Such a district assembly would be the proper body to take cognizance of all projects for canals, rail-roads, gas-works, water-works, and other undertakings, which, on account of trespassing on private property, could not be executed without the authority of the law. Every one must see at a glance how great would be the relief to the national legislature, if all these minor matters were resigned to other bodies more competent to deal with them. should be the principle of the supreme assembly. It should rigorously abstain from doing what can be done as well or better without its interference, and direct its undivided energies to those points which involve the welfare of the whole empire, or which subordinate powers are incompetent to effect.
One truth, at least, we think, sufficiently manifest. The Tory writers have said, and said truly, that tranquillity and prosperity, in a country placed in the peculiar physical circumstances of America, proves little for the safety of democratic institutions among the crowded population, the innumerable complications and causes of dissatisfaction, which exist in older countries. Had they stopped there, every rational person would have been of their opinion. But when they proceed to argue as if the experiment of democracy had been tried in America under circumstances wholly favourable, they are totally mistaken. America is, in many important points, nearly the most unfavourable field in which democracy could have been tried. With regard, indeed, to the vulgar apprehensions which haunt vulgar minds, of agrarian laws, and schemes of sweeping confiscation, the circumstances of the experiment are undoubtedly as favourable as could be desired. But these are the fears only of those to whom is terrible. In everything which concerns the influences of democracy on intellect and social life, its virtues could nowhere be put upon a harder trial than in America; for no civilized country is placed in circumstances tending more to produce mediocrity in the one, or dullness and inelegance in the other. Everything in the position of America tends to foster the spirit of trade, the passion of money-getting, and that almost alone.
Here certainly is no advocate of a centralized state socialism.
In the last two chapters of his essay he examines how his libertarian principle may be reasonably interpreted and applied. In limited space he tried to explore a vast subject with wide moral and social ramifications. To make this endeavour manageable he attempts to assign one part of life to individuality and another to society, a venture in logic that creates difficulties and confusions which critics have long stressed. It is not feasible in this introduction to traverse the wide range of the argument. But it may be useful to note some instances where he applies his principle to concrete human situations: to the indulgence of an individual in alcohol, drugs, and gambling; to the provision of education; to economic life; and to the governance of the state.