Liberty and Servitude

By Edward Thal /

Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his book, “Democracy in America” published after his 1831 visit to the United States. He was a French political thinker and historian, not a prophet, but in light of unfolding socio-political developments in our country he certainly reads like one.

The impact of this voice from another era is profound because the conclusions drawn are, sadly, so accurate. De Tocqueville encountered America when it was young and vigorous and its best days lay ahead. He also encountered a nation firmly rooted in Christianity, a fact that has been all but erased from the collective consciousness of generations of modern Americans who have graduated from a public education system designed to destroy all knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Here is a small sampling of what De Tocqueville said:

Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.

Religion in America…must 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 it. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief.

In the United States, the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the world where 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 powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

In the United States, the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people…Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent…

The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom. 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.

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.

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 she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

On the subject of our political institutions De Tocqueville warned:

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

And regarding socialism he precedes by a century the writings of F.A. Hayek (whose “Road to Serfdom” should be required reading in all our schools):

Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.