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America the Communal

Each year, a tremendous amount of life insurance is purchased to benefit our country’s charities. Religious institutions, political organizations, health associations, and many other groups that strive to improve our lives, are supported by their donors. A life insurance policy enables a contributor to give a significant sum – which, if merited, could be a huge amount of money – to the cause of their choice, at a tremendously discounted cost.

Charitable giving through life insurance is a beautifully American thing to do. We may have not invented it, but it fits our character like a glove. We are a nation of self-reliant individuals, yet we band together in times of need. We love to do business, but we care about ourselves, our disadvantaged, and our future.

What does that future hold for America, and in particular, for all those communities we hold so dear?

Noted economic historian Niall Ferguson offers a sober assessment in an article published recently by the Wall Street Journal. You can get a sense of his critique from the title: “The Regulated States of America”. His byline: “Tocqueville saw a nation of individuals who were defiant of authority. Today? Welcome to Planet Government.”(1)

What is the America that Tocqueville saw when our nation was forming? Here is the account of Mr. Ferguson:

“In ‘Democracy in America,’ published in 1833, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the way Americans preferred voluntary association to government regulation. ‘The inhabitant of the United States,’ he wrote, ‘has only a defiant and restive regard for social authority and he appeals to it . . . only when he cannot do without it.’”

“Unlike Frenchmen, he continued, who instinctively looked to the state to provide economic and social order, Americans relied on their own efforts. ‘In the United States, they associate for the goals of public security, of commerce and industry, of morality and religion. There is nothing the human will despairs of attaining by the free action of the collective power of individuals.’”

“What especially amazed Tocqueville was the sheer range of nongovernmental organizations Americans formed: ‘Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations . . . but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fetes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools’.” (1)

What is the America that Tocqueville would see today? Here, again, according to Mr. Ferguson:

“Tocqueville would not recognize America today. Indeed, so completely has associational life collapsed, and so enormously has the state grown, that he would be forced to conclude that, at some point between 1833 and 2013, France must have conquered the United States.” (1)

Mr. Ferguson goes on to detail how dependent we have become on Washington, instead of joining together, to get things done. You and I are very much aware of how over-regulated our lives now are. Yet, Tocqueville saw this coming almost 200 years ago!

“Genius that he was, Tocqueville saw this transformation of America coming. Toward the end of ‘Democracy in America’ he warned against the government becoming ‘an immense tutelary power . . . absolute, detailed, regular . . . cover[ing] [society’s] surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way.’”

“Tocqueville also foresaw exactly how this regulatory state would suffocate the spirit of free enterprise: ‘It rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces [the] nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd’.” (1)

How demoralizing it is to be a shadow of your former self. Yet, all is not lost. As of right now we can reclaim our tradition of communal self-sufficiency. Give America a great birthday present by supporting the charity or community group of your choice.

(1) Niall Ferguson: The Regulated States of America – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal – Breaking News, Business, Financial and Economic News, World News & Video – Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 July 2013. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324021104578551291160259734.html