Perhaps it’s time to reacquaint with Alexis de Tocqueville, that guy you recall from high school U.S. history taught by the basketball coach. No wonder your recollection is foggy. So is mine.
Tocqueville wrote about us when there was sufficient perspective for his observations to have meaning. He was, after all, a European and our revolution (and his) was at least a generation behind them. Tocqueville’s Democracy in America appeared in two volumes in 1835/1840, at the heart of the Jacksonian Era. America was yet in the throes of inventing itself; self-birth has got to be painful. I wonder what parallels might be made between the 1840s and the 2000-teens, which is to say, What would Tocqueville make of us now?
The image above isn’t some family reunion of the late-summer sort, siblings sipping beers while cousins cavort in the late afternoon stillness and heat. This is something else; something troubling that Tocqueville would have noted. This is a picture of democracy still being born.
Leith is a town with sixteen inhabitants (according to the 2010 census) situated in Grant County in south-central North Dakota; a place where real estate goes begging and it’s a buyers market. Enter the American Nazi Party, intent on establishing a “White’s Only” enclave—it would soil the word “community” to have used it in this context—by snarfing up all the properties available for literally pennies. North Dakotans are hardy people; isolation and extreme weather have made us that way. Remember a few years ago when Rand-McNally published a U.S. atlas that neglected to include North Dakota? That sort of treatment can make you cranky. There’s a wide streak of cantankerousness hereabouts that 1) demands its Second Amendment Rights, while simultaneously 2) clinging to boldly Socialist institutions like a state-owned bank and a state-owned mill and elevator, all the while not seeing any conflict inherent in these contradictions.
Now, I don’t think Agincourt is ripe for a similar take-over. But I do hope there might be a comparable independence among its citizens. And that its patterns of association and assembly would be worthy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s discerning eye and discriminate pen.
Homecoming and its Cohorts
Tocqueville was captivated by the tendency of Americans to associate at the drop of a pin. We form, reform and unform, cluster and scatter with such rapidity that sociologists are hard-put to keep track, let alone take stock. In a typical year in Agincourt, how many gatherings will have brought together people variously of like mind and similar intention? My friend Howard needs to write about some of these. Consider:
- High School Homecomings and Reunions (either year-specific or “all-school”)
- National holidays that are community oriented, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July/Independence Day, Labor Day (despite the anti-union sentiment so prevalent today), and
- National holidays that are more family oriented, like Thanksgiving
- Religious holidays like Easter and Christmas (despite its secularization); but where do you put New Years?
- Purely local holidays, like Founders’ Day on October 25th (celebrating the incorporation of Agincourt as well as the actual Battle of Agincourt, for which the town is named)
- Elections (local, state and national) that bring us out as “party animals” of a different sort
- School graduations (grade, high and college)
- Anniversaries (personal, i.e. birthdays and weddings; and those of businesses and institutions), especially those ending in a zero or two (50th, 100th and 150th anniversary celebrations)
- Cultural events, like sport, music, theater, art, etc.
- Protest, like the folks converging on Leith, to say that it is both American and Un-American to form a community of like-minded individuals and to protest that exclusionary process
What have I forgot? And how should we prioritize them for treatment in the narrative?