The Role of Religion in Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

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2004-11-17

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Title of Dissertation: THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE'S DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

                          Primrose Pratt Tishman, Doctor of Philosophy, 2004

Dissertation directed by: Professor Charles E. Butterworth

                                     Department of Government and Politics





This study explores the influence of Montesquieu, Rousseau and Pascal on Tocqueville's religious teaching to show that it has two components: (a) to provide for order in the disordered democratic state and (b) to satisfy a primordial human need for the eternal.  The analysis follows Tocqueville's own method of contrast and analogy to show how the harmonious combination of the teaching of the enlightenment with religion in America on the one hand and their discordant linking in France on the other produced opposite consequences for liberty. 



The study examines why Tocqueville insists that the mutual dependence of religion and liberty is more necessary in democracy than in aristocracy.  Second, it demonstrates how Montesquieu's teaching helps Tocqueville to explain the American religious phenomenon, which combines an equal fervor for material well-being with systematic piety.  Third, it explores how Tocqueville modifies Rousseau's teaching on opinion to promote religion as the appropriate source of moral authority in democracy.  Fourth, it uncovers how Tocqueville combines selected elements of Rousseau's natural religion with Montesquieu's concept of virtue as enlightened interest and the moralistic language of Pascal to encourage religious habits that conform to the inclinations of the democratic intellect and sentiment.  Finally, it explores how Tocqueville's teaching can help thoughtful Americans deliberate about the moral issues that confront the U.S. today. 



Tocqueville's teaching draws attention to the precarious position of liberty in egalitarian societies where the instinct for individual independence causes human beings to become amoral and apolitical.  Equality induces them to become totally absorbed with the pursuit of material well-being and thus to direct all personal intellectual resources toward that goal, making common opinion the sole guide of reason in all other matters.  Moreover, since laws usually reflect changing opinions Tocqueville affirms that religion-- the only fixed point around which human beings can orient themselvesmust be used to sustain liberty by making it the foundation of public opinion.

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