the public, the American people with a messianic message. His message is rooted in the American dream. Obama’s campaign is nothing less than a movement. His movement carries a messianic overtone, signaling the time for change has arrived in the American soil. The Obama encountered in the present is a prophet who announces the urgent need to transform and change the American political system. His message coheres both with great men of the past and various former American figures. This Obama thus is not primarily a social reformer with a revolutionary message; nor is he another presidential (candidate) innovator radically redefining the traditional ideas and practices of the American politics. His urgent message is not the present so much as the near future in view. For Obama, the future of this great nation we call America is now.

Further, what distinguishes Obamas’ prophetic message from those of others is primarily its timetable, not its content. Like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, W.E. Dubois, and a few others he emphasizes hope and change in the present. “Charisma” is the term that is best described Obama’s movement of hope and change.

The term ‘charisma’ was coined by renowned sociologist, Max Weber. Weber applied the term to Jesus’ activities recorded in the Gospels: his relations with his disciples, followers and his environs. Nonetheless, the term ‘charisma’ is a sociological expression that bears the idea to have ‘great/extraordinary influence’ on people. Thus, Weber defined Jesus’ ministry as such. He construes the messianic mission of Jesus to have such bearing. Though, Barack Hussein Obama is not Jesus and should not be elevated in such status. Nonetheless, he presents himself as a messianic figure to the American people –one who can unify various dividing lines in America. In addition, the term “charisma” always develops in interactions. So Obamas’ charisma is also evident in his relation to both democrats and independents, even the obamacans welcome his message. Hence, Obama could say, “We have been waiting for so long for the time when we could finally expect more from our politics, when we could give more of ourselves and feel truly invested in something bigger than a candidate or cause. This is it: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the ones that we seek.” Repeatedly he says to the American people,
“The Democratic Party must stand for change, not change as a slogan, change we can believe in.” Amen!