In 1831, French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville came to America. What started as a review of American prisons became an expedition to search out the source of American strength. He crisscrossed the country scribbling notes of his observations as he went. The result was his classic (and remarkably still relevant) work Democracy in America. Tocqueville hoped his book would give the people of his native France perspective on democracy in their own country and the turbulent times in which they lived.
Francois, a French friend of mine, has been doing something like this for several years now. From time to time, he visits a different part of the United States, taking lengthy road trips—east and west coasts; the Rockies and the Mississippi Delta; Bourbon Street and Fifth Avenue—all in an effort to explore as much of America as possible. But not to study the penal system. Francois has a very different agenda. He is scouting out where he would like to live and raise his family.
Yes, this modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville has had enough of Europe. Entrepreneur might be a French word, but its meaning has been eclipsed by other French words like bureaucracy and confiscation. Indeed, so crushing is the tax burden, that some of the government inspectors responsible for issuing business licenses will tell you—strictly off the record, of course—that for an entrepreneur to succeed, the proprietor must not report all his income. How would you live? Don’t be so naïve, they say. Stash a bit of it away and out of the government’s reach. Imagine the IRS giving you that advice.
“You can enjoy Europe,” Francois often tells me, “because you aren’t subject to our income tax and business laws.”
Only partially true, his point is nonetheless well taken. Visiting one of Europe’s secular socialist democracies is a different experience from living there. He well understood that I enjoyed a degree of freedom that he had only sampled while visiting America.
More alarming to Francois—who is, much to my endless amusement, more Red State Republican than French socialist—is his country’s current immigration policy. He packed up his family and fled the big city some years ago when violence, theft, and poverty spilled over into his once fashionable neighborhood. Islamic terrorist attacks like Charlie Hebdo, the mass shooting in Paris, and the Nice truck rampage have become common to France and Europe. Francois feels triangulated in a country that, while geographically the largest in Western Europe, is still considerably smaller than the state of Texas. Where to go?
The United States.
Bear in mind that this is no Third World migrant seeking political asylum. This is a man who is a productive citizen of a country that is, for many on the Left, a model of what America should be. So far, Francois’s efforts to obtain visas for himself and his family have been unsuccessful. But what I hate to tell my friend is that America is slowly—no, rapidly—becoming very much like the country and the continent that he is trying to escape. The United States, exceptional for so long if only insofar as it had not yet surrendered its faith, its sovereignty, and its patriotism like the rest of the Western world, is now being hijacked by unlawful elements who would overthrow all three in the manner of a French uprising.
Stories like Francois’s intrigue me because I encounter them regularly. For him, America’s exceptionalism has a strong appeal, and yet, to hear the narrative emanating from the Left, one gets the distinct impression that this is precisely what they hate most about America. Trump’s rallying cry, “Make America Great Again,” is, to them, offensive for one word: Again. This is because they don’t think America was great to begin with. In their narrative, America’s freedom and prosperity are merely historical accidents and they are the agents of retribution.
One wonders if these would-be revolutionaries, amidst the apparently intoxicating thrill of burning police cars and destroying public property, have given any thought to what would replace America were they, in fact, able to topple it like an old statue? It seems to me that they haven’t. Whatever America’s sins—and abortion, not racism, is, in our time, high on that list—it remains, as Lincoln put it, “the last best hope on earth.”
Francois is instructive here. His yearning to immigrate to America is more typical than you might think. Maybe people like him have simply watched too many American movies and don’t really know what this country is like and shouldn’t want to live among us. Or maybe guy’s like him recognize what many Americans do not: chiefly, that there are few places in the world that allow human flourishing. On the contrary, most actively suppress it in one manner or another, be it politically, economically, or religiously.
To provide a bit of perspective, I thought it might be interesting to do what Alexis de Tocqueville did—but in reverse. That is, rather than traveling across America as he did, go, instead, around the world to see how we compare to those countries that serve as a model for the new America the Left aspires to create.
So, beginning Sunday August 27, 2017, I will, in the manner of Jules Verne’s classic novel, go around the world in 80 days, hitting six continents and 23 countries. Along the way, I will explore the question of national greatness. Is it simply a matter of economics or is religion a factor? Does socialism really work or is it a government-sponsored Ponzi scheme? Is America past her prime and should the Statue of Liberty be relocated to Sweden or Switzerland or Japan?
What will I find? In the end, this is the question to be answered: If America’s not great, who is? Follow the expedition and find out.
Larry Alex Taunton is a cultural commentator, freelance writer, and the author of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens and The Grace Effect. You can follow him at larryalextaunton.com or on Twitter @larrytaunton.