“The question now is,” continued Alfred [eldest son of Mr. Campbell], “as two of the parties, France and England, have so proved short-sighted, whether the Americans, having thrown off their allegiance, have not equally been so in their choice of a democratical government?”
The American experiment was barely a half-century old when Marryat wrote his response to this question, and, to be fair, he was a product of his time; an English gentleman, born to a class system and believing that there were those born to rule. Interestingly, as I prepared to write Rebels on the Mountain I learned that Americans of the wealthier classes believed much the same thing. They were loathe to trust Cubans and their ability to rule themselves, opting instead to support continued governance by a dictator of their choosing, one who would be amenable to their interests, of course.
“How far a modern democracy may succeed, I am not prepared to say,” replied Mr. Campbell; “but this I do know, that in ancient times, their duration was generally very short, and continually changing to oligarchy and tyranny. One thing is certain, that there is no form of government under which the people become so rapidly vicious, or where those who benefit them are treated with such ingratitude.”
One cannot argue with Marryat on this point. Classical democracies, notably Greece, devolved abruptly after a very short life. The American form of democracy was yet a mystery to him and he may be excused for comparing it with earlier democracies.
Forging ahead, after Campbell's eldest son, Alfred, asks him to explain further, Marryat expounds his own views from the lips of his fictional character.
Most of our founders agreed with Marryat that democracy was the equivalent of mob rule and they eschewed it. However, they are long gone and we have been drifting perceptibly towards social democracy, especially during the past fifty years. The majority of Americans, led by progressives of both major parties, principally wealthy Democrats, deem their wisdom beyond that of the founders and find more ways to circumvent the Constitution to effect laws that they see as good and proper. Good intentions trump good governance, and now we begin to see the flattery and servility that Marryat bespoke. Elected representatives have become more prized for their image than for their acumen. Furthermore, the cost of projecting that image to become elected has risen to a degree that forces incumbents to disgorge public funds to keep the support of their constituents.
If anyone is still tempted to dismiss Marryat, just look to the continuation of his observations in this fictional family discussion.
“How far the Americans may disprove such an opinion,” continued Mr. Campbell, “remains to be seen; but this is certain, they have commenced their new form of government with an act of such gross injustice, as to warrant the assumption that all their boasted virtues are pretense. I refer to their not liberating their slaves. They have given to the lie their own assertions in the Declaration of Independence, in which they have declared all men equal and born free, and we cannot expect the Divine blessing upon those who, when they emancipated themselves, were so unjust as to hold their fellow-creatures in bondage. The time will come, I have no doubt, although perhaps not any of us here present may see the day, when the retribution will fall upon the heads of their offspring; for the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, even to the third and fourth generation...”
Writing in 1848, fully twelve years before the American Civil War, Marryat certainly was correct in that prophesy.
Possibly, President Bush was not speaking of what the United States is, but rather, what it is becoming. If so, the world may be disappointed then to learn that no one is left to champion liberty and the rule of law. Who will protect the minority, the underdog, as America championed them against the tyranny of the Axis Powers during World War II, when the United States itself becomes just another bastion of mob rule? The present Administration provides no clear indication of any hope of change. It appears to be following the same muddled thinking that has dominated American foreign policy, with only one notable exception, for the past fifty years, and its response to the Arab Spring has been to lash out at the only nation in the Middle East that resembles our early republic, while the others wrestle their way from one tyranny to another.
The biggest argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the average voter -- Winston Churchill