The United States was founded on an extraordinary wager upon the nature of the human spirit; predicated on the belief that men valued life and liberty above all; that in order to preserve their individual awareness in order to pursue happiness they would take risks. But let’s face the truth, as Seidel [sic] says, people don’t want the anxiety of liberty. The Founders lost the bet. “Perhaps the dream of a country ruled by ‘We the people’ is impossibly utopian.”
Maybe it was. Maybe the Founding Fathers were wrong after all to imagine that men craved freedom. In reality what men craved was Kings; whether in person or in parliament made no difference, for so long as it was some agency to which they could hand over all responsibility for their daily lives. And in exchange they would receive food in the Hall or its modern equivalent, the Mall, till it ran out. Free food till Grendel comes to Heorot — their sole concern being how near or far to the raised table and fire they were in the interim. If Seidel’s [sic] right that’s all there is to history: a kind of temporary gaiety with one ear open to the approaching sounds of the night. That’s all it will ever be.
Which brings me once more to a quotation from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I first encountered it long ago in high school, when we were assigned to read the Grand Inquisitor chapter from that book (something I find hard to believe; do public high schools require such reading today?).
It made a very deep impression on me back then. Although I don’t think I understood it all that well, it seemed very important. Fortunately or unfortunately, I understand it better today, and it still seems very important:
Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man?