Democracy in America

This New Yorker article by James Wood got me reading Tocqueville's Democracy in America, one of da many books I was sposed to read, way back... been on my shelf for about 30 yrs...

& it's inspiring many deep thoughts which I canna articulate at this time.... you gotta believe me... I'd like to be blogging more actively again, but many things both inward & outward push against it these days...

Pondering Tocqueville's "providential" sense of the advent of the mighty power of democracy, & in its American incarnation (& I use that word advisedly in this context). T's view stems in part from his understanding of Christianity : ie. in God's eyes all human beings a'being equal, with inalienable dignity & rights as genuine (though sinful) children of, made in the image of, same. & this spiritual (theological) equality T. sees as borne out in history by the destruction (by the power of Equality) of artificial distinctions of class & inherited social privilege, and the assumption (everyone's inherent right), by a great variety of means, of the skills, knowledge, & determination necessary for liberty. The establishment of township democracy in New England villages, based not so much on material self-interest as on a radically egalitarian set of beliefs about spiritual & civil authority (cf. Pilgrims, Puritans, Roger Williams, etc.) - all this T. understands as offering evidence of the divine shaping of human history (divine providence).

One has to try to get "inside" this theological perspective, where we are witnesses (in time) to God's "overthrowing Kings & Powers" (Rog. Wms.) on behalf of "the Son of Man". Of course such n'all had more obvious bite back when democracy was still rivaled by monarchy & other forms of autocracy, back then.... (or is it really only back then)? (I think of Melville's famous apostrophe in Moby Dick - "O Democracy!" - when he describes God grabbing old backwoods Andrew Jackson out of nowhere and throwing him on a horse to lead the new nation...)

More to come, maybe.... am just getting into first chapters. Relishing T's introduction, with its geographical sweep (North America made of 2 massive planes, one shifting toward the Arctic, the other in the vast bowl of the middle, between the 2 mountain ranges.... with the tipping point at the source of the Mississippi (originally called the "St. Louis" by French explorers), up there in Itasca, MN... I stepped over that particular brook, when I was 10 or so...)


p.s. (later) I know all kinds of intellectual dangers lurk in this direction (I mean reading theological signs in history). Such as national chauvinism, American exceptionalism... not to mention the legion of devils in the details (of practical politics).

Details like : Wall Street thieves bloated on the dough of the people; politicians conniving to throw more of it to rich & powerful & greedy special interests (be they industrialists, Masters of War, lobbyists, union bureaucrats, &, lest we forget, themselves); professional demagogues, media moguls & cynical factionalists, making a quick buck serving a coating of propaganda over real injustices & suffering; fat complacent satisfied American vulgarians, supremely content just as long as they get quite a bit more than their fair share; all the vain drones of political self-righteousness, suffocating the American earth beneath the bad breath of their yammering shibboleths & self-flattering cliches... we could all go on.... O Democracy! O Populism!

For the time being I'll just claim my valid & registered poetic license. The poetry of a culture is analogous to the memory & sensibility of an individual person. In an Augustinian sense (I guess), Time itself is a function of human memory & its intellectual/interpretive sensibility. We live in a fleeting Now; the past no longer exists, except on board the good ship Memory (Mandelstam's "funeral barge") & its truthful recall; & the future we make depends on the substantiality (or not) of that truthfulness.

At least this is one way to look at it. Then again, I'm not completely ruling out angels & time travel, either (cf. certified poetic license again). The muse of memorious poetry plays with her inheritance like a child with a toy boat (cf. Heraclitus).

No comments: