by Tela Zasloff
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat with training in law, came to the United States in 1831 to observe our democracy and, at the astoundingly young age of 26, wrote a brilliant analysis that appears as fresh and convincing today as it did then. In beginning our new enterprise, The Greylock Independent, we relish particularly what he had to say about newspapers.
“Newspapers,” said Tocqueville, “are the only means, in a democracy, of persuading a great number of citizens simultaneously that, to protect their private interests, they have to join with others in the public interest.” He argued that this role that newspapers played was the best antidote we had against unbridled individualism–to his mind, the greatest threat to our young democracy. And if we focus only on maintaining the press as a source of free expression, we miss the greater role that newspapers play—they draw us together to a common purpose. “To suppose that they only serve to protect freedom would be to diminish their importance: they maintain civilization”, even if they mislead us often into “very ill-digested schemes.” A newspaper can reproduce what we each think or feel singly, and “guided towards this beacon, these wandering minds, which had long sought each other in darkness, at length meet and unite.”
What’s more, a newspaper, said Tocqueville, can unite a community in a unique way, with its own irresistible kind of persuasion. “A newspaper can drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment. A newspaper is an adviser that does not require to be sought, but that comes of its own accord and talks to you briefly every day, of the common weal, without distracting you from your private affairs.”
“Wandering minds which had long sought each other in darkness” is probably over-the-top in describing how many of us feel about the loss of both northern Berkshires newspapers. But, yes, we still need a medium through which we can talk to each other, in large numbers, about our common interests. And extending our definition of newspapers to contain all the variety of mass media available to us today, doesn’t change that need. We hope that our new enterprise will be a small beacon for wandering minds, by which we can all talk to each other briefly before returning to private life.