Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 3:42 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 57º


Harris Sherline: Who Said It?

Prescient observations about America merit a closer look today.

The following quotations don’t really need any explanation . In my opinion, they are all self-evident truths, obvious in their implications and portent. Who authored them?


I’ll give you a clue: None of them are contemporary. (My comments are in parentheses.)

“A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay for it.” (Almost 50 percent of American workers do not pay any income tax at all.)

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (An article of faith that I believe is true.)

“Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” (Considering the political landscape today, we seem to be rapidly falling into this trap.)

“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?” (Money still talks and controls the levers of power in America.)

"Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” (Defines the nature of capitalist vs. socialist or communist societies.)

“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” (Think “politically correct” and the unrelenting hostility of our political discourse today.)

“In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” (Graphically illustrated by the overwhelming presence of today’s political correctness.)

“In politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.” (Have you ever noticed how political alliances are often like sharks circling prey in the water?)

“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” (Seems obvious to me.)

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” (Consider the extent of pork-barrel politics today.)

“The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.” (The evolution of American English since I was in high school during the 1940s has been a constant source of amazement and amusement to me.)

“There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult — to begin a war and to end it.” (Examples: World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.)

“There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” (Consider the role the courts play in America today, especially “legislating from the bench.”)

“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” (Another description of capitalism vs. socialism and communism.)

“The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through.” (American society is still largely based on a combination of wealth and lineage dating back to the Mayflower.)

“All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.” (An interesting observation in light of the current war being waged against the United States by Islamofascists, which is causing us to voluntarily restrict many of our freedoms.)

“Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.” (Just human nature, right?)

“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.” (No comment needed.)

The foregoing observations were all made by Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who visited America in 1831 at age 25 and wrote a two-volume study, Democracy in America, first published in 1834. His prescient observations are as valid today as they were more than 170 years ago and, from the vantage point of having visited here so early in our history, it’s truly remarkable how accurate his conclusions about the contemporary American character and system of government were.

De Tocqueville’s writings are considered one of the most insightful works ever written about America. For my money, they should be required reading for everyone in politics. But, that’s just my opinion.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog,

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