So it starts with this quote…
“I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests–and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning–and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution–and it was not there. 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!”
Attributed often to French writer Alexis de Tocqueville and sometimes his book Democracy in America. The only problem… he never said it. Well, let me be more precise he never said it in those exact words.
To be honest, after reading the quote and reading some of De Tocqueville’s work, it’s almost obvious it isn’t his. It’s too direct and to the point. Not a characteristic found in the writings of the author (or TexasLynn for that matter). :) Sure the sentiment sounds like something De Tocqueville might say… but the words and style don’t match.
Supposedly (according to a Weekly Standard article in 1995) the quote first appeared and was attributed to De Tocqueville in a book in 1941 on the subject of religion and the American dream. Eisenhower used the quote in 1952 in a campaign speech though he didn’t directly attribute it to De Tocqueville. And Ronald Reagan used it in 1982, though attributing it to Eisenhower’s quotation and he used it repeatedly in later speeches. And even Bill Clinton took up the quote in 1994 with Pat Buchanan and Phil Gramm quoting it in 1996. And of course various authors have used the quote.
OK… so the quote (like many others) has permeated the lexicon but was not spoken verbatim by the author it is attributed to. So some who dislike the sentiment of the quote say that if the quote is misapplied, the idea behind the quote is spurious. They like to imply if you are stupid enough to believe Alexis de Tocqueville said that then you’re stupid enough to believe that American goodness (morality) and greatness are intertwined. You’re not that stupid are you… goes the implication…
So where am I going with all this…
The quote is not De Tocqueville’s… BUT the idea behind it… IS. De Tocqueville basically said the exact same thing in a specific section of Democracy in America (see below). I would go so far as to say whoever came up with the original quote likely got it by paraphrasing the very section of the book referenced.
How We Got Here:
Ironicly the section of the book in question was given to me by a liberal friend :) who took exception to the original (inaccurate) quote and my point and wrote “Cherry picking, even if accurately attributed. De Tocqueville ultimately concluded that America was run by the mediocre, who were mistakenly given equal power to their intellectual superiors, and that men of exceptional talent had best go elsewhere. He’s a better cheerleader for elitists than populists.”
Now, I’m no De Tocqueville expert, but I have read some of his stuff and I’ve yet to come across these conclusions; so I asked for a few quotes… which were (begrudgingly) supplied. I read over them, and the conclusions inferred and appreciated the continuance of the discussion. I have no reason to question the quotes and can see how the conclusions offered came about from them.
But… I was intrigued by the last one (and the conclusion) and that is what led me to read the entire section/chapter the quote was lifted from.
The quote supplied and the conclusion went something like this…
“The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other…” — Alexis de Tocqueville from Democracy in America
To which my friend concluded… “(Hint: This is not a compliment or a statement of agreement.)”
OK… so I went to the source… and discovered that if you read the whole sentence it’s harder to reach the (leftist) conclusion that De Tocqueville held this idea (religion and liberty combined) in contempt.
“The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.” — Alexis de Tocqueville from Democracy in America
Furthermore, if you read the whole paragraph or better yet the entire section or chapter… you realize the exact opposite is true. De Tocqueville does admire the Christian ideals, their conjunction with liberty, and their influence on the young nation. Yes, he acknowledges religious influence should restrict itself in some ways (in other Chapter’s I’ve read), but the author realizes that the Christian religion is an important key and powerful force in America’s greatness.
So…. below is the entire section of the Chapter with my commentary…
How My Commentary Works:
The following is the text with commentary on a section of Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. It has to do with what De Tocqueville observed concerning religion in American in the early 1830s and his perceived influence it had on the young republic. The commentary included is by TexasLynn from the perspective of a conservative Christian in the early 21st century (2014).
[Commentary is coded with a green font, and enclosed in brackets. I hope those reading this get something useful out of it as I did. I find reading De Tocqueville stimulating though requiring some effort. This is due to vocabulary, historical references, and style requiring one to go over some text repeatedly to get the meaning intended. Still it can be well worth it.]
[De Tocqueville (from what I've read) admired the exceptional democratic republic the Americans had created for themselves. His writings within Democracy in America were observations, some opinion, advise to those who would emulate American success in a republican form of government, and warnings to his American friends of dangers both external and internal to their system. I may not agree with every conclusion; but I appreciate the glimpse into what was. I also appreciate the almost prophetic warnings of peril De Tocqueville wrote about that we face today.]
Remember that the French Revolution ended the monarchy in 1799 and a republic was formed but was quickly followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte from 1804 through 1815. France in the 1830s was toying with republics and monarchies with limited success. When De Tocqueville visited America in 1831 and researched what would eventually be published as “Democracy in America” he had been sent here to study our prison system but instead focused on “why republican representative democracy has succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places.” (*last portion of quote from Wikipedia) It is from these observations that Alexis De Tocqueville gave us democracy in America; a very useful tool in seeing where we were as early nation and where we find ourselves today… and why.
Democracy in America – Volume 1 (Translation by Henry Reeve)
Chapter XVII – Principal Causes Maintaining The Democratic Republic – Part II
Section: Indirect Influence Of Religious Opinions Upon Political Society In The United States
Key Points in this Section:(from the translation)
– Christian morality common to all sects
– Influence of religion upon the manners of the Americans with Respect for the marriage tie
– In what manner religion confines the imagination of the Americans within certain limits, and checks the passion of innovation
– Opinion of the Americans on the political utility of religion
– Their exertions to extend and secure its predominance.
Text with Commentary:
I have just shown what the direct influence of religion upon politics is in the United States, but its indirect influence appears to me to be still more considerable, and it never instructs the Americans more fully in the art of being free than when it says nothing of freedom.
The sects which exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due from man to his Creator, but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all the sects preach the same moral law in the name of God. If it be of the highest importance to man, as an individual, that his religion should be true, the case of society is not the same. Society has no future life to hope for or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion, the peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to its interests. Moreover, almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.
[De Tocqueville notes that there are many denominations found in the U.S.; and while they differed they had the commonality within the "great unity of Christianity". To this extent they all generally taught the "same moral law in the name of God". De Tocqueville observes that men who place their faith in God higher than anything else; place society a distant second at best. From a Christian perspective society is simply a tool or an obstacle as they follow "the way."]
[Today (2014), that common moral foundation has eroded beyond recognition. Even within the very broad "Christian" tent (sects); there is much more disagreement on what even constitutes acceptable moral behavior. The world encourages "churches" (small c) to accept and embrace immorality as normal and many are churches are eager to comply with worldly demands. Government brings its full weight upon companies, groups, and individuals to do the same. The key point here is that in the early 1830s the idea of morality was more uniform and it strengthened the republic. Now anything goes. Now the very idea once commonly held (that religion and liberty were connected) is repulsive to a large segment of American society.]
It may be believed without unfairness that a certain number of Americans pursue a peculiar form of worship, from habit more than from conviction. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.
[De Tocqueville I think notes that for the most part the "sovereign authority" meaning the rulers were religious... or perhaps he is saying Americans held God as their ultimate sovereign? Hmmm... Either way, he correctly concludes that hypocrisy must be common which would be natural to assume when men are involved... so at least that has remained the same through all of time. But of all nations, he points out, the most enlightened of them, the most free of them, is the one most powerfully influenced by Christianity.]
[That's not a coincidence, of course. It also speaks to America exceptionalism tied hand and hand with America's being good. :)]
I have remarked that the members of the American clergy in general, without even excepting those who do not admit religious liberty, are all in favor of civil freedom; but they do not support any particular political system. They keep aloof from parties and from public affairs. In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion, but it directs the manners of the community, and by regulating domestic life it regulates the State.
[There is no denying there is a secular aspect to the American system. It existed then as it continues to exist today. This acts as a check against government involving itself in affairs of religion. But that was meant to be a one-way street. A moral people with a common thread of decency are required to maintain the republic. It is in this way that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles without having to blatantly inscribe them in our Constitution or laws.]
[One of those dammed secular humanist founding fathers wrote on this very subject... Message from John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (October 11, 1798)]
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence… But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance… while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice (Greed), ambition, revenge, or gallantry (amorous attention), would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. — John Adams, 1798
I do not question that the great austerity [meaning plain and simple or windfall] of manners [as in how they act] which is observable in the United States, arises, in the first instance, from religious faith. Religion is often unable to restrain man from the numberless temptations of fortune; nor can it check that passion for gain which every incident of his life contributes to arouse, but its influence over the mind of woman is supreme, and women are the protectors of morals.
[De Tocqueville observes religious faith gives rise to how Americans act. Granted... religion can't overcome the fact that men are pigs! But Women! They walk the walk (in comparison)! And it is they (in America) who are the protectors of morals and of society.]
[That would still be true today... but society and government encourage women away from such archaic ideas of morality in (ironically) the name of freedom.]
There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of home, is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of heart, and the evil of fluctuating desires.
[This religious effect on how Americans act has an influence on how they view and respect marriage. Much more so than Europe; so they spare themselves the many societal ills.]
[Now (in 2014) that the institution of marriage has diminished and is now under constant attack... now that we too despise the natural bonds of marriage as a society... we will suffer more and more "all the disturbances of society (that} arise from the irregularities of domestic life.” As a nation we have a taste for excess, we are restless, and indulge in the evil of fluctuating desires. Prophetic... isn't it?]
Agitated by the tumultuous passions which frequently disturb his dwelling, the European is galled by the obedience which the legislative powers of the State exact. But when the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace. There his pleasures are simple and natural, his joys are innocent and calm; and as he finds that an orderly life is the surest path to happiness, he accustoms himself without difficulty to moderate his opinions as well as his tastes. Whilst the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.
[Politics and governance are affected by the state of the family. The Europeans at the time experience tumultuous passions in family and is galled (annoyed) by the resulting governance of the State. In America that was not the case De Tocqueville observed. There the Americans found order and peace at home which affects him implementation of public affairs and society.]
[Now that anything goes in the definition of family (or marriage) we can expect anything goes in the state of public affairs. The rule of law becomes archaic. The foundation of the nation (the Constitution) becomes a "living document", pliable and meaningless. Anything goes. Again, it's almost prophetic...]
In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people. Amongst the Anglo-Americans, there are some who profess the doctrines of Christianity from a sincere belief in them, and others who do the same because they are afraid to be suspected of unbelief. Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate, although the political world is abandoned to the debates and the experiments of men. Thus the human mind is never left to wander across a boundless field; and, whatever may be its pretensions, it is checked from time to time by barriers which it cannot surmount. Before it can perpetrate innovation, certain primal and immutable principles are laid down, and the boldest conceptions of human device are subjected to certain forms which retard and stop their completion.
[Then as today, some Christians really believe, other simply go through the motions. This would be an aspect of what Jesus described as hot versus cold Christians. (See Revelations 3:15-17) The reasons for pretending generally fall into one of two reasons 1) Wanting to fit in OR 2) Laziness (knowing my require action on my part... that might ruin my weekend... best to leave well enough alone)]
[In the early 1800s there was probably a stigma to suspected unbelief. De Tocqueville certainly believed that to be true. Today, that societal stigma is gone, and among some certain segments (Hollywood, Media, the Left) the stigma is reversed with members looking down on those who profess religious faith.]
[De Tocqueville observes that in the early 1800s that Christianity reigned in America without any obstacle AND by universal consent. The consequence of that was that "every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate". This put limits and checks on human nature and its influence on society.]
[Before the human mind can "perpetrate innovation" and "bold conceptions of human device" religion retards (alters) or stops them. Now this may sound as if De Tocqueville is complaining that progress cannot be made because of religion... but in the next paragraph (especially the last line) he makes it clear he considers this these restraints a good thing for men and the republic.]
The imagination of the Americans, even in its greatest flights, is circumspect and undecided; its impulses are checked, and its works unfinished. These habits of restraint recur in political society, and are singularly favorable both to the tranquility of the people and to the durability of the institutions it has established. Nature and circumstances concurred to make the inhabitants of the United States bold men, as is sufficiently attested by the enterprising spirit with which they seek for fortune. If the mind of the Americans were free from all trammels, they would very shortly become the most daring innovators and the most implacable disputants in the world. But the revolutionists of America are obliged to profess an ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity, which does not easily permit them to violate the laws that oppose their designs; nor would they find it easy to surmount the scruples of their partisans, even if they were able to get over their own. Hitherto no one in the United States has dared to advance the maxim, that everything is permissible with a view to the interests of society; an impious adage which seems to have been invented in an age of freedom to shelter all the tyrants of future ages. Thus whilst the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust.
[American imagination is circumspect (prudent), undecided (undetermined), and checked. This includes inclinations thought up in regard to politics. American society wants these ideas to favor tranquility and durability of the system enacted by the founders. Nothing could be further from the truth today (2014).]
[The nature by which this nation was founded and the circumstances by which it grew from a frontier made Americans bold men. Their belief in the capitalists system attests to that fact. This would be a problem IF there were no trammels (shackles) on that boldness. The Americans would become the worlds "most daring innovators" (that sounds good) AND the "most implacable disputants" (unappeasable rabble rousers) (not so good). But this statement implies we were not such because there were shackles preventing it... so what held us back from this some good, some bad fate?]
[The capitalists and others (revolutionists) who would take things too far are forced by society to... "profess an ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity", even if they don't share it within themselves. No one in their right mind would advance the maxim (principle) "that everything is permissible with a view to the interests of society". No so today...
[De Tocqueville states the idea "that everything is permissible", which heavily embraced today, would actually "shelter all the tyrants of future ages."... and it does.]
[And finally if there were any doubt of De Tocqueville opinion of Christianity's impact on American society; he states "Thus whilst the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust."]
[This essential check observed early in the days of the republic is no longer in place having degraded over many decades. Today the rash and unjust are unbounded and the fall of the republic because of it almost certain.]
Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless 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 free institutions. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief. I do not know whether all the Americans have a sincere faith in their religion, for who can search the human heart? but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation, and to every rank of society.
[While religion does not take a direct part in government, good men of Christian values excerpt such influence that religion could be considered the foremost political institution. The concept of not applying one's Christian faith to voting and governance is absurd to the Christian mind. (Colossians 3:17) And the idea that the two should be separated is leftist propaganda meant to dissuade Christians from participating at all and thus handing over more power to the left.]
[The author does not know the percentage of Americans who "have a sincere faith" because "who can search the human heart"? In answer to that question... "there are few" in any day and age (Matthew 7:13-14) and all of "man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). These truths are ageless.]
[Despite not knowing the level of sincerity, De Tocqueville is certain that the people of America hold religion to be "indispensable to the maintenance" of the republic. And at the time, this isn't just the view of a certain class or party. It is the view of the "whole nation and to every rank of society." Not so today. That view is held by only a small subset of society, if not a small subset of a party.]
In the United States, if a political character attacks a sect, this may not prevent even the partisans of that very sect from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together, everyone abandons him, and he remains alone.
Whilst I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the assizes of the county of Chester (State of New York), declared that he did not believe in the existence of God, or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed beforehand all the confidence of the Court in what he was about to say. *e The newspapers related the fact without any further comment.
(Footnote e: The New York “Spectator” of August 23, 1831, relates the fact in the following terms:–”The Court of Common Pleas of Chester county (New York) a few days since rejected a witness who declared his disbelief in the existence of God. The presiding judge remarked that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of justice, and that he knew of no cause in a Christian country where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.”)
[I think here De Tocqueville is saying that individual aspects of denominations might not be adhered to and could even be criticized, but the overall linking of Christianity and its importance to society could not. Doing so would bring even bring into question ones credibility and character. De Tocqueville proceeds to give an objective example of this very thing happening in a New York court. His point was matter of fact. The newspaper also reported this event as simply fact with no further comment.
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.
[American faith and convictions in Christianity and liberty are not hollow/vegetative but are real. De Tocqueville may not share the same convictions, he is after all simply observing and reporting; BUT this still seems to me to be a compliment in his mind; and he definitely depicts the traits as admirable. It's interesting that my friend, (or more likely the source he pulled it from) found it convenient to cut the sentence in half.]
[The last thing anyone (especially Christians) wants to hear is that his core beliefs (faith), are seen by another to be barren, vegetative, or lukewarm. De Tocqueville says this is definitely not the case here... this is not a statement of derision or negative judgment. Reading further makes that even clearer.]
I have known of societies formed by Americans to send out ministers of the Gospel into the new Western states, to found schools and churches there, lest religion should be allowed to die away in those remote settlements, and the rising states be less fitted to enjoy free institutions than the people from whom they came.
[De Tocqueville observes that Americans were concerned with other states being religious and thus free. Their concern was so great that they took actions (sending out ministries of the Gospel) to help the new state and protect the old. They become their brother’s keeper so to speak for the good of the brother, but also to protect themselves and their posterity.]
I met with wealthy New Englanders who abandoned the country in which they were born in order to lay the foundations of Christianity and of freedom on the banks of the Missouri or in the prairies of Illinois. Thus religious zeal is perpetually warmed in the United States by the fires of patriotism.
[De Tocqueville observes that early settlers considered the spread of Christianity a patriotic duty; but why? Was it just a question of works and salvation inherent in the Christian faith? Read on...]
These men do not act exclusively from a consideration of a future life; eternity is only one motive of their devotion to the cause.
[OK... salvation was ONLY ONE of the motives... but that implies at least one or more other motives... perhaps worldly considerations? Read on...]
If you converse with these missionaries of Christian civilization, you will be surprised to hear them speak so often of the goods [good things] of this world, and to meet a politician where you expected to find a priest. They will tell you that “all the American republics [states] are collectively involved with each other; if the republics of the West were to fall into anarchy, or to be mastered by a despot, the republican institutions which now flourish upon the shores of the Atlantic Ocean would be in great peril. It is therefore our interest that the new states should be religious, in order that they may permit us to remain free.”
[This is De Tocqueville documenting the mindset of America at the time... These Americans believed that the fate of the one was shared by all; a cancer suffered by one imperils the rest. And those Americans (missionaries) were right in their thinking. It is almost prophetic concerning the state we find ourselves in today. The leftist mindset heavily adopted in certain states putting the rest of us (and the whole nation) "in great peril".]
Such are the opinions of the Americans; and if any hold (believe) that the religious spirit which I admire is the very thing most amiss in America,
[Perhaps this is where the left would somehow attribute derision on De Tocqueville's part... but you need only continue reading to see otherwise.]
and that the only element wanting to the freedom and happiness of the human race on the other side of the ocean is to believe with Spinoza in the eternity of the world, or with Cabanis that thought is secreted by the brain,
[Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) argued that God exists and is abstract and impersonal. He viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality... Pierre Jean Cabanis (1757-1808) was a philosopher involved in medicine. He was a 'sensualist' in that he believed impressions received by the senses were the building blocks of all knowledge. (I know those descriptions are brief).
[De Tocqueville, I think, does not agree with the philosophies (nor would I)... but I admit I've had to go over and over this to come to that conclusion.]
[Anyway... de Tocqueville has framed up his clarification this way (paraphrasing), "If anyone believes the religious spirit I admire is missing in America... I can only reply..."]
I can only reply that those who hold this language (belief) have never been in America, and that they have never seen a religious or a free nation. When they return from their expedition, we shall hear what they have to say.
[And on behalf of Americans... I thank Alexis de Tocqueville for his observation and compliment. I also pray to God that we as Americans may someday regain our faith and heritage as described above. Amen...]
There are persons in France who look upon republican institutions as a temporary means of power, of wealth, and distinction; men who are the condottieri of liberty, and who fight for their own advantage, whatever be the colors they wear: it is not to these that I address myself. But there are others who look forward to the republican form of government as a tranquil and lasting state, towards which modern society is daily impelled by the ideas and manners of the time, and who sincerely desire to prepare men to be free.
When these men attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions to the prejudice of their interests. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; and it is more needed in democratic republics than in any others.
[Turning his attention to his own nation, De Tocqueville says there are two types of men when it came to republican government in France. First were those who saw them as a "temporary means of power, wealth, and distinction". He called these men condottieri (mercenaries) of liberty, who adopt whatever they must for their own advantage. He holds these men in disdain...
[The second class of men looks to the republican system for a tranquil and lasting state that helps ensure men are truly free. This is what he saw in America and what he wanted for France and the world. No, he knew we weren't perfect and even warned America of dangers to democracy and freedom from the outside as well as inside the system itself. But he knew what had been achieved in America was exceptional and other would do well to emulate it.]
[France and much of the world is not religious at the time by American standards and De Tocqueville wants to warn those who see the true benefits of republican government that they must not let their disdain for religion blind them to its necessity to liberty. "obeying the dictates of their passions to the prejudice of their interests." He knows it is the nature of passionate atheist to cut off their nose to spite their face when it comes to questions of religious liberty. It is still true today.]
[De Tocqueville knows from observation of both worlds that "Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot." He ends this section with two rhetorical questions for those who disdain religion but would enjoy the good fruits of a democratic republic...]
How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?
And what can be done with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?
[Unfortunately, we in America 180 years later... are about to find out.]
“America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!” is the perfect paraphrase of what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote here. For me, his observations concerning religion (Christianity) and its relationship to liberty and the American republic were prophetic, explaining much of why we are today a nation in decline. His words are also an entreaty to what we must do to restore the republic and pull back from the brink; however unlikely that is in the new American character.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV) – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.