From segment 1 of Peter Robinson's NRO Uncommon Knowledge interview of Paul Rahe about his book Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.
Robinson: Paul let me ask you a question. You said that President Obama's underlying intention is to cut health care costs. Do you believe that, or do - not so much with regard to President Obama personally as to the entire political impetus behind the health care legislation - or do you believe that there actually is a statist impulse in Washington that wishes to see the State expand for the sake of State expansion? Are they simply stumbling into this mistakenly? Or do they know what they're doing and want it?This is a fascinating interview.
Rahe: They know what they're doing and they want it.
Let me see if I can put it this way. We are all in the grips of the meddling impulse. If I were to say to you that you were a busybody you might say to me "surely not." And I would say to you "ask your children." And everyone's children would say that the parent is a busybody because we all feel that impulse. That is to say that we all feel that we know better than other people. (Sometimes we really do!) The more educated people become - when you give them Ph.D's, the more expertise they have - the more you have inflated their sense of the right to interfere in the lives of other people. So the Progressive impulse goes back to the 1870's and the 1880's and the establishment of major research universities on the German model in the United States.
The function of these institutions is to produce people who can successfully meddle in other people's lives.
Robinson: And in Barack Obama we have . . .
Rahe: The representative of that class. The perfect representative of that class.
Rahe: (Montesquieu) comes up with a political typology into republics, monarchies and despotisms, and monarchies are governments where you have a king, but his power is limited in one fashion or another - usually by a nobility. Despotism is unlimited power, and these operate on the basis of psychological principles. What drives a despotism is terror. What drives a monarchy is the sense of honor, the love of honor that elicits a certain kind of behavior from people. What's required in a republic is virtue. That's hard to achieve, because you have to train people in virtue and it doesn't come naturally or easy to us to prefer the public interest over the private interest.No indeed. And when the system stops teaching honor and virtue? When it, in fact, denigrates them both?