Friday, March 8, 2013

Wow -- a cogent criticism

So – a commenter mentioned that it would be worthwhile to mention where in Religio Medici my little quotation comes from: It's Section XXIV of Part I. Widely available on line; I like Bartleby.

Sir Thomas Browne and demosclerosis

The august Instapundit links today to Mickey Kaus’s discussion of Walter Russell Mead, which leads to links to discussions of demosclerosis, a term invented by Jonathan Rauch in Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government (1994).

Basically, the idea is that the government is too big and does too much, so too many people are invested in and lobby for particular government programs, causing the true commonweal to be ignored.

But this is not a new problem. It happens in all large systems. For instance, in his Religio Medici (1643), Sir Thomas Browne wrote

Tis not a melancholy Utinam of my own, but the desires of better heads, that there were a general Synod; not to unite the incompatible difference of Religion, but for the benefit of learning, to reduce it as it lay at first, in a few and solid Authors; and to condemn to the fire those swarms and millions of Rhapsodies, begotten only to distract and abuse the weaker judgements of Scholars, and to maintain the trade and mystery of Typographers.

As a quondam typographer, I’ve long liked this sentiment. I have, more than once, added to the “swarms and millions of Rhapsodies” – books which, I can only hope, were never read and, if read, not remembered.

Of course, now there is hardly any typography left … and don't get me started on copy-editing and proofreading.

To return to my point: Let us reduce, not learning, but the Federal law “as it lay at first,” stripping from it that legislation which serves “only to distract and abuse the weaker judgements” of lawyers, judges, politicians, and pundits.