The View From 1776

Tocqueville Revisited - Part One

Public understanding has changed greatly since 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States and wrote his celebrated “Democracy in America”

(This article was first published in the Christian Times Today website.)

While we battle terrorists around the globe, an equally vital war is being waged at home by Christian churches to preserve the foundation of the Constitution.

The ACLU and its fellow liberal-socialists work tirelessly to promote libertine license, secularity, and moral relativism.  Parents? complaints about Janet Jackson?s nudity during the Super Bowl half-time show are denounced as unconstitutional infringement of free speech.  Ditto the radio and TV stations that banned sewer-mouth Howard Stern.  ?Under God? in the Pledge of Allegiance is opposed as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Alexis de Tocqueville?s celebrated ?Democracy in America? is a mile marker to see how far liberals already have driven us down Friedrich Hayek?s ?Road to Serfdom,? from the path of Christian morality and into the swamp of godless socialism.

Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, traveling from New England to New Orleans.  The year before, in 1830, France had been convulsed by one of its repeated political upheavals after the 1789 Revolution.  Tocqueville?s purpose was to discover how the United States had managed to avoid the episodic armed rebellions and bloodshed in the streets of Paris that were to plague French political life, to this very day, under socialistic egalitarianism. 

Two things struck Tocqueville forcibly as he traveled across the United States.  Everywhere there was a strong attachment to the equality conferred by political liberty, and everywhere there was an unwavering devotion to Christianity.  The two, he concluded, were inseparably connected.

?On my arrival in the United States,? he wrote, ?the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.  In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions.  But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.?

Tocqueville would have said that present-day American liberals? advocacy of libertine license represents all the worst elements of French political life, the very sources of France?s social and political instability.  French revolutionaries had destroyed the monarchy and the Catholic Church, making the nation a secular and socialist republic.  It was the absence of religious moral restraint that had permitted the slaughter of more than 70,000 people in the name of perfecting humanity.  This same secular irreligion was to murder more than twenty million people in Soviet Russia, National Socialist Germany, Mao?s China, Castro?s Cuba, Cambodia, and other socialistic countries.

Americans strongly opposed establishment of an official national church, like the Church of England.  But, Tocqueville says, ?[Christianity] contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs; and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never [as of 1831] been dissolved.?

?The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable.  They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man?. all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.?

?In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state?. Thus, while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash and unjust.  Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.?

?When [people in France] attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests.  Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.?

This is another way of saying, as John Adams and other founders did, that a Constitutional government of limited and divided powers cannot survive unless individual citizens exercise the counter-balancing self-restraint of religious morality.  To pursue sinful novelty, as do an alarming percentage of Americans today, is to doom the United States to the extremes of anarchy or the despotism of socialist collectivism.