Amidst all the flap over Romney’s “47% remarks,” Sam Gregg momentarily (and blessedly) draws our attention from the relatively less important issue of the ballot box to the more important issue of what kind of people the American people want to be:

I doubt that thick books are in vogue at MSNBC these days, but if the liberal commentariat deigned to pick up a copy of the second volume of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and read the chapter entitled “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,” they’d find the link between creating tame citizens and a state that generously volunteers to do everything on their behalf spelt out quite gracefully . . . More than one commentator has observed that Tocqueville’s words seem to foreshadow some of the cultural and political effects of the regulatory and welfare state in the conditions of modern democracy. Many people find themselves lulled into a type of dependency upon the government. The “softness” of this despotism consists of people voluntarily yielding up their freedom in return for the comforts provided by their oh-so-kind masters.

Why, then, do we not see very strong correlations between dependency and voting patterns, as Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out (and many, many others have discussed at The Corner and here on First Thoughts)? Among the many theories that have been offered, let me add one factor I haven’t seen addressed yet: in a two-party system, the parties have a strong incentive to chase the center. That is part of the special value and glory of the two-party system, which is one of the best and most effective means of sustaining justice in a democracy. However, one of its consequences is that, as the center shifts away from republican self-reliance to socialist servility, both parties will chase it in that direction. This is part of the reason elections exercise less control over the behavior of the state than we would be comfortable admitting .

Dependency may or may not help elect Democrats. But it will make slaves of the American people just as effectively either way.

Articles by Greg Forster

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