A Fabulous Small Jew
The best living essayist, Joseph Epstein, has a gem of a piece in today's Wall Street Journal. I've always found pleasure in applying Alexis de Tocqueville's generalizations to modern cases. Epstein writes:
Applying his generalizations to contemporary cases is provocative. Take our war in Iraq. Does he have anything to contribute to the discussion? In his chapters on the military and war and peace among democracies, Tocqueville, with that characteristic combination of loftiness and directness, writes: "There are two things that will always be difficult for a democratic people to do: to start a war and to finish it." Now there, as they used to say in English departments, is a sentence that resonates.
There is simply no denying the fact that for too many Americans (at lest the ones I know) this war against terror feels like anything but a war. Their hearts are just not in it. Why not?
But why should democracies find it so difficult to start and to finish wars? Tocqueville's response is complex: The martial spirit is less in democracies than in aristocracies; moreover, "the wealthiest, best educated, most capable citizens of democratic nations are unlikely to pursue careers in the military. . ." Citizens in a democracy have "an excessive love of tranquility," and war gets in the way of their striving for increased wealth and material comfort. Tocqueville himself wasn't opposed to war. He thought it "almost always enlarges the thought and ennobles the heart." But he felt that democracies were not in the best condition to wage it.
It is that "excessive love of tranquility" that gets to me on a daily basis here in Brentwood. Why have I never once overheard a gorgeous blonde on a cellphone at my next door Starbucks express her fear that the synagouge she attends might be a terrorist target? Or a Hollywood player talk of the sacrifice of our soldiers? Is it because they want to forget about what's out there? I guess Tocqueville answered that 175 years ago.