Life Outside

Anti-Gnostic recently posted this passage from Alexis de Tocqueville on another site:

“Amongst democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken, and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class approximates to other classes, and intermingles with them, its members become indifferent and as strangers to one another. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain, and severs every link of it. As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich enough nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellow-creatures, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

Profound and prophetic. Deracinated me-man. A miserable island unto himself. A fellowship bereft of fellows. And worse, a man severed from the generational chords that connect him to father and son. Never to accept the civilizational estate from the former, as he squanders the inheritance of the latter. Tocqueville: …threatens to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

There are few so wretched as those living solely in the squalor of their own lives.

And this reminded me of similar conversations through the years. The exact time, place, and content of the words has been long forgotten, though I recall musing with a friend of the newly panoramic view from fatherhood. Of what felt like a spiritual molting. Of stepping beyond the confined space of our own small lives and realizing that we are all very short links in a very long chain. Of relinquishing with resignation a young man’s diversions for a grown man’s responsibility. Of fighting against life’s changing seasons…and learning to lose with perhaps some grace.

And that final loss–suffered by every man–is rendered palatable only by the comfort of a role well performed. Of a life that was worth the living. Of a link that strengthened the chain. For most that will come from a conscientious stewardship of the civilization to be bequeathed to one’s true children and theirs. For some, from the courage, laughter, or innovation that inspire their people. Though for all, the final sleep arrives most gently to those who live on in others. And for those who find Earth’s most cherished object in the mirror…the sting of its approaching finality will be acute.

And this is what so many have either had taken or crassly cast away. The arteries from our past to our future, and between those with us in the today. We are not merely of ourselves. We are a part of something more. Something ancient and organic. And we have a part to play. Perhaps our children’s skin will one day be warmed by the light of a distant star. Perhaps their feet will fall upon other planets. But for that, they must have a place on this one. And that is our part to play.



4 thoughts on “Life Outside

  1. Good post. It’s enough to make a guy want to knock up his lady this very day.

    It’s grimly hilarious watching Millennials fail to understand all this, and instead flail around programming sexting apps and writing elaborate Yelp reviews to distract them from the icy creeping hand of Middle Age (Death’s little brother) wrapping around their necks. The relative scarcity of families with children is also part of the oppressive atmosphere of big cities; sure there are ten million places to get drunk out of your mind and look for an easy lay for the night, but it turns out that maintaining full sanity requires a sense of connection to past and future generations (the movie Children of Men presented this very effectively IMO), underscored by regular real-life contact with them.

    It’s good to be occasionally reminded that the real, visceral reason to hate the modern world is because it’s so artificial and foreign to human nature, and that much better alternatives are possible.

  2. This is a really good post. I’m honored to have had a role in its inspiration.

    I can’t quite articulate why, but it strikes me that there is surely some significance, even to the meanest among us, that we represent the latest link in that great chain of being from the beginning of time to the present day. What an incredible gift, to be endowed with the ability to keep forging that chain. And K-selected individuals cede it to r-selected. What the bloody hell are we thinking?

    • Take heart. There are still some who think as they wish. I’ve had one, I want more. I’m still breathing after all.

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