"Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all."
—Alexis de Tocqueville
Jamie, do you have a hero?" I asked my 14-year old recently.
"No dad." He replied. He went on to explain that such notions could be compared to idolatry.
When I was his age it was pretty easy to have a hero. Most of mine came from sports. In those days it was Roger Staubach and Earl Campbell for me. Both men lived seemingly exemplary lives on and off the field of play and gave those paying attention an example worthy of imitation.
Nowadays it seems only a matter of time before we learn of the next great steroid or gambling scandal in sports. How can we even hope to assess real athleticism in this "modern era" so riddled with performance enhancing drugs?
Whether we call them heroes or otherwise it seems we are losing our edge as a society for producing people who are merely good role models. The thirst our society has for fame seems to poison those who get the biggest doses of attention (and the money and power which seem to accompany it).
Our political leaders are perhaps the most lacking in modeling leadership.
For years, speech after speech has contained references to the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville from his visit to America in the 19th century contained in his "Democracy in America." It has been attributed frequently but incorrectly that Tocqueville observed:
"America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
The quote is superb, but alas it is not from Mssr. Tocqueville but lost in attribution from a speech starting with Ike in the 1950s and used time and again by speechwriters for the likes of Reagan and Clinton.
An excellent article on the topic can be found on the website Tocquevill.org titled "The Tocqueville Fraud" from The Weekly Standard Nov. 13, 1995.
The reason to bring this up to begin with is it seemed for a long time there was much goodness in America. So much so we could take pride in the position we held in the world community because we acted in the interest of mankind. Think about it. Our troops entered World War II for all the right reasons following leaders who didn't need to convince them we were "saving the world" as one veteran put it to me.
There were likely no polls conducted following the attack on Pearl Harbor to see if the public felt we should enter the war. The enormity of our unity was unquestionable. The only thing we had to question was whether the lines of passionate enlisters in our military contained people old enough to fight.
Now we have leaders who posture around polls and public opinion so completely it seems they can turn on a dime, or with the smallest breath of wind be moved to a new position of inaction.
"There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult.
To begin a war and to end it."
— de Tocqueville
What people admire who wish for greatness in leaders and role models is certainty in the storm. Decisive, well-advised action conceived prudently and backed up with the experience to move when the time is right.
America's greatness these days seems to be more about power than goodness or even authority. When you can only lead by brute force you better watch for your enemies both in front of you and behind you.
In my research on the Tocqueville quote I found one that sums up much of what has been discussed lately that seems to fit and is correctly attributed, according to my research:
"I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all."
—Alexis de Tocqueville
In light of this discussion it seems there is much wisdom on the part of my son to not have a hero.