Advice from the 19th century

An article in The Wall Street Journal contained some references to thoughts of Alexis de Tocqueville that seem to have particular relevance to what is happening in the United States today.

Tocqueville, a 19th-century French politician and historian best known for his book “Democracy in America,” wrote his observations about the new country in 1835 after an extensive tour.

Mary O’Grady of the Journal was writing about a proposed vast expansion of taxes and government in Costa Rica when she cited Tocqueville’s thoughts about the fledgling U.S. democracy. Somehow, though, it seemed to us she should have been writing about the current state of our country.

O’Grady quotes Tocqueville’s warning that American democracy will last only until “politicians realize they can bribe people with their own money.”

She uses another famous Tocquevillean quote as a cautionary note to the Costa Ricans:

“The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

Hmm. . . . As we watch the so far futile efforts of our government to rein in its out-of-control spending, it almost seems like our current dilemma could serve as an example (unfortunately, a bad one) for countries like Costa Rica. Before you walk down the path of trying to be all things to all people, take a look at where that path leads.

But despite all his warnings, Tocqueville held out great hope for the United States. Perhaps, a positive note can be found in one of his quotes not contained in the article:

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.