De Tocqueville, Morality, and Democracy

Today’s secularism is an aggressive bulldozer. It will not tolerate any competition, pushing aside any opposition to its reign. Arrogantly, it believes that it can retain the benefits of Western civilization, while discarding its foundation – Christianity.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French statesman, historian and social philosopher, wrote “Democracy in America” (1835). It has been described as “the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written.” According to Tocqueville, freedom and morality both found their American incarnation in Christianity:

 

  • Religion in America … must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.

Tocqueville had been well acquainted with the demands for freedom and equality that had arisen from his own French revolution, albeit grounded in the hatred and murder of the clergy. This revolution had confidently sought to push aside anything that stood in its way.  However, with the advantage of decades of hindsight, this had become something that the French wanted to avoid at all costs. Tocqueville, therefore, wrote:

  • The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.

He therefore appreciated the moral constraints that he found so ubiquitously associated with democracy in the USA:

  • I do not question that the great austerity of manners that is observable in the United States arises, in the first instance, from religious faith…its influence over the mind of woman is supreme, and women are the protectors of morals. There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated…

Continually, he found that the fruitful expression of democracy was inseparable from its underlying Christian roots:

  • In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people…. Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate.
  • I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

In contrast, today’s secularism believes that it can retain some of the fruits of Christian society without its roots. It seeks to replace the Christian foundation with its own materialistic, relativistic presuppositions and expects that these will support the house of their dreams. Secularism wants to retain the ideas of equality and equal protection under the law – the Bill of Rights – but it fails to see that their materialistic foundation can’t support this structure.

Historically, materialism has not been able to provide the basis of these prized values. Just look at the workers’ “utopia” of communistic, atheistic nations! Why have these nations been so characterized by oppression and violence? From a strictly materialistic worldview, there can be no possible basis for equality or “unalienable rights.” Regarding humans materialistically, we find that some are tall and some are short; some are likable and some are not; some promote justice, while some undermine it; some contribute to society, while some prove to be very costly, even undermining the common good. Consequently, as seen through the materialistic lens, some have a positive value and some a negative one. Is there therefore any basis for equality from this perspective? No!

Christians also have a materialistic lens. However, we are not limited to this lens. We also have a transcendent one. We see equality and great human value, even in the murderer, because God sees these values. We protect, because God protects, even the most unworthy. We maintain that all have unalienable rights because all have been created in the image of God. We, therefore, cannot deprive anyone of their unalienable rights, because they don’t come essentially from us but from God.

However, according to the lens of secularism, it is secularism that grants the rights. Consequently, it is secularism that can also deprive those rights. There is nothing in a materialistic worldview that requires that our rights be unalienable. After all, everything is in flux, and so too should our rights be so!

Even worse, there is nothing in secular materialism that would argue in favor of equal treatment. If some humans have a positive social value and some have a negative, there is no justification for not treating the negatively-valued humans in a negative way. Consequently, materialism cannot honestly value our understanding of equal and unalienable rights.

The same argument can also be applied to the concept of “freedom.” Where there is no material basis for equality, perhaps there is also no basis for equal freedom. (In fact, many secularists deny the reality of freewill and therefore culpability!) After all, some are intelligent and some aren’t. Some have ideas that are objectionable and some have ideas that we like. Some even vote “Republican” and against gay marriage. Why should their ideas be tolerated? Well, as secularism secures its grip, any ideas that impede its agenda are no longer tolerated. The popular vote can be overturned by a single judge. The charge of “unconstitutional” can be brought against any objectionable idea or popular vote.

The secularism of today has lost its taste for freedom as the quest for self-fulfillment has proliferated. Tocqueville warned that democracy is vulnerable in this regard :

  • Men who are possessed by the passion of physical gratification generally find out that the turmoil of freedom disturbs their welfare before they discover how freedom itself serves to promote it.

What is not honored – our freedoms and liberties – will eventually whither and disappear.

Tocqueville realized that the pursuit of “equality” could produce some bad fruit:

  • But there exists in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.

The argument in favor of “equality” can be applied in many illegitimate ways. It can be used to produce “equality” between parents and their children, depriving parents of their rightful authority in favor of the Secular State. It can be used as a bulldozer to push aside any sexual distinctions. Consequently, it is argued that we should be allowed to marry or to sex anyone and any number we please. It is only our appetites that should set the limit. Meanwhile, there is no longer a willingness to regard the many studies that have unequivocally demonstrated that children (and society) do far better, in a myriad of ways, with their biological parents.

Our personal comforts and pleasures tend to reign over concerns about distant abstract principles such as freedom and justice. Therefore, Tocqueville warned:

  • A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Democracy is a fragile flower, which requires regular cultivation. While history is the test tube for our ideas, the future will cast its dispassionate verdict on them. It will also give us what we deserve. Already, anti-Christian secularism is bearing its fruit unto abortions, STDs, suicides, criminality, and broken families throughout the Western world, starting with its radical incarnation in the sixties.

We will reap what we sow and sadly, we will probably find that Tocqueville’s words – “The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom” – have been prophetic.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Daniel Mann

Daniel Mann has been an instructor of theology and apologetics at the New York School of the Bible for 20 years. He is also the author of several books, one published: "Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God's Way." He also gives seminars on marriage, depression and "Reasons to Believe in the Christian Faith."

  • DBonney

    For a variety of reasons, I think you have not, and cannot, make the case that you are arguing.

    In the first place, Christianity, while being a major part of Western Civilization, is not its foundation. The foundations of Western civilization were well-established long before the advent of Christianity, as attested by Greece and Rome.

    What you see as the poisoned fruits of anti-Christian secularism–abortion, STDs, suicides, criminality and broken families–are anything but. These, too, predate Christianity, which is to say that the moral teachings of Christianity have failed to make any significant improvement in generic human nature.

    Your use of Tocqueville is fatally flawed. To suggest that his discussions on morality and Christianity are the sine qua non of what ails America today, is to miss by far, his main observations and opinions. In fact it suggests a basic unfamiliarity with Tocqueville in the first place. No where is this more apparent than in offering as Tocqueville quotations, two things that he never said, though they seem to constitute your master-strokes. Faux, faux, faux are:

    “I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her
    harbors…in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines
    and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of
    learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her
    matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America
    and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the
    secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is
    good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be
    great.”

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can
    only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves
    largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority
    always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the
    public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over
    loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age
    of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

  • Daniel Mann

    DBonney,

    First of all, I stand by my Tocqueville quotations. In my
    blog – mannsword.blogspot.com – I have embedded the links where you can find
    the sources for these quotations.

    Secondly, the conclusions that I have come to aren’t my own
    or even Tocqueville’s. Rodney Stark writes that,

    The success of the West, including the
    rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people
    who brought it about were devout Christians (The Victory of Reason, xi)

    Regarding the Scientific Revolution, he writes,

    Some wonderful things were achieved in
    this era, but they were not produced by an eruption of secular thinking.
    Rather, these achievements were the culmination of many centuries of
    systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained by that uniquely
    Christian twelfth century invention, the university. Not only were science
    and religion compatible, they were inseparable – the rise of science was
    achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars. (12)

    Regarding the “democracy” of Greece
    and Rome, Stark
    reflects that,

    The rules that Plato laid out
    concerning the proper treatment of slaves were unusually brutal, for he
    believed not that becoming a slave was simply a matter of bad luck but
    that nature creates a “slavish people” lacking the mental capacity for
    virtue or culture, and fit only to serve. (26)

    Consequently, only the worthy were suitable for Greek “democracy.”
    Aristotle likewise,

    Drew upon Plato’s biological claims – slavery
    is justified because slaves are more akin to dumb brutes than to free men:
    “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others
    for rule.” (27)

    In contrast, democracy finds its only sufficient and enduring
    foundation in the Biblical concept of human respect and our essential equality,
    as the third century Christian theologian L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius
    wrote:

    The second constituent of Justice is
    equality. I mean this…in the sense of treating others as one’s equals…For
    God who gives being and life to men wished us all to be equal…But someone
    will say, “Don’t you have poor and rich”…Not at all! This is precisely the
    reason that we address one another as “Brother,” since we believe that we
    are one another’s equals [despite the superficial differences]. Since
    human worth is measured in spiritual and not in physical terms, we ignore
    our various physical situations: slaves are not slaves to us, but we treat
    them and address them as brothers in the spirit, fellow slaves in devotion
    to God. Wealth, too, is no ground for distinction, except insofar as it
    provides the opportunity for preeminence in good works. To be rich is not
    a matter of having, but of using riches for the tasks of justice…By
    conducting oneself not merely as the equal of one’s inferiors, but as
    their subordinate, one will attain a far higher rank of dignity in God’s
    sight. (77-78)

    It is no surprise that, given the Classical understanding of
    humanity, democracy couldn’t endure long. Sadly, now, as our Christian roots
    are decaying, so too are our democratic principles.

  • DBonney

    Mr. Mann,

    If you stand by your Tocqueville quotations, I must, once again, disabuse you of your notion that they are accurate. You offer me internet links where I may find the sources for these quotations. I, meanwhile, offer you the work itself, “Democracy in America,” the version actually written by Alexis de Tocqueville, wherein you will find neither. Who are you going to believe, some internet hack and the thousands who uncritically accept what they see posted on a website, or the author of the work itself? If you pretend to be practising scholarship with such citations as you offer, you ought to be ashamed.

    That you’ve drawn your conclusions from the twaddle of Rodney Stark is perhaps even more disturbing than your reliance on false quotations. Mr. Stark’s, “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success,” is pure nonsense, an opinion piece masquerading as history. For instance, Mr. Stark seems unacquainted with the Renaissance, which was fueled by the rediscovery of pre-Christian antiquity, and was not a continuation of “systematic progress by medieval Scholastics.” To mention but one specific in refutation of his fiction that science and religion were not only compatible, but inseparable—I offer the name of Galileo, who had to wait until 1979 to receive an apology from the Vatican for his treatment at the hands of the Inquisition. In sum, a real historian gathers facts, and offers a conclusion based upon those facts. Mr. Stark begins with a preconceived thesis, and then invents, or twists, facts to support it.

    His positions on Greek democracy and slavery, wherein you conclude (or he concludes; I can’t tell who’s speaking here), that “democracy finds its only sufficient and enduring foundation in the Biblical concept of human respect and our essential equality,” are ironic to say the least. The success or failure of democracies rests not upon any religious foundation, but to the degree that factions arising in their midsts can be controlled, or not. James Madison is both knowledgeable and persuasive on this subject, particularly in the analysis he offers in Federalist #10.

    And then: “slaves are not slaves to us, but we treat them and address them as brothers in the spirit, fellow slaves in devotion to God” Please tell me you’re joking. Slavery is not such a bad thing if it is so ordered that your master be a Christian instead of an ancient Greek or Roman? Being enslaved or being free is a mere superficial difference? What an ugly delusion.

    • Daniel Mann

      DBonney,

      Mere assertion and condescension are not the same things as evidence and reasoning.

      You assert “The success or failure of democracies rests not upon any religious
      foundation, but to the degree that factions arising in their midsts can
      be controlled, or not.”

      If this is what you are asserting in favor of the religious foundation of American democracy, I am totally baffled. External control is the antithesis of democracy. Democracy can only thrive when the control is internal – the product of religious conviction.

      • DBonney

        Mr. Mann,

        My apologies for having offended you.

        We will have to agree to disagree.

        • Daniel Mann

          Your apology is gladly accepted!

    • MGaerlan

      DBonney, hello, my name is Marc Gaerlan, and I’m one of the editors for the CAA. We try to maintain an atmosphere of civility, even among disagreement. Please refrain from such descriptions as “hack” or phrases such as “you should be ashamed”, that really are not an argument, much less a civil one. Our comment policy can be found here: http://www.apologeticalliance.com/blog/comment-policy/

      Thank you for your participation.

      • DBonney

        Mr. Gaerlan,

        Please accept my sincere apologies.

        • MGaerlan

          Accepted with gladness :) and thank you again for participating in discussion!

  • archangelariel

    I capture on one assertion you make “In the first place, Christianity, while being a major part of Western Civilization, is not its foundation.” Well the historical fact is that Christianity filtered throughout the Roman empire as a result of Constantine the Great due his own mother’s conversion to Christianity. If you look at the Roman empire at the time of his reign you will find it extended all the way into what we know as England today. So you are not accurate. The real fact is that Christianity has been the foundation of Western nations.

    It was certainly the foundation of America for those first settlers who came from Europe who came to America for freedom of religion (notice I did not say freedom from religion). Judeo Christianity has been the foundation of of western nations including even the former soviet union and still is today. These great nations including our own are great because of Christ’s blessings upon us. Because you do not feel the love is your own fault but I feel it from him. You look to sciences to answer all your questions and many of them are answerable in the Bible, but really when it comes down to it..it is a matter of cognizance..an abstract that you cannot understand. Everything is not black and white explained by science alone.

    For me personally it is not just about reading a book..I have read many including just a simple inventory the Koran, the Torah, Mein Kampf, De Tocqueville’s Morality and Democracy, Dante’s Inferno, translations of the dead sea scripts, Marl Marx communist manifesto to name just a few. I have also questioned the existance of God Almighty as a very well educated man..MOST CERTAINLY. I know Jesus is because I have experienced it many times in my own life..several of which I was not even a practicing Christian. Having said this I will simply tell you that there is God Almighty and His Son Jesus is Lord. Yes there is a Heaven and yes there is Hell. Jesus offers us all salvation but it is a very personal acceptance or rejection we must make as a personal choice. It is all up to you my friend..I know that you disregard such things but I pray that you find your “cognizant self” to think through this a little more carefully. I do not say this arrogantly, but only one who cares.

    • Daniel Mann

      Archangelariel,

      Indeed, it is difficult to trace historical influences on modern day culture. However, the truths of the Bible have been a political/social inspiration to those who have venerated it, as you point out. Here is one interesting example. Before the Mosaic revelation, the kings of the world enjoyed the presumption of the “divine right of kings.” In other words, they weren’t under the law. However, the bible changed this:

      “It [the Torah] is to be with him [the king], and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the
      words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his
      brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his
      descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.” (Deut. 17:15-20)

      This paved the way for “the rule of law.” Kings were now seen to be no better than other and equally under the law. Radically, God’s covenant was not just for the ruling class; it was given equally and directly to
      all of the people – how democratic!