Alexis de Tocqueville: How Christianity Informs Public Life
“Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention…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.”
“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…They brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, he was stunned by differences he observed there compared with his native France. Both were presumably “democratic,” but while France seemed often bereft of genuine liberty and constantly threatened by the reemergence of despotism, de Tocqueville found America to be thriving in its freedom. The chief explanation, he argued, was the authentic influence of Christianity on American public life. How can Christianity inform public life? And what are its salutary benefits?
Dr. Robert D. Stacey was recently tapped to become the first Head of School at Augustine School in Jackson, Tennessee. Until recently, Dr. Stacey was the Provost at The Saint Constantine School—a K-through-College Classical and Christian school—and Professor of Government and Great Texts. He has taught a range of courses throughout his career in Great Books, American Political and Social Thought, History, and Constitutionalism. He has published widely topics ranging from philosophy of education to presidential elections.
“…Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot. Religion is much more needed in the republic they advocate than in the monarchy they attack, and in democratic republics most of all. How could society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened? And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God?”
“Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them the taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.”
“There is an innumerable multitude of sects [denominations] in the United States. All differ in the worship one must render to the Creator, but all agree on the duties of men toward one another. … All the sects … are within the great Christian unity, and the morality of Christianity is everywhere the same.…”
“…America is…still the place in the world where the Christian religion has most preserved genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.”
If “he has no faith, he must serve, and if he is free, he must believe.”
“When religion is destroyed in a people…doubt takes hold of the highest portions of the intellect and half paralyzes all the others.”
“The despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual.”
— Alexis de Tocqueville