As Stephen Colbert has said: “My country ’tis of me, sweet man of liberty!”
Actually he was right. I’ve argued that the idea of democracy – the idea of self-government, of the people ruling themselves – logically leads to the idea of individual self-government, to anarchy; that mere majority rule, the government of the many over the few, is precisely not any form of self-government and does not deserve the term “democracy.”
In the following passage Mark Twain seems to be working his way toward the same idea:
For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the Country”? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.
Who are the thousand – that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country – hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
(Mark Twain, Papers of the Adam Family.)
(Conical hat tip to J. Michael Straczynski, in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man – though I then looked it up to make sure it was a genuine quotation.)
No, Twain hadn’t gotten all the way yet. Individual self-government and collective self-government were still blurred together in his mind. But the seeds were there.