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Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Two hundred and thirty years: From ‘revolutionary’ hope to institutional backwardness
By Matthew Shugart (guestblogger) @ 12:44 pm

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions… But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

-Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1810

The above quotation, carved literally in stone on the fourth panel of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, District of Columbia, conveys a sentiment that is virtually forgotten in America today. In fact, Jefferson warned against what he referred to as “sanctimonious reverence” for the Constitution and its founders. Yet today-and especially literally today, on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence-American culture practices an idolatry with respect to the Founding that has become an excuse for tolerating a form of democracy that is increasingly behind the times.

The quotation with which this post begins is quoted, in part, in the conclusion of an excellent piece in today’s Los Angeles Times by Mark Kurlansky. It begins:

SOMEONE HAS TO SAY IT or we are never going to get out of this rut: I am sick and tired of the founding fathers and all their intents.

The real American question of our times is how our country in a little over 200 years sank from the great hope to the most backward democracy in the West.

Indeed. And I very highly recommend the entire piece.

At Fruits and Votes, I have much more on this theme, and an extension of this post (or “planting” as I say over there).

2 Comments »

  1. I must disagree with your recommendation regarding Kurlansky’s piece in the Times. He starts off by laying down three strawmen (our health care, education, and workers benefits are worse) without offering any facts to support them. Clearly he considers Europe more progressive and enlightened, although he fails to mention the lack of economic growth, chronically high unemployment rates, and expensive social programs that result in tax rates approaching 50% of GDP. But why get confused with facts when you can toss out a few platitudes from Thoreau and Trollope instead and your analysis somehow is viewed as thoughtful and incisive. Following Kurlansky’s lead, here is another quote from Tocqueville - “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” His warning sounds oddly like what Europe has done to itself.

    Comment by ts — Tuesday, July 4, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

  2. […] te shock value to his primarily American audience. First, he promotes the view that we are the most backward democracy in the west (I assume he excepts France, gridlocked as it is by general strikes a […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Don’t hold your breath: U.S. soccer prospects — Tuesday, July 4, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

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