Religion Traditions and Democracy in America
In Democracy in America, Tocqueville is worried about the disappearance of old aristocratic ranks and privileges, and theemergence of democracy. Tocqueville states that the "key to almost the whole work" can be found in his chapter on the "pointof departure" for the Anglo-Americans (Tocqueville, p. 17). How can this chapter on the early history of Puritan NewEngland shed light on what European governments can do to adapt to democratization? It seems odd that Puritans would have much to teach Europeans (or Americans today) about democracy. Tocqueville in fact outlines how vastly different the New England towns were from what we would call democratic. The leaders who made these laws were intent on enforcing good morals by using the most extreme enforcement. There is virtually no conception of a right to personal privacy. Their laws were based on a literal reading of the Old Testament and were extremely harsh. For example, in Connecticut, blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery and rape are punished with death. It is a capital crime for a son to say anything disrespectful of his parents. Tocqueville wants us to focus not on these laws, which he calls "bizarre and tyrannical" (Tocqueville, 27). Instead,he points out that these tyrannical laws were passed with the "free, active participation of all the interested parties themselves,and that the morals were even more austere and puritan than the laws" (Tocqueville 27). It is the fact that these communities were self-governing and independent, with relatively high levels of popular participation in the making of laws, whichTocqueville finds interesting. Even more importantly, Tocqueville points out that it is the strict morals of the people in New England that made these high levels of political participation possible in the first place. In New England, communities combined "the spirit of religion" with "the spirit of liberty" (Tocqueville 31). More people...
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