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Alexis de Tocqueville

Commentary, Culture, Fallout Revisited

Fallout Revisited: Politic, 1650

January 7, 2014

Fallout Revisited is an occasional series of posts that dig back through the five plus years of posts here on The Everlasting Fallout and bring to the surface things that I believe are still timely and important. This post was originally published February of 2009 here.



It might be imagined that men who sacrificed their friends, their family, and their native lands to a religious conviction, were absorbed in the pursuit of intellectual advantages which they purchased at so dear a rate. The energy, however, with which they strove for the acquirement of wealth, moral enjoyment, and the comforts as well as the liberties of the world is scarcely inferior to that which they devoted themselves to Heaven.

Political principles, and all human laws and institutions were molded and altered at their pleasure; the barriers of the society in which they were born were broken down before them; the old principles which had governet the world for ages were no more; a pat without a term, and a field without a horizon were opened to the exploring and ardent curiosity of man : but at the limits of the political world he checks his researches, he discreetly lays aside the use of his most formidable faculties, he no longer consents to doubt or to innovate, but carefully abstaining from rainsing the curtain of the sanctuary, he yields with the submissive respect to truths he will not debate.

Thus in the moral world everything is classed, adapted, decided, and forseen ; in the political world everything is agitated , disputed, and uncertain. In one is a passive, though voluntary, obedience : in the other an independence scornful of experience and jealous of authority.

These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from conflicting. They advance together and mutually support each other.

Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculty of man, and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the intelligence. Contented with the freedom and the power which it enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place it occupies, the empire of religion is never more surely established than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength.

Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. The safe-gaurd of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.

That quote, from Alexis de Tocquevile’s Democracy in America, which I just finished reading, brought to my mind a rather interesting train of thought. First off, I must highly recommend the book…I’m only 30-something pages into it and am amazed at some of the astute observations that de Tocquevile makes about America and its birth which are greatly relevant to our country today.

De Tocquevile makes the point that one of the unique things about America’s early years was the unprecedented freedom of political thought; “in the political world everything is agitated , disputed, and uncertain,” yet at the same time in the moral (religious) world there was almost no movement. He presents here, though subtly, a fair picture of the much touted and much mis-used idea of separation of church and state, declaring that far from the state being beyond religion’s reach, it is religion which sees the political field as the place in which religious men may exercise their mental capacity to the full. His statement that, “the empire of religion is never more surely established than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength” delighted me. It is absolutely true that religion thrives greatest when it is free from forced supports (ie. a “state religion” that is sanctioned and supported by a governing body).  The places where the Christian religion grows the most deeply and widely and bears the most fruit is the places where the state, far from supporting it, even goes so far as to condemn and persecute those who follow the Way.  That, I believe, is the essential true meaning of the seperation of church and state. The state simply is not meant to support any religion.

What struck me was the fact, as I stated, that the early citizens of the New World held their religious beliefs in almost complete stasis, not changing or even debating change of them. In contrast, their political discussion was as broad and varying as the land in which they had settled. De Tocquevile seems to point to this as a reason for their success and ability to have such liberty without abuse of that freedom. ” The safe-gaurd of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.” If religion gaurds morality and morality is the best security of law and freedom, then religion is most certainly necessary for a country that desires to have a free people.

It seems to me that we in America today have gotten things rather backward. Where the early settlers were free in their politics and held no parties or boundary lines therein we have a country that is sectioned into democrats and republicans with almost no possibility of someone without the backing of one of the two parties holding any significant office. Where America’s birth came from religion being solid, definite, and unmoveable, the culture now is one where religion is the thing that is bantered about in discussions and used as the playing field for the excersize of the human mind.

I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the cause of so much of our struggle today. Are we all discussing the wrong thing? Maybe we should be debating and breaking down the “barriers of the society” and politics rather than focusing so much on whether God exists or whether Catholicism and Christianity are the same. Those of you who read my blog know full well my position on religion, but that is beside the point at the moment. If the things that we are debating are in completely the wrong field, how will we ever find the answer? A man struggling with all his mental power write a novel will never succeed in solving a mathematical equation.

That’s my thought for the moment. Leave your comments if you have any of your own, and, once again, I would highly recommend de Tocquevile’s Democracy in America. It’s a great read!