Courtesy Reuters

The Legislator as Educator

My long tenure in the Senate, much of it under less than tranquil and serene circumstances, may have compromised my capacity for objective judgment of a legislator's role in our democratic system. But today, in face of the skepticism voiced in some quarters about the fate of the SALT II agreement, together with the developments in Iran, I confess to increasingly serious misgivings about the ability of the Congress to play a constructive role in our foreign relations. Though these misgivings are far from confined to the Congress, I find myself haunted by Alexis de Tocqueville's famous statement nearly a century and a half ago: "I do not hesitate to say that it is especially in the conduct of their foreign relations that democracies appear to be decidedly inferior to other governments. . . . Foreign politics demand scarcely any of those qualities which are peculiar to a democracy; they require, on the contrary, the perfect use of almost all those in which it is deficient."

Tocqueville was impressed by the vilification heaped upon George Washington by Congress and the public for his opposition to joining the French in their war on England, and also by Washington's Farewell Address, in which he said, "The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."

As I contemplate the events of the recent past and even of the present, I am struck by the foresight of Tocqueville and the profound wisdom of Washington. I take some comfort from Thomas Jefferson, who had such confidence in the ultimate wisdom of the average man, although he and his principal associates were far from being average.

In the early years of this century, foreign policy professionals were confronted with the expansion of popular democracy beyond local and domestic matters to encompass foreign policy as

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.