Tocqueville: on America & Algeria
Alexis de Tocqueville was born JULY 29, 1805.
A French social scientist, he traveled the United States in 1831, and wrote a two-part work, Democracy in America (1835; 1840), which has been described as:
"the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written."
In it, Tocqueville wrote:
"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, to which I was unaccustomed.
In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions.
But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country ..."
Tocqueville wrote further:
"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;
and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live ..."
"They brought with them ... a form of Christianity, which I cannot better describe, than by styling it a democratic and republican religion ...
From the earliest settlement of the emigrants, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never been dissolved."
"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 ...
This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation."
"The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator;
but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man.
Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God ...
Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same."
"In the United States the sovereign authority is religious ...
There is no country in the whole world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence than in America ...
America is still the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest real power over men's souls;
and nothing better demonstrates how useful and natural it is to man, since the country where it now has the widest sway is both the most enlightened and the freest."
"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."
In Book Two of Democracy in America, de Tocqueville wrote:
"Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America ...
In the United States ... Christianity itself is a fact so irresistibly established, that no one undertakes either to attack or to defend it."
In August of 1831, while traveling through Chester County, New York, Alexis de Tocqueville observed a court case:
"While I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the assizes of the county of Chester, declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or in the immortality of the soul.
The judge refused to admit his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed beforehand all confidence of the court in what he was about to say ..."
"The newspapers related the fact without any further comment.
The New York Spectator of August 23d, 1831, relates the fact in the following terms:
'The court of common pleas of Chester county (New York), a few days since rejected a witness who declared his disbelief in the existence of God.
The presiding judge remarked, that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God;
that this belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of justice: and
that he knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.'"
In 1895, Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert compiled The Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers, which included the statement from Alexis de Tocqueville:
"Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts -- the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims."
A contemporary of Alexis de Tocqueville, who traveled with him across America, was the French historian Gustave de Beaumont (1802-1865).
Beaumont wrote in his work, Marie ou l'Esclavage aux E'tas-Unis (1835):
"The principal established religious sects in North America are the:
Quakers or Friends,
Evangelical Lutherans, etc ..."
Gustave de Beaumont continued:
"Religion in America is not only a moral institution but also a political institution ...
In the United States, the law is never atheistic ...
All of the American constitutions proclaim freedom of conscience and the liberty and equality of all the confessions ..."
Beaumont stated further:
"The Constitution of Massachusetts proclaims the freedom of the various faiths in the sense that it does not wish to persecute any of them; but it recognizes within the state only Christians and protects only the Protestants.
Maryland's Constitution also declares that all of the faiths are free, and that no one is forced to contribute to the maintenance of a particular church.
However, it gives the legislature the right to establish a general tax, according to the circumstances, for the support of the Christian religion.
The Constitution of Vermont recognizes only the Christian faiths, and says specifically that every congregation of Christians should celebrate the Sabbath or the Lord's Day, and observe the religious worship which seems to it most pleasing to the will of God, manifested by revelation.
Sometimes the American constitutions offer religious bodies some indirect assistance: thus, Maryland law declares that, to be admitted to public office, it is necessary to be a Christian ..."
Gustave de Beaumont continued in Marie ou l'Esclavage aux E'tas-Unis (1835):
"The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that one believe in the existence of God and in a future life of punishment or rewards ...
The law ... confirms the power of religion ...
The religious sects ... are far from showing themselves indifferent to political interests and to the government of the country.
They all take a lively interest in the maintenance of American institutions through the voice of their ministers in the sacred pulpit and even in the political assemblies ..."
"In America, Christian religion is always at the service of freedom.
It is a principle of the United States legislature that, to be good citizen, it is necessary to be religious ; and it is a no less well-established rule that, to fulfill one's duty toward God, it is necessary to be a good citizen ...
In general, anyone who adheres to one of the religious sects, whose number is immense in the United States, enjoys all of his social and political rights in peace.
But the man who would claim to have neither a church nor religious beliefs would not only be excluded from all civil employment and from all political offices ... but ... would be an object of moral persecution of all kinds. No one would care to have any social relations with him ...
No one in the United States believes that a man without religion could be an honest man."
In the 1840's, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled twice to the North African country of ALGERIA.
In Democracy in America, Vol. II, (1840, Book 1, Chapter V), Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
"Mohammed brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories ...
The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything.
That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in an age of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such age, as in all others."
Similar comments on the political and military aspects of Islam were made by St. Alfonsus Liguori (1696-1787), who wrote in The History of Heresies & their Refutation (published 1847):
"The Mahometan paradise, however, is only fit for beasts; for filthy sensual pleasure is all the believer has to expect there ...
Mahometans ... are permitted to have four wives by their law ...
It is prohibited to dispute on the Alcoran (Qur'an) and the Scriptures; and the devil appears to have dictated this precept himself, for, by keeping those poor people in ignorance, he keeps them in darkness ..."
"Mahomet died in 631, in the sixty-third year of his age, and nine years after he was recognized as Sovereign of Arabia.
He saw almost the whole Peninsula subject to his sway, and for four hundred leagues to the North and South of Medina no other Sovereign was known.
He was succeeded by Aboubeker, one of his earliest disciples, and a great conqueror likewise.
A long line of Caliphs united in their own persons the Spiritual and Royal power of the Arabian Empire.
They destroyed the Empire of Persia; and Egypt, and Syria, and the rich provinces and kingdoms of the East yielded to their arms."
Thomas Paine referred to the political aspect of "Mahomet" in his 3rd edition of Common Sense, Philadelphia, Feb. 14, 1776:
"Kings ... could we ... trace them to their first rise, we should find ... the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners ... obtained him the title of chief among plunderers ... History stuffed with fables ... to trump up some superstitious tale conveniently timed, Mahomet-like, to cram hereditary right down the throats of the vulgar."
Alexis de Tocqueville stated in "Travail sur l'Algerie dans oeuvres complètes" (1841):
"I came back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at present in our way of waging war ...
If our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall be in a far lower position than theirs: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians."
Washington Irving, the U.S. Minister to Spain, wrote in Mohammed and His Successors (1850, ch. 16):
"Mohammed ... hitherto he had relied on ... persuasion to make proselytes ...
He now arrived at a point where he completely diverged from the celestial spirit of the Christian doctrines, and stamped his religion with the alloy of fallible mortality ...
He had come to Medina a fugitive seeking an asylum ... In a little while, and probably to his own surprise, he found an army at his command ... men of resolute spirit, skilled in the use of arms, and fond of partisan warfare ...
He endeavored to persuade himself ... 'I, therefore, the last of the prophets, am sent with the sword! ... 'The sword,' added he, 'is the key of heaven and hell' ...
Such were the ... revelations which converted Islamism ... from a religion of meekness ... to one of violence and the sword."
John Wesley, who founded Methodism, wrote in The Doctrine of Original Sin (published 1817, p. 35; Works, 1841, ix. 205):
"An ingenious writer, who a few years ago published a pompous translation of the Koran, takes great pains to give us a very favorable opinion both of Mahomet and his followers ...
but a moderate share of reason, cannot but observe in his Koran ... the most gross and impious absurdities ...
Human understanding must be debased to an inconceivable degree, in those who can swallow such absurdities as divinely revealed ...
That these men then have no knowledge or love of God is undeniably manifest, not only from their gross, horrible notion s of him, but from their not loving their brethren ...
Mahometans will butcher each other by thousands, without so plausible a plea as this ... because they differ in the manner of dressing their head.
The Ottoman vehemently maintains ... that a Mussulman should wear a round turban. Whereas the Persian insists upon his liberty of conscience, and will wear it picked before.
So, for this wonderful reason, when a more plausible one is wanting, they beat out each other's brains from generation to generation ..."
"It is not therefore strange, that ever since the religion of Mahomet appeared in the world, the espousers of it, particularly those under the Turkish emperor, have been as wolves and tigers to all other nations; rending and tearing all that fell into their merciless paws, and grinding them with their iron teeth: that numberless cities are razed from the foundation."
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of Muslim "political tendencies" in a letter to Arthur de Gobineau, October 22, 1843 (Tocqueville Reader, p. 229):
"I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Mohammed ...
So far as I can see, it is the principle cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared ...
I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself."
Alexis de Tocqueville predicted how Americans would lose their freedom.
It would happen a little at a time, as he wrote in Democracy in America (Vol. 2, 1840, The Second Part, Bk 4, Ch. VI):
"I had noted in my stay in the United States that a democratic state of society similar to the American model could lay itself open to the establishment of despotism with unusual ease ...
It would debase men without tormenting them ... Men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls ...
Above these men stands an immense and protective power ...
It prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind.
It restricts the activity of free will within a narrower range and gradually removes autonomy itself from each citizen ..."
"Thus, the ruling power, having taken each citizen one by one into its powerful grasp ... spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules ...
It does not break men's wills but it does soften, bend, and control them ... It constantly opposes what actions they perform ...
It inhibits, represses, drains, snuffs out, dulls so much effort that finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as shepherd ... a single, protective, and all-powerful government ...
Individual intervention ... is ... suppressed ... It is ... in the details that we run the risk of enslaving men.
For my part, I would be tempted to believe that freedom in the big things of life is less important than in the slightest ...
Subjection in the minor things of life is obvious every day ...
It constantly irks them until they give up the exercise of their will ... and enfeebles their spirit ...
It will be useless to call upon those very citizens who have become so dependent upon central government to choose from time to time the representative of this government ..."
de Tocqueville concluded:
"Increasing despotism in the administrative sphere ... they reckon citizens are incompetent ...
It is ... difficult to imagine how men who have completely given up the habit of self-government could successfully choose those who should do it for them ...
The vices of those who govern and the ineptitude of those governed would soon bring it to ruin and ... revert to its abasement to one single master."