Feb. 20, 2013 (Archdruid Report) -- When the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville toured the newly founded American republic in the early years of the 19th century, he encountered plenty of things that left him scratching his head.
The national obsession with making money, the atrocious food, and the weird way that high culture found its way into the most isolated backwoods settings -- “There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” he wrote; “I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin” -- all intrigued him, and found their way into the pages of his remarkable book Democracy in America.
Still, one of the things de Tocqueville found most astonishing bears directly on the theme I’ve been developing over the last several weeks here on The Archdruid Report. The Americans of his time, when they wanted to make something happen, didn’t march around with placards or write their legislators demanding that the government do it. Instead, far more often than not, they simply put together a private association for the purpose, and did it themselves. De Tocqueville wrote:
“Americans combine to give fętes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association. In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association. I have come across several types of association in America of which, I confess, I had not previously the slightest conception, and I have often admired the extreme skill they show in proposing a common object for the exertions of very many and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.”