This pair of paragraphs comes from a Touchstone Magazine (so far pretty disappointed) book review by Peter Leithart (where have I heard of this guy?) of a book by Matthew Maguire, "The Conversion of Imagination: From Pascal Through Rousseau to Tocqueville."
The review gives the book a pretty intriguing turn. The theme seems to be that imagination was transformed between 1775 to 1825 from something held in disdain to a critical tool in life, but that it remains "unconverted," and therefore still dangerous. Imagination is given a lot of power now, but no direction, so it tends to leads us to either thinking we are gods or that we don't really exist. Both bad effects.
Please forgive the incompleteness of this summary, and realize that it may be pretty misleading, being so short, but it sets the stage a little bit for the quote that really intrigued me from the review.
Imagination plays no role in the constitution of a democratic regime: democracies bow before the truth of natural equality. Lacking the imaginative ascent characteristics of an aristocracy, democracies weigh imagination down: As Maguire puts it, "Tocqueville's presiding metaphor for democracy [is] a gravitational force acting on imagination."
Realistic drama and fiction, and colorless fashions, are the best democracies have to offer. Normally, democratic imagination riss no higher than "inventing means of increasing riches and of satisfying the needs of the public." Tocqueville admires America, but mainly because in America imaginative energy flourishes within a system that supresses it."
Maybe in 1835 America had imaginative energy. Would I really dare believe that possible? Well, sure. There's actual evidence.
I'm not sure much such evidence exists to commend the 21st century here.
I have been looking for "it," the thing I am uncomfortable with about America. To call it consumerism is to identify the sickening symptom, but not the cause, not the illness.
To blame democracy for teaching the people to vote themselves corn and circuses is in the same boat. The weak become powerful in a democracy, yet fail to become strong. Their voice is heard, but their voice that of a petulant child asking for more candy and more TV (high-def TV, with lots of original programming), not that of a mature person trying to better himself through better government.
But to think that democracy kills imagination. Now, there's a root cause that makes sense.
I have never liked the idea of making the church a democracy.
Now I know why.