Thursday, February 17, 2005

Why The Americans Are So Restless In The Midst Of Their Prosperity

Sent to me by the wonderful Melina (my daughter), this is from Democracy In America (1835) by Alexis DeTocqueville:

It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it.

A native of the United States clings to this world's goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.

In the United States a man builds a house in which to spend his old age, and he sells it before the roof is on; he plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops; he embraces a profession and gives it up; he settles in a place, which he soon afterwards leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure, he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics; and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness. Death at length overtakes him, but it is before he is weary of his bootless chase of that complete felicity which forever escapes him.

[This] taste for physical gratifications must be regarded as the original source of that secret disquietude which the actions of the Americans betray and of that inconstancy of which they daily ford fresh examples. He who has set his heart exclusively upon the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach, to grasp, and to enjoy it.

The recollection of the shortness of life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things that he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others that death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode. More.

The portrait (above) of de Tocqueville is by Linda Marrinon and came from the roslyn oxley9 gallery.

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At 11:48 PM, Blogger Craig said...

Check out this article from Boundary 1999 written by Donald Pease, Avalon Professor of the Humanities at Dartmouth. I mention it because I think it's quite relevant to current events in the Middle East.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very relevant to this essay is the work of Allen de Botton "Status Anxiety". It is both written as a book and screened as a documentary.
Check it!


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