In 1947, Henry Steele Commager offered an excellent description of Alexis De Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America. He said:
“By common consent, his Democracy in America [1835-40] is the most illuminating commentary on American character and institutions ever penned by a foreigner, the one which a century after its appearance, seems best assured of immortality.”
The world had been looking at the peculiar experiment of American democracy and the great progress associated with it. Tocqueville observed America’s intimate connection with its faith:
“Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world, fulfills all the outward duties of religion with fervor.”
However, Tocqueville warned that the American democracy and success could not be easily replicated in another environment. He wrote, “This government can only be maintained on certain conditions of intelligence, private morality, and religious faith which we [French] do not possess.”
According to Tocqueville, the necessary glue and guidance came from their faith. He suggested, “The great austerity of manners which is observable in the United States arises, in the first instance, from religious faith.”
He called “religion in America” the “foremost of the political institutions.” Tocqueville wasn’t suggesting that Christianity had become the mandated faith. However, he observed that everyone acted in accordance with the Christian faith.
I do not know whether all the Americans have a sincere faith in their religion, for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizen or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation, and to every rank of society… 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.
Certainly, the U.S. wasn’t legally a Christian nation. However, in character and in practice it was: “Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent.”
How was its Christian character manifested? Tocqueville compared the U.S. to his home country, France, and the bloody, chaotic revolution it had endured in the name of “freedom and equality.” He said, “No one in the United States has dared to advance the maxim that everything is permissible… an impious adage which seems to have been invented in an age of freedom to shelter all the tyrants of future ages. Thus, while the law permits Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit what is rash and unjust.”
For Tocqueville, democracy alone could not deliver the benefits. It had to be underpinned by Christian faith. This hadn’t been the case in France; nor would it be the case in the future genocidal upheavals that had ravaged the Western world. Instead, Tocqueville observed that Christianity had placed necessary limits upon the possible excesses of democracy, especially in regards to the institution of Christian family. He remarked:
There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe, almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of home is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of heart, and the evil of fluctuating desires. Agitated by the tumultuous passions which frequently disturb his dwelling, the European is galled by the obedience which the legislative powers of the State exact. But when the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace… While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterward carries with him into public affairs. (199)
Meanwhile, the United States is actively engaged in dismantling this very source of peace, throwing out the definition of family and of sexual identity, even forbidding any mention of what had once been the foundations for its peace.
The battle cry of “freedom and equality” and other forms of social agitation, coming from agitated souls, have ironically created the most oppressive forms of dictatorships and resulting human exterminations, namely Communism, National Socialism and other idealistic promises of utopia.