Misquoting de Toqueville, with wild, made up stuff


Justice Sutherland is probably storming around his tomb, more than just rolling in his grave.

Putting words in the mouths of historic figures. de Tocqueville did not say this -- and the quote doesn't appear until 1951. Barely pre-John Birch Society.

Putting words in the mouths of historic figures. de Tocqueville did not say this — and the quote doesn’t appear until 1951. Barely pre-John Birch Society.

Ho, ho, ho.  This ugly distortion of democratic operations in the American republic comes around every time some Democrat proposes to spend money to make America great. Oddly, it never comes around when a Republican proposes to spend money to build death machines or take America to war.

The sentiment assumes that Congress is inherently corrupt — which it is only in Mark Twain quips.  Your congressman isn’t corrupt, you say, as about 80% of Americans agree.  Only when they get together . . .

It’s a good one-liner.  It’s bad politics, bad analysis, and bad history.  de Tocqueville didn’t say it, one can easily learn at Wikiquote.

Who said it?  Where did it come from?  Wikiquote, again:

This is a variant expression of a sentiment which is often attributed to Tocqueville or Alexander Fraser Tytler, but the earliest known occurrence is as an unsourced attribution to Tytler in “This is the Hard Core of Freedom” by Elmer T. Peterson in The Daily Oklahoman (9 December 1951): “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”

Who was Elmer T. Peterson — and more importantly, why should anyone pay heed to his distortion of the operations of the Constitutional republic we have?

Peterson was a professor and Dean of the College of Education at Iowa State University in the mid-20th century.

Peterson published two studies in collaboration with Dr. Everet F. Lindquist, Malcolm P. Price and Henry A. Jeep: “A Census of the Public School Teaching Personnel of Iowa for the School Year 1928-29”, published by the state of Iowa in 1932, and “Teacher Supply and Demand in Iowa,” published by the University of Iowa in the same year.

Brian Williams was suspended from the NBC Nightly News for less. Will the Sutherland Institute resign, now?

More:

  • The Sutherland Institute is a right-wing, states rights and anti-government group in Utah, mis-named (IMHO) after Utah’s only U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland; to the best of my knowledge, Sutherland avoided returning to Utah as much as possible after he left the Senate, a continuing part of his trials after bolting from the LDS Church; as a justice, Sutherland represented a much discredited philosophy, but keeps respect among modern scholars despite “the distinction of having more opinions overruled than any other justice in the history of the Court” (John Fox, writing for the PBS series on the Supreme Court; yes, it’s an odd claim)

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