Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

The Story of America: The Frenchman Who Wrote About America Better Than Any American

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 24, 2024 3:04 am

The Story of America: The Frenchman Who Wrote About America Better Than Any American

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 2123 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.


April 24, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, in our 23rd episode of our ongoing 'Story of America' Series, Dr. Bill McClay, author of Land of Hope, tells the story of Alexis de Tocqueville—a Frenchman who came to America to write a book on the "wave of the future" as he saw it—Democracy.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

AT&T connects an ode to podcasts. Connect the alarm. Change the podcast you stream. Connect the snooze.

Ten more minutes to dream. Connect the shower. Lather up with the news, sports talk, comedians, or movie reviews. Connect with a three hour philosophy show. Change the drive into work and traffic so slow. Connect the dishes to voices that glow.

Thank you to the geniuses of smoking audio. Connect the stories. Change your perspective. Connecting changes everything.

AT&T. In our first course, we learned how to sleep better. Now, we're going to learn how to make our friendships stronger. I'll offer expert tips that are doable, and I'll keep it short. So let's do this.

Glasses in session. Find Try This from The Washington Post wherever you listen. Let's clear out winter and clean up the lawn with Spring Black Friday Savings at The Home Depot. Right now, get the Ryobi One Plus Leaf Blower for just $89 and make your lawn work easier with a powerful 90 miles an hour of clearing power. And with convenient online shopping, you can order on the app, pick up in store, and get outside sooner. Get your yard spring ready with the Ryobi One Plus Leaf Blower.

Now just $89 during Spring Black Friday at The Home Depot. How doers get more done. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, another installment of our series about us.

The Story of America series with Hillsdale College professor and author of the terrific book, Land of Hope. Bill McCleay. Today, Bill shares the story of a foreigner whose observations on our nation still seem current, nearly 200 years later. His name, Alexis de Tocqueville. Let's get into the story. Take it away, Bill. Who was Alexis de Tocqueville?

Let me back up. Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805 to a French aristocratic family. It was a family that had suffered greatly because of the French Revolution.

Tocqueville's father, who was a loyal civil servant, ended up being imprisoned. His mother suffered from mental illness as a result of this. His grandfather was murdered. He was very much affected by the French Revolution. He grew up in the wake of that cataclysmic event. So a great question always for him was, what was to be learned from this event? Was this something that represented an inevitable movement of history?

Or was it a fluke? Was the restoration of the monarchy, which took place when he was a young man, was that a restoration of the normal order of things? So he was living at a kind of cusp of history, which things seemed as if they could go one way or another way.

So that's Tocqueville. He came to America in 1830, ostensibly to study the prison system of the United States, which, believe it or not, was regarded as advanced by the world's standards at that point. But that was just a pretext. Really what he wanted to do was to write a great book about this emerging phenomenon, this first great democracy, this first great republic, of which he said, all the world talks and no one knows. So he was going to write the book that would make the world understand what this great experiment meant and to look at its virtues, its vices, and try to discern from that what Europe could learn, what France in particular could learn in its future, and to guide the forces of democracy to a better harbor, to a more felicitous conclusion than what had come out of the revolution, which was bloodshed, Napoleon, and a restoration of the monarchy after much warfare and disruption. He actually had political ambitions also.

I should not bear from mentioning that. And he thought making this trip to America, writing a great book would launch him. It really didn't have that effect. He wrote a great book.

It didn't launch a great political career, as it turned out. And so far as America is concerned, Tocqueville wrote the book called Democracy in America, the Democratie en Amérique, published in two volumes, 1835 and 1840. And these two volumes arguably make up together the greatest single work about America ever written. I think if you were condemned to a desert island with only one book to read about America for all the time left to you in life, I don't think you could do much better than Democracy in America. Because it describes certain fundamental properties of American society that have persisted. And it describes in very powerful ways the virtues and the pathologies of democracy, that is, of the regime based on the principle of human equality, making no distinctions of rank, of nobility, and the other marks of aristocracy, but treating all human beings as fundamentally, legally, civically equal. It was still a new idea. America from the start, from the very beginning, we were a republic and conceived of ourselves as a republic. Tocqueville wanted to see firsthand, how does that work?

What does that look like? And he's only 26 years old, but he's got to have been the most perceptive 26 year old. He was to sociology and political science what Mozart was to music. He got it very early and he got it right. So Tocqueville came to America, and he says this very clearly, he came there to see what the future held. He came to feel that democracy, that is a regime that stressed the equality of all people, was the wave of the future. Like it or not, America was the avant-garde. It was in the vanguard of change that he expected and believed was coming everywhere. He says, I confess that in America I saw more than America.

I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress. That I think is a very clear statement of what he intended to do. He really wasn't trying to write the best book on America, he just did that as a matter of course in the process of writing the best book on democracy.

He spends nine months in the country, writes up copious notes. Now, as the quote I just read to you implies, Tocqueville did not think it was all roses and sugar plums in America. He was not advocating for democracy. He was saying democracy is what is coming. Democracy has its virtues, it has its faults. We need to understand both. We need to understand virtues, we need to see the faults, we need to acknowledge the faults. And that these faults may be inherent to the nature of democracy.

And the best we can do is find a way to live with them. When we come back, more on the story of Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, after these messages. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And all of our history stories are brought to us by our generous sponsors, including Hillsdale College, where students go to learn all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that matter in life. If you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Go to hillsdale.edu.

That's hillsdale.edu. This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. Hi, Lee Habib here, host of Our American Stories. I want to talk to you about your social battery. If you're feeling drained or spread too thin, your social battery might just need a recharge or an adjustment. It's easy to ignore that feeling something isn't quite right with your social battery. As our ever-connected world makes setting social boundaries harder and spreads us thinner, it can feel like there just isn't enough of us to go around. Therapy is a great way to build self-awareness and a better social life.

I've seen the benefits of therapy with so many people I know, from coping skills to boundary setting, getting them to be better and happier versions of themselves. If your social battery needs a charge, give the folks at BetterHelp a try. It's entirely online and designed to suit you and your schedule.

You'll get matched with a licensed therapist and you can switch therapists anytime for no additional charge. For an additional 10% off your first month, go to BetterHelp.com slash O-A-S. That's BetterHelp H-E-L-P dot com slash O-A-S. There's a lot happening these days, but I have just the thing to get you up to speed on what matters without taking too much of your time. The Seven from The Washington Post is a podcast that gives you the seven most important and interesting stories, and we always try to save room for something fun. You get it all in about seven minutes or less. I'm Hannah Jewell.

I'll get you caught up with the Seven every weekday, so follow the Seven right now. As we wave goodbye to winter's chill, it's time to give our lawn a little love and embrace the freshness of spring. And guess what? The Home Depot's Spring Black Friday sale is here to make it all a breeze. Snag the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for just $89 and say goodbye to tedious yard work. With a powerful 90 miles an hour of clearing power, your lawn will look spotless in a flash.

And the best part? Thanks to the convenience of online shopping, you can effortlessly place your order via the app, cruise into the store for pickup, and find yourself chilling in your freshly spruced-up yard in no time. Don't let this awesome deal blow away. Get your hands on the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for only $89. Yeah, just $89.

Exclusively during Spring Black Friday at The Home Depot. How doers get more done. And we return to Our American Stories. And with our Story of America series, let's pick up where we last left off. He captured great things about the nation. He also captured flaws. He's not an American booster, not an American cheerleader, but an observer, an astute observer. He didn't want to become an American. There was a lot about Americans that was distasteful to him.

Remember, he's an aristocrat. Actually, many foreign observers of that time talked about Americans the way Americans ate. That they ate massive amounts of food without much attention to the quality of the food.

A Frenchman would not do this. So he was not an altogether admiring figure. And yet he did admire many things, and we'll get to those in a moment. I want to talk about the flaws that he saw first. One example is the policy of Indian removal that's going on at this very time. Tocqueville witnessed it firsthand. He stumbled upon a group of Choctaw Indians crossing the Mississippi River near Memphis.

And here's what he said. It is impossible to conceive the extent of the sufferings which attend these forced immigrations. They're undertaken by a people already exhausted and reduced, and the countries to which the newcomers betake themselves are inhabited by other tribes which receive them with jealous hostility. Hunger is in the rear, war awaits them, and misery besets them on all sides. In the hope of escaping from such a host of enemies they separate, and each individual endeavors to procure the means of supporting his existence in solitude and secrecy, living in the immensity of the desperate like an outcast civil society. The social tie which distressed had long since weakened is then dissolved. They've lost their country, and their people soon desert them.

Their very families are obliterated, the names they bore in common are forgotten, their language perishes, and all the traces of their origin disappear. And he ended his writing on this subject with another feature. Tocqueville was a man who possessed of enormous compassion and insight, but also an ability to make very hard and difficult judgments.

And so he ends with this. These are great evils, and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable. I believe that the Indian nations of North America are doomed to perish, and that whenever the Europeans shall be established on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, that race of men will be no more.

The Indians had only the two alternatives of war or civilization. In other words, they must either have destroyed the Europeans or become their equals. That, of course, is not the only flaw circa 1831 that Tocqueville saw. He had some contact with the institution of slavery.

A few words about that. The Indians will perish in the same isolated condition which they've lived, but the destiny of the Negroes is in some measure interwoven with that of the Europeans. The two races are attached to each other, without intermingling, and they are alike, unable entirely to separate or to combine. The most formidable of all the ills which threaten the future existence of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory, and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments or of the future dangers of the United States.

The observer is invariably led to consider this as a primary fact. The permanent evils to which mankind is subjected are usually produced by the vehement or increasing efforts of men. But there is one calamity which penetrated furtively into the world, and which was at first scarcely distinguishable amidst the ordinary abuses of power. It originated with an individual whose name history has not preserved. It was wafted like some accursed germ upon a portion of the soil, but it afterwards nurtured itself, grew without effort, and spread naturally with the society to which it belongs. I need scarcely add that this calamity is flavoring. Kocvo was very acute in identifying another aspect of our national character, and that is a certain restlessness, a restlessness in the midst of our prosperity.

Let me give you a portion of that. In certain remote corners of the old world you may still sometimes stumble on a small district that seems to have been forgotten amid the general tumult, and to have remained stationary while everything around it was in motion. The inhabitants for the most part are extremely ignorant and poor. They take no part in the business of the country and are frequently oppressed by the government, yet their countenances are generally placid, and their spirits are light. In America, by contrast, I saw the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest circumstances that the world affords. It seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad even in their pleasures.

The chief reason for this contrast is that the former do not think of the ills they endure, while the latter are forever brooding over advantages they do not possess. It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it. In the United States a man builds a house in which to spend his old age, and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming in to bury. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops.

He embraces the profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterwards leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure, he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics, and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor he finds he has a few days vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness. At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance.

The spectacle itself, however, is as old as the world. The novelty is to see a whole people furnish in exemplification. And completing the list of the foibles, deficiencies of democracy that Tocqueville identified is one that I think was identified already by some of the founders. You see it in the Federalist Papers discussed. And that is the concept of the tyranny of the majority, that actually America, for all of its seeming liberty, was not an empire of reason, was not a place in which people felt free to disagree. Thought is an invisible and almost intangible power that makes sport of all tyranny. In our day the most absolute sovereigns of Europe cannot prevent certain thoughts hostile to their authority.

It is not the same in America. As long as the majority is doubtful, one speaks. But when it has irrevocably pronounced, everyone becomes silent. Friends and enemies alike then seem to hitch themselves together through its wagon. The reason for this is simple. There is no monarch so absolute that he can gather in his hands all the strength of society and defeat resistance, as can a majority vested with the right to make the laws and execute them. In America, the majority draws a formidable circle around thought.

Inside those limits the writer is free, but unhappiness awaits him if he dares to leave them. When we come back, more here on Our American Stories. Finding the right news podcast can feel like dating. It seems promising until you start listening. When you hit play on Post Reports, you'll get fascinating conversations and sometimes a little fun too. I'm Martine Powers.

And I'm Elahe Azadi. Martine and I are the hosts of Post Reports. The show comes out every weekday from the Washington Post.

You can follow and listen to Post Reports wherever you get your podcasts. It'll be a match, I promise. As we wave goodbye to winter's chill, it's time to give our lawn a little love and embrace the freshness of spring. And guess what? The Home Depot's Spring Black Friday sale is here to make it all a breeze. Snag the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for just $89 and say goodbye to tedious yard work. With a powerful 90 miles an hour of clearing power, your lawn will look spotless in a flash.

And the best part? Thanks to the convenience of online shopping, you can effortlessly place your order via the app, cruise into the store for pickup, and find yourself chilling in your freshly spruced up yard in no time. Don't let this awesome deal blow away. Get your hands on the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for only $89. Yeah, just $89. Exclusively during Spring Black Friday at the Home Depot.

How doers get more done. The countdown is on for the 2024 NFL Draft presented by Bud Light. Catch all seven rounds three days live from Detroit. April 25th to 27th with NFL Network draft coverage presented by Verizon and on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and streaming on NFL Plus. It all starts Thursday, April 25th at 8pm Eastern.

Visit NFL.com slash draft for more information presented by Bud Light. Easy to drink, easy to enjoy. And we return to our American stories and with this story of America series. When we last left off, Professor Bill McClay told us the story of the negative aspects of America that French observer Alexis de Tocqueville saw while here. The Trail of Tears, slavery, our restlessness and the tyranny of the majority. Let's return to the story of Alexis de Tocqueville.

It's time now for what he saw that was positive. These are some of the flaws that Tocqueville saw in American democracy. And yet he proposes ways that American democracy can and already is countervailing against them. Maybe one of the most redeeming features of American life is the way that we organize ourselves. Political associations. He marveled at the ability of Americans to form organizations themselves politically, spontaneously come together without necessarily the direction of government or any coercive authority to accomplish good works for the public interest.

Here's how he talks about it. The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail in the midst of the immense picture that the sum of associations presents there. Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations of which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, grave, feudal, very general and very particular, immense and very small. Americans use associations to give fetes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes. In this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it's a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate everywhere that at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will see an association in the United States.

This is still a characteristic of American life today. Here's Tocqueville, a few more comments about associations. I encountered all sorts of associations in America which I had no idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and get them to advance it freely. Thus, the most democratic country on earth is found to be, above all, the one where men in our day have most perfected the art of pursuing the object of their common desires in common.

Does this result from an accident, or could it be that there's in fact a necessary relation between associations and equality? Aristocratic societies always include within them, in the midst of a multitude of individuals who can do nothing by themselves, a few very powerful and wealthy citizens. Each of these can execute great undertakings by himself. In aristocratic societies, men have no need to unite to act because they are kept very much together. In democratic peoples, on the other hand, all citizens are independent and weak. They can do almost nothing by themselves.

They therefore all fall into impotence if they do not learn to aid each other freely. A government could take the place of some of the greatest American associations, but what political power would ever be in a state sufficient for the innumerable multitude of small undertakings that American citizens execute every day with the aid of an association? The morality and intelligence of a democratic people would risk no fewer dangers than its business and its industry if the government came to take the place of associations everywhere. He had the vision that as government took over and commandeered the role that had formerly been delegated to associations, associations would weaken their hold, they would weaken their force, they would weaken their capacity to bring about civic unity, civic consciousness, civic cohesion, civic capital. Tocqueville was a great admirer of the American Constitution and particularly its federalism, its division of powers between the elements of the national government and the elements of the state governments. And unity is even below this level of the state government, counties, municipalities. And the way that this dispersal of power among the states affects American life itself.

Here's what he has to say about that. In great centralized nations, the legislators have obliged to impart a character of uniformity to the laws which does not always suit the diversity of customs and of districts. As he takes no consequence of special cases, he can only proceed upon general principles, which is the cause of endless trouble and misery. This disadvantage does not exist in confederations. Congress regulates the principle measures of the national government and all the details of administration are observed through the provincial legislatures, by which he means the states.

It's impossible to imagine how much this division of sovereignty contributes to the well-being of each of the states. In these small communities, all public authority and private energy is employed in internal amelioration. They concentrate on their own business. The central government of each state, which is an immediate juxtaposition to the citizens, is daily apprised of the wants which arise in society. And new projects are proposed every year, which are discussed either at town meetings or by the legislatures of the state, and which are transmitted by the press to stimulate the zeal and excite the interest of the citizens. This spirit of amelioration is constantly alive in the American republics, without compromising their tranquility. The ambition of power yields the less refined and less dangerous love of comfort. It is not unusual to attribute a large share of the misfortunes which have befallen the new states of South America to the injudicious erection of great republics, instead of a divided and confederate sovereignty.

Interesting observation about Latin America, just in passing. It is incontestably true that the love and the habits of republican government in the United States were engendered in the townships and the provincial assemblies. In a small state like that of Connecticut, for instance, where cutting a canal or laying down a road is a momentous political question, where the state has no army to pay and no wars to carry on, and where much wealth and much honor cannot be bestowed on the chief citizens, no form of government can be more natural or more appropriate than that of a republic. But it is the same republican spirit. It is these manners and customs of a free people which are engendered and nurtured in the different states to be afterwards applied to the country at large. The public spirit of the union is, so to speak, nothing more than an abstract of the patriotic zeal of the provinces. Every citizen of the United States transfuses his attachment to his little republic in the common store of American patriotism. In defending the union, he defends the increasing prosperity of his own district. That's a magnificent and fascinating comment on the nature of American patriotism. American patriotism is not only based on an appeal to the ideals of the nation, but to the ideals of a nation that happens to be a nation that delegates as much as possible to local entities the sovereign rights of government. That's a part of the reason to feel patriotic of America, is when she leaves you alone.

And what a final thought there. When we come back, we'll continue with Professor Bill Maclay's story of Alexis de Tocqueville's trip to America here on Our American Stories. Hey, this is Christina Quinn. I'm the host of Try This, The Washington Post's new series of audio courses. The idea behind Try This is to become better functioning humans without having to comb the internet for countless hours. In our first course, we learned how to sleep better. Now, we're going to learn how to make our friendships stronger. I'll offer expert tips that are doable, and I'll keep it short. So let's do this.

Glasses in session. Find Try This from The Washington Post wherever you listen. As we wave goodbye to winter's chill, it's time to give our lawn a little love and embrace the freshness of spring. And guess what? The Home Depot's Spring Black Friday sale is here to make it all a breeze. Snag the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for just $89 and say goodbye to tedious yard work. With a powerful 90 miles an hour of clearing power, your lawn will look spotless in a flash.

And the best part? Thanks to the convenience of online shopping, you can effortlessly place your order via the app, cruise into the store for pickup, and find yourself chilling in your freshly spruced-up yard in no time. Don't let this awesome deal blow away. Get your hands on the Ryobi One Plus leaf blower for only $89. Yeah, just $89. Exclusively during Spring Black Friday at The Home Depot.

How doers get more done. The countdown is on for the 2024 NFL Draft presented by Bud Light. Catch all seven rounds, three days, live from Detroit. April 25th to 27th with NFL Network draft coverage presented by Verizon. And on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and streaming on NFL Plus. It all starts Thursday, April 25th at 8 p.m. Eastern. Visit NFL.com slash draft for more information.

Presented by Verizon, the official 5G network of the NFL. And we return to our American stories and the final portion of our story about Alexis de Tocqueville as a part of our Story of America series. With Hillsdale College professor and author of the terrific book Land of Hope, Professor Bill McClay. When we last left off, Bill was telling us about the great things that Tocqueville saw in our country. Let's return to the story.

Here again is Bill McClay. Now, we've heard how Tocqueville wrote about American restlessness. He was concerned about this flaw in our character, this tendency to dissipate our energies. One of the great counterbalances to this recklessness in his view was religion. Religion was essential. Without it, there might not be any way to fill the centrifugal forces of materialism and individualism that would otherwise sweep through the country.

Here's what he says. In the United States, on the seventh day of every week, the trading and working life of the nation seems suspended. All noises cease, a deep tranquility. They rather the solemn calm of meditation exceeds the turmoil of the week and the soul resumes possession and contemplation of itself.

Upon this day, the marts of traffic are deserted. Every member of the community accompanied by his children goes to church, where he listens in strange language to what would seem to be unsuited to his ear. He's told of the countless evils caused by pride and covetousness. He's reminded of the necessity of checking his desires, of the finer pleasures which belong to virtue alone, and of the true happiness which attends it. On the return home, he does not turn to the ledgers of his calling, but he opens the book of Holy Scripture. There he meets with the blind or affecting descriptions of the greatness and goodness of the Creator, of the infinite magnificence of the handiwork of God, of the lofty destinies of man, of his duties, and of his immortal privileges. Thus it is that the American at times steals an hour from himself, laying aside for a while the petty passions which agitate his life and the ephemeral interests which engross it.

He strays it once into an ideal world where all is great, eternal, and pure. Give democratic nations education and freedom and leave them alone. They will soon learn to draw from this world all the benefits which it can afford. They'll improve each of the useful arts and will day by day render life more comfortable, more convenient, and more easy. Their social condition naturally urges them in this direction. I do not fear that they will slacken their course, but while man takes delight in this honest and lawful pursuit of his well-being, it is to be apprehended that he may in the end lose the use of his sublimest faculty, and that whilst he is busy in improving all around him, he may at length degrade himself.

Here and here only does the peril lie. It should therefore be the unceasing object of the legislators of democracies and of all the virtuous and enlightened men to raise the soul of their fellow citizens and keep them lifted up towards heaven. Tocqueville was very concerned about materialism. Materialism not only in the sense of the desire to acquire things, that sense of materialism, but also a view of human life. That the human soul, moral values are all reducible to mere material. That is a loss of a sense of the spiritual dimension of life. That this in turn might undermine the very possibility of democracy.

And of course religion is a barrier to materialism. Materialism is, amongst all nations, a dangerous disease of the human mind, but it is more especially to be dreaded among a democratic people. Because it readily amalgamates with that vice which is most familiar to the heart under such circumstances, democracy encourages a taste for physical gratification. This taste, if it becomes excessive, soon disposes men to believe that all is matter only, and materialism in turn hurries them back with mad impatience to these same delights. Such is the fatal circle within which democratic nations are driven round.

It were well that they should see the danger and hold back. Most religions are only general, simple and practical means of teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. That's the greatest benefit which a democratic people derives from its belief, and hence belief is more necessary to such a people than to all others. When, therefore, any religion has struck its roots deep into a democracy, beware lest you disturb it, but rather watch it carefully as the most precious bequest of all aristocratic agents.

Heed not to supersede the old religious opinions of men by new ones, lest in the passage from one faith to another, the soul being left for a while stripped of all belief, the love of physical ratification should grow upon it and fill it wholly. Another aspect of American religion of which Tocqueville heartily approved was the voluntaristic nature of American religion, that we did not have an established church in America, a national church to which all Americans were bound to bend the knee or accept something like second class citizenship. State religion, established religion, this was a danger to religion itself, Tocqueville believed. Here's what he says, as to state religions, I've always held that if they be sometimes of momentary service to the interests of political power, they always sooner or later become fatal to the church. Above all else about Tocqueville that readers and listeners should take away, know that he valued liberty above almost everything else. He was very much opposed to doctrines like Marxism and other forms of determinism that were rising and were popular in the circle of the educated elites of European society and American society increasingly too in his time.

And he spoke against them at the very end, the very end of the book, he has a passage that I want to read to you in closing. I am not unaware that several of my contemporaries have thought that peoples are never masters of themselves here below, that they necessarily obey. I do not know which insurmountable and unintelligent force born of previous events, the race, the soil, or the climate. Those are false and cowardly doctrines that can never produce any but weak men and pusillanimous nations. Providence has not created the human race either entirely independent or perfectly slave. It traces, it is true, a fatal circle around each man that he cannot leave, but within its vast limits man is powerful and free, so too with peoples. Nations of our day cannot have it that conditions within them are not equal, but it depends on them whether equality leads them to servitude or freedom to enlightenment or barbarism, to prosperity or misery.

And let me just sort of try to unpack what he's saying here. In the first place he's saying there's no such thing as absolute freedom to operate without any regard to circumstances. That there are these great movements of history and the movement towards equality is one of them. We can't roll back the sands of time. We have to accept the conditions in which we find ourselves.

But within those conditions there is still a lot of freedom. The fatal circle that's drawn around us is a circle that has a certain amplitude to it. Within that circle we can make a difference in whether the forms that democratic life takes on are forms that ennoble the human person or degrade him. What will uplift us?

What will make us better? He saw coming what he saw coming and he reported the truth as he saw it. And yet at the same time he sought to implore upon his readers that knowledge is power. Knowledge is an ability to shape the future to the extent it's given to us to shape anything to our best advantage.

So there you have it. That's the nature of free will as Tocqueville understood it. And he wanted to learn from the Americans for the sake of the Europeans. We the Americans can now learn from him.

And a terrific job on the production, editing and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery. A special thanks to Professor Bill Maclay. He teaches at Hillsdale College. His book Land of Hope is available on Amazon or anywhere else you buy books. The story of America. The story of Alexis de Tocqueville's visit to America.

His nine month visit here on Our American Stories. You deserve a moment to yourself every single day and a delicious bite of a Keebler Sandys can give you that comforting pause. Bring along the melt in your mouth magic of a Keebler Sandys to add a sprinkle of joy to your work day. This magic is baked into simple shortbread cookies by Ernie and the Keebler elves.

So as life continues to fly by, make the most of your me moment. Take a pause and enjoy a Keebler Sandys. The countdown is on for the 2024 NFL Draft presented by Bud Light. Catch all seven rounds three days live from Detroit. April 25th to 27th with NFL Network draft coverage presented by Verizon and on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and streaming on NFL Plus. It all starts Thursday, April 25th at 8 p.m. Eastern. Visit NFL.com slash draft for more information.

Rocket Mortgage, official partner of the NFL Draft. You're a growing business, which means you need every spare hour you can find. That's why the most successful growing businesses are working together in Slack. Slack is where work happens with all your people, data and information in one A.I.

powered place. Start a call instantly in huddles and ditch cumbersome calendar invites or build an automation with Workflow Builder to take routine tasks off your plate. No coding required. Grow your business in Slack. Visit Slack.com to get started.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-24 04:40:21 / 2024-04-24 04:56:21 / 16

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime