That article of Steven Waldman’s has sent me to dear old Alexis de Tocqueville, the darling percipient frog that he is. Because Waldman’s whole schtick in that article is just exactly the kind of thing Tocqueville, and, inspired by him, John Stuart Mill, had in mind. The old majority opinion trick – the old ‘We all think this so you’d better think it too or else, and never mind whether it’s true or not just shut up and think what you’re told.’ I actually don’t think Waldman is really talking about Kerry there, I think that’s just a pretext – a disguise, a mask, a beard for what he really wants to say, which is that Most Americans believe in God and so all of them ought to and they should be subject to non-stop social pressure and accusations of elitism, coastalism, intelligentsia-wannabeism, and any other kind of thought-crime we can think of if they refuse. (Waldman for instance is toying with the idea that people who refuse to believe are racists, because a lot of African-Americans are believers. He doesn’t actually say as much, but the implication is there, like a faint but bad smell.)
So here is some wisdom from Democracy in America, Volume I chapter 15.
The authority of a king is physical and controls the actions of men without subduing their will. But the majority possesses a power that is physical and moral at the same time, which acts upon the will as much as upon the actions and represses not only all contest, but all controversy…
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is in danger of an auto-da-fe, but he is exposed to continued obloquy and persecution…He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth…
Monarchs had, so to speak, materialized oppression; the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as the will which it is intended to coerce.
1835, this was published. Isn’t it interesting how consistent we are.
Absolute monarchies had dishonored despotism; let us beware lest democratic republics should reinstate it and render it less odious and degrading in the eyes of the many by making it still more onerous to the few…
…there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America. The Inquisition has never been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books from circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually removes any wish to publish them. Unbelievers are to be met with in America, but there is no public organ of infidelity.
Unbelievers are to be met with, that’s still true. But do they fill the newspapers and airwaves? Not on the planet I live on, they don’t. Some of our commenters seem to have found a different planet – and I hope they’re right and I’m wrong. I hope any day now the mass media will fill up with articles and comments urging Kerry to honor the separation of church and state. But, once again, I’m going to avoid breath-holding.