French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the early nineteenth century and wrote a large volume analyzing the nature of Americans in comparison to his fellow Europeans. “Democracy in America” is an incisive, highly detailed tome that startlingly prophesied many developments in America and international politics, including the Cold War (!).
Tocqueville also made many wise criticisms of and comments about American democracy, and its effects on our national and individual character. Pertinent to our endeavor to start a school, which is a public and communal organization, here are some of his words about how democracy causes Americans to turn inward into themselves, which degrades the country by removing private systems of social support to those in need (which is all of us at one time or another).
Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition…
As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellows, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.
Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.
In the succeeding chapters, de Toqueville goes on to show how Americans have historically counteracted this deficiency of individual and public character by creating free associations, organizations for meeting social needs. We think opening and committing to a school is one such endeavor that can counteract these deficiencies of public spirit and foster loving service to fellow Christians and Americans.