Tocqueville's Democracy in America: Theme of Religion

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JD Ogilvie
McNamara
Pols. 3310
11/16/12
Long Paper Topic: Religion in Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’

One of the major themes in Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ is that of religion; and its emphasis toward maintaining an efficient Democracy as demonstrated in the United States. Region influences both the political and social life of Americans that contribute to an efficient society under a democratic system. Tocqueville examines the Puritans as the point of departure for the United States. Religious values established good mores of the earliest Americans, which Tocqueville pronounces as one of the most fundamental tools toward establishing an efficient democratic system of government. Tocqueville proceeds to emphasize that the separation of the church and state in the United States is of importance. The failed French Revolution was in part due to their failure to separate the church and state in France according to Tocqueville. Lastly, Tocqueville observes the non-institutional factors which help to maintain freedom in the United States; the freedom of religion is of most importance. Religion teaches people how to use their freedom justly, while it is necessary that religion provide some moral boundaries within the state. Tocqueville accounts religion as an effective tool to combat both individualism and materialism; both of which tend to favor a Despotic government.

First, Tocqueville emphasizes the importance of the “point of departure” for understanding a nation. To Tocqueville, it is important to study the origin of a nation to better understand the social conditions and laws. He emphasizes that America is the only great nation in which the origin can be studied, while analyzing the nature of the modern democracy. America has the furthest while maintaining a democratic social state of freedom with a high degree of equality. Tocqueville fears that the inevitable growth of equal conditions can be both a help and a hindrance to freedom. One cannot have complete equality without complete freedom; therefore equality is a necessary means to progressing towards freedom. However, Tocqueville observes that the overwhelming passion for equality endangers an individual’s freedom. According to Tocqueville, equality and freedom have been able to coexist in America due to their practice of local self-governments. Local authorities have flourished in America due to the citizens religious values, which were entrenched in their good mores.

The Puritans were the point of departure in the United States. Puritanism was not only a religious doctrine, but also contained absolute democratic theories. The Puritans established local governments, in which demonstrated ideal democratic processes. These local governments in New England also established strict moral laws. The citizens collectively agreed on those laws, therefore harsh punishment did not carry a negative connotation. Their religious beliefs ultimately established good mores of the citizens. Those mores allowed them to exercise their freedom justly. The early immigrants to the northern colonies demonstrated how both equality and freedom could coexist under a democratic system. Tocqueville also mentions the importance of a separate church and state in America; identifying the tensions between church and state as the scape goat for the failed French Revolution in France. When the two are separate good mores can be established through freedoms to exercise their liberty in local governments. In order for equality and freedom to coexist, citizens must freely exercise their religious beliefs.

Tocqueville describes the Puritans as the “germ” in which all Democracies should follow. The point of departure in the United States was so important because it was able to maintain the civil liberty and freedom while expanding a condition of equality. The Puritans mores are the most important factor to consider when elaborating the point of departure of the United States....
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