Friday, March 8, 2013

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.

1 comment:

  1. Ha , Browne was a vigorous coiner of new, invented words, dozens beginning with D alone -denigrator - decumbency -dedenition - deductive. He'd doubtless have approved of your neologism, preferring the Latin roots usually, though electricity from 'electron' for amber is a great Greek one of his. Not seen this paragraph liked or discussed in the bloggosphere before. Always helpful to cite the precise paragraph number to see where this one came from, and is going in his labyrinthine digressions !