I’ve heard that the Super Bowl is this weekend and I’ve heard that an estimated 150 million will tune in to watch it. As Geoffrey Vaughan points out On the Square today, that makes the Super Bowl, “more so than the commemorations of the victims of the shootings in Tucson, let alone any religious observance . . . the most shared experience Americans will have all year.” It is the mass appeal of sports, Vaughan argues, that just might save us from the “soft despotism” that Tocqueville warned we are often willing to impose on ourselves in our zeal for equality:
In the very years of forced egalitarianism—when we believe that every child must go to college, every person own his home, and every traditional institution topple—the most brutal elitism is permitted and praised if only it is committed in the context of a physical challenge. Yes, in elementary school every player gets a trophy, but soon the superiority of the best athletes is not hidden but celebrated.
And this is right, because as Tocqueville warned, the passion for equality can produce the most desperate inequality. The passion for equality and the passion of envy are remarkably similar, and in our zeal to obtain equality we’ll blindly give up other goods. In the extreme, we will give up freedom, preferring to be equally subject to one power and safe from being proved inferior to another than free to exercise our unequal abilities.