One of the significant aspects of our democracy that gives virtually every organized group the ability to have impact on the public policy that can shape the life they live, is the freedom to assemble and organize and speak out for your particular interest; whether it be international policy or model airplanes.
Count Alexis De Tocqueville came to America in the early 1800’s, met with many of the founders and wrote one of the most perceptive books ever written about America. Here is but a small part of what he said about voluntary associations—those nonprofits which represent the largest group of special interests.
“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fetes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.
“I have since traveled through England, from which the Americans took some of their laws and many of their usages, and it appeared to me that there they were very far from making as constant and as skilled a use of association.
“It often happens that the English execute very great things in isolation, whereas there is scarcely an undertaking so small that Americans do not unite for it. It is evident that the former consider association as a powerful means of action; but the latter seem to see in it the sole means they have of acting.
“Thus the most democratic country on earth is found to be, above all, the one where men in our day have most perfected the art of pursuing the object of their common desires in common and have applied this new science to the most objects. Does this result from an accident or could it be that there in fact exists a necessary relation between associations and equality?”
(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2000 translation by H. C. Mansfield and D. Winthrop. pp. 489-490)