There are 37 footnotes in Chapter 2 of Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontents (2016), most of them citing Democracy in America (1835) by Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville is increasingly quoted on the political economy because he turned out to be so prophetically correct about how democracy evolves. Tocqueville wrote of the American restlessness of spirit. A political over emphasis on equality creates anxiety. Americans are always peering around the corner, fearful something better lies ahead, making us discontent with our current position.
Everyone has friends or relatives who experience sudden job changes and winding career paths. Americans think of their work as a “job”; rarely do we view our efforts as a vocation – a calling from within us and from outside. The reason for this economically is that in advanced industrial societies there is a necessary division of labor. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is driven by self-interest. Deneen is laying the foundation upon which he will later explore deep concerns about the philosophical ground on which our country and economy are built. The U.S. Constitution is based on the individualist notion of liberty from John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. It’s the idea that we are born free and then enter into a social contract to protect our inalienable rights. It’s negative liberty giving us freedom from Government interference in our pursuit of happiness.
Representative Government under such philosophy is a system liberating people from the onerous task of self-government. Those of us that are more inclined and qualified to run public affairs should be in charge because of the enormous complexity of our economy. It’s a division of labor – like Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The problem is that the “job” of public office, like private pursuits, are then based on self-interest and getting ahead. Deneen believes the Hobbes/Locke philosophical starting point creates the illusion of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The starting point according to Deneen is that man is an inherent political animal connected to one another over time. He suggests, along with Tocqueville, that the more ancient ideas of positive liberty and aristocratic virtues of duty and honor get pushed aside more and more in an egalitarian democracy.
Our efforts and intellectual energy should be more than a job. To govern and be governed, as Socrates and Aritstotle knew, is a calling – a vocation of citizenship. Our War Chest heeds the call as we continue through Daneen’s guided tour of American wealth, poverty and the end of history. Next week, we’ll pledge our sacred honor.