Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

Soft Despotism, Indefinite Longevity, and Other Stuff

So I’ve taken a break from blogging for a while for several reasons.  I was at Mercer University in Macon, GA for a great conference on Alexis de Tocqueville.  I gave the opening lecture.

Then we had our second big and hugely successful STUCK WITH VIRTUE conference at Berry College. 

And my wife’s sister, Sara, who lives with us, has been very sick, but she’s now doing better and is out of danger.

Here’s what I talked about at Mercer:  Tocqueville sort-of prediction that the democratic tendency toward individualism–or apathetic emotional withdrawal–would lead to soft despotism–or our surrnder of our futures to the petty tyranny of schoomarmish bureacurats–has probably turned out to be wrong.  Tocqueville thought the limit to individualism would be the family.  The American men he described were kind of boring and certainly not very erotic.  But they still managed to get married and have loads of kids.  The result of the indvidualistic tendency in our time is that people are both living longer and longer and having fewer and fewer kids.  So we have a demographic crisis that is causing the welfare state–with its various safety nets–to implode.  The bad news, perhaps, is each of us is going to end up more on his or her own than ever.  The good is that we’re going to remain free, because BIG GOVERNMENT can’t cure what ails us these days.  In a way, the libertarians are winning, although, unlike THE TEA PARTIERS, I don’t see that as anywhere near a completely good thing.

Next Friday I’m giving the “Grand Rounds” lecture at St. Louis University medical school.  I’m going to talk about the moral significance of our quest for indefinite longevity. 

What’s the connection between the two lectures?  People these days, contrary to the intention of nature as described by Mr. Darwin, are acting less and less like beings who’ll be replaced.  Or at least they’re finding less compensation than ever in the ambiguous fact that they’ll live on in a way in their children. Our indvidualists are not at all apathetic in their own cases;  they really want to stay around.  More than ever, at least sophisticated individuals tend to believe that being itself will be extinguished with one’s own biological demise. 


Up Next