The current issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is about The Future. Different predictions of the future, thoughts, hopes, dreams, etc., throughout time are shared, some horribly bleak, others remarkably bright. The piece out of this quarter’s issue that I decided to focus on is called “Managing the Future,” by Alexis de Tocqueville.
One of the reasons why I found this essay so interesting was because it’s about the American government and American Nationalism, yet it was written in 1840 by a Frenchman about his brief nine month stay in America. Tocqueville’s take on America is scathing, to say the least. He says that while American politicians always speak of The Future in a lofty and optimistic manner, when it comes to actually doing things that will pay off later (and possibly not now), they don’t. According to him, not only are American politicians truly nearsighted, but they “will surrender themselves endlessly to the casual whims of daily desire and that they will abandon entirely anything which requires long-term effort, thus failing to establish anything noble or calm or lasting.”
The reason this essay stuck out to me was because it’s a problem I still see in this country today, even though Tocqueville was observing this in the 1830s, and I think I can safely say that I am not the only one. The call for practicality and teamwork in Tocqueville’s piece was a message that I’d like to see applied today, even though by now Tocqueville was hoping we’d be there already.