Aug 21, Apr 11, Sep 1, May 12, Volume X - in Two Parts. Mar 4-Jun 10, Volume XI - in Three Parts. Mar Sep 2, Apr 12, Jun 11, Jun Oct 31, Jun 10, Jan 20, Aug 29, Jun 3, Sep 3-Nov 14, November 15, - January 25, January 21 - August 10, January 20 - August 10, Part I - Reports, Jan. January June 3, May December 31, Part I - Reports, Union Correspondence, etc. Part II - Confederate Correspondence, etc. June 3-August 3, June December 31, August 4-December 31, August October 19, October December 31, January 1-April 30, January 1-June 30, January 1-November 13, May 1-June 12, May 1-August 3, May 1-September 8, Part V - Union and Confederate Correspondence, etc.
May 1-November 13, Volume XL - in Three Parts. It is principally towards these dangers, therefore, that I directed my gaze; and, believing that I had clearly discerned what they are, it would have been cowardice to say nothing about them. I hope the same impartiality will be found in this second work which people seemed to observe in its predecessor. Placed be- tween the conflicting opinions that divide my countrymen, I have endeavored for the time to stifle in my own bosom the sympathy Vt Author's Preface to the Second Pert or the aversion that I felt for either.
If the readers of my book find in it a single phrase intended to flatter either of the great par- ties that have agitated our country, or any one of the petty fac- tions that in our day harass and weaken it, let them raise their voices and accuse me. The subject that I wished to cover by my investigations is im- mense, for it includes most of the feelings and opinions produced by the new condition of the world's affairs.
Such a subject cer- tainly exceeds my strength, and in the treatment of it I have not been able to satisfy myself. But even if I could not attain the goal towards which I strove, my readers will at least do me this justice, that I conceived and pursued my enterprise in a spirit which could make me worthy of succeeding. The Americans have no philosophical school of their own, and they care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided, the very names of which are scarcely known to them. Yet it is easy to perceive that almost all the inhabitants of the United States use their minds in the same manner, and direct them according to the same rules; that is to say, without ever having taken the trouble to define the rules, they have a philosophical method common to the whole people.
To evade the bondage of system and habit, of family maxims, class opinions, and, in some degree, of national prejudices; to ac- cept tradition only as a means of information, and existing facts only as a lesson to be used in doing otherwise and doing better; to seek the reason of things for oneself, and in oneself alone; to tend to results without being bound to means, and to strike through the form to the substance such are the principal char- acteristics of what I shall call the philosophical method of the Americans.
But if I go further and seek among these characteristics the principal one, which includes almost all the rest, I discover that in most of the operations of the mind fcach American appeals only to the individual effort of his own understanding. America is therefore one of the countries where the precepts of Descartes are least studied and are best applied. Nor is this sur- prising. The Americans do not read the works of Descartes, be- Democracy in America cause their social condition deters them from speculative studies; but they follow his maxims, because this same social condition naturally disposes their minds to adopt them.
In the midst of the continual movement that agitates a demo- cratic community, the tie that unites one generation to another is relaxed or broken; every man there readily loses all trace of the ideas of his forefathers or takes no care about them. Men living in this state of society cannot derive their belief from the opinions of the class to which they belong, for, so to speak, there are no longer any classes, or those which still exist are com- posed of such mobile elements that the body can never exercise any real control over its members.
As to the influence which the intellect of one man may have on that of another, it must necessaiily be very limited in a country where the citizens, placed on an equal footing, are all closely seen by one another; and where, as no signs of incontestable greatness or superiority are perceived in any one of them, they are con- stantly brought back to their own reason as the most obvious and proximate source of truth. It is not only confidence in this or that man which is destroyed, but the disposition to trust the authority of any man whatsoever.
Everyone shuts himself up tightly within himself and insists upon judging the world from there. The practice of Americans leads their minds to other habits, to fixing the standard of their judgment in themselves alone. As they perceive that they succeed in resolving without assistance all the little difficulties which their practical life presents, they readily conclude that everything in the world may be explained, and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding. Thus they fall to denying what they cannot comprehend; which leaves them but little faith for whatever is extraordinary and an almost insur- mountable distaste for whatever is supernatural.
As it is on their own testimony that they are accustomed to rely, they like to dis- cern the object which engages their attention with extreme clear- ness; they therefore strip off as much as possible all that covers it; they rid themselves of whatever separates them from it, they re- move whatever conceals it from sight, in order to view it more closely and in the broad light of day. This disposition of mind soon leads them to condemn forms, which they regard as useless and inconvenient veils placed between them and the truth. The Americans, then, have found no need of drawing philo- 4 Philosophical Method of the Americans sophical method out of books; they have found it in themselves.
The same thing may be remarked in what has taken place in Europe. This same method has only been established and made popular in Europe in proportion as the condition of society has be- come more equal and men have grown more like one another. Let us consider for a moment the connection of the periods in which this change may be traced.
In the sixteenth century reformers subjected some of the dog- mas of the ancient faith to the scrutiny of private judgment; but they still withheld it from the discussion of all the rest. In the seventeenth century Bacon in the natural sciences and Descartes in philosophy properly so called abolished received formulas, de- stroyed the empiie of tradition, and overthrew the authority of the schools. The philosophers of the eighteenth century, general- izing at length on the same principle, undertook to submit to the private judgment of each man all the objects of his belief.
Who does not perceive that Luther, Descartes, and Voltaire em- ployed the same method, and that they differed only in the greater or less use which they professed should be made of it? Why did the reformers confine themselves so closely within the circle of re- ligious ideas? Why did Descartes, choosing to apply his method only to certain matters, though he had made it fit to be applied to all, declare that men might judge for themselves in matters philo- sophical, but not in matters political?
How did it happen that in the eighteenth century those general applications were all at once drawn from this same method, which Descartes and his predeces- sors either had not perceived or had rejected? To what, lastly, is the fact to be attributed that at this period the method we are speaking of suddenly emerged from the schools, to penetrate into society and become the common standard of intelligence; and that after it had become popular among the French, it was osten- sibly adopted or sccietly followed by all the nations of Europe?
The philosophical method here designated may have been born in the sixteenth century, it may have been more accurately defined and more extensively applied in the seventeenth; but neither in the one nor in the other could it be commonly adopted. Political laws, the condition of society, and the habits of mind that are derived from these causes weie as yet opposed to it.
It was discovered at a time when men were beginning to equal- ize and assimilate their conditions. It could be generally followed 5 Democracy in America only in ages when those conditions had at length become nearly equal and men nearly alike. It is not because the French have changed their former opinions and altered their for- mer manners that they have convulsed the world, but because they were the first to generalize and bring to light a philosophical method by the aid of which it became easy to attack all that was old and to open a path to all that was new.
If it be asked why at the present day this same method is more rigorously followed and more frequently applied by the French than by the Americans, although the principle of equality is no less complete and of more ancient date among the latter people, the fact may be attributed to two circumstances, which it is first essential to have clearly understood. It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo- American society. In the United States, religion is therefore min- gled with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patri- otism, whence it derives a peculiar force.
To this reason another of no less power may be added: Religious institutions have re- mained wholly distinct from political institutions, so that former laws have been easily changed while former belief has remained unshaken. Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America; and I would more particularly remark that its sway is not only that of a philosophical doctrine which has been adopted upon inquiry, but of a religion which is believed without discussion. In the United States, Christian sects are in- finitely diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity it- self is an established and irresistible fact, which no one undertakes either to attack or to defend.
The Americans, having admitted the principal doctrines of the Christian religion without inquiry, are obliged to accept in like manner a great number of moral truths originating in it and connected with it. Hence the activity of in- dividual analysis is restrained within narrow limits, and many of the most important of human opinions are removed from its in- fluence. The second circumstance to which I have alluded is that the so- 6 Philosophical Method of the Americans cial condition and the Constitution of the Americans are demo- cratic, but they have not had a democratic revolution.
They arrived on the soil they occupy in nearly the condition in which we see them at the present day; and this is of considerable im- portance. There are no revolutions that do not shake existing belief, en- ervate authority, and throw doubts over commonly received ideas.
Every revolution has more or less the effect of releasing men to their own conduct and of opening before the mind of each one of them an almost limitless perspective. When equality of conditions succeeds a protracted conflict between the different classes of which the elder society was composed, envy, hatred, and unchar- itableness, pride and exaggerated self-confidence seize upon the human heart, and plant their sway in it for a time.
This, independ- ently of equality itself, tends powerfully to divide men, to lead them to mistrust the judgment of one another, and to seek the light of truth nowhere but in themselves. Everyone then attempts to be his own sufficient guide and makes it his boast to form his own opinions on all subjects. Men are no longer bound together by ideas, but by interests; and it would seem as if human opinions were reduced to a sort of intellectual dust, scattered on every side, unable to collect, unable to cohere. Thus that independence of mind which equality supposes to ex- ist is never so great, never appears so excessive, as at the time when equality is beginning to establish itself and in the course of that painful labor by which it is established.
That sort of intellec- tual freedom which equality may give ought, therefore, to be very carefully distinguished from the anarchy which revolution brings. Each of these two things must be separately considered in order not to conceive exaggerated hopes or fears of the future. I believe that the men who will live under the new forms of so- ciety will make frequent use of their private judgment, but I am far from thinking that they will often abuse it.
This is attributable to a cause which is more generally applicable to democratic countries, and which, in the long run, must restrain, within fixed and sometimes narrow limits, individual freedom of thought. I shall proceed to point out this cause in the next chapter. It arises in different ways, and it may change its object and its form; but under no circumstances will dogmatic belief cease to exist, or, in other words, men will never cease to entertain some opinions on trust and without discussion.
If everyone undertook to form all his own opinions and to seek for truth by isolated paths struck out by himself alone, it would follow that no considerable number of men would ever unite in any common belief. But obviously without such common belief no society can pros- per; say, rather, no society can exist; for without ideas held in com- mon there is no common action, and without common action there may still be men, but there is no social body. In order that society should exist and, a fortiori, that a society should prosper, it is nec- essary that the minds of all the citizens should be rallied and held together by certain predominant ideas; and this cannot be the case unless each of them sometimes draws his opinions from the com- mon source and consents to accept certain matters of belief already formed.
If I now consider man in his isolated capacity, I find that dog- matic belief is not less indispensable to him in order to live alone than it is to enable him to co-operate with his fellows. If man were forced to demonstrate for himself all the truths of which he makes daily use, his task would never end. He would exhaust his strength in preparatory demonstrations without ever advancing beyond them. As, from the shortness of his life, he has not the time, nor, from the limits of his intelligence, the capacity, to act in this way, he is reduced to take on trust a host of facts and opinions which he has not had either the time or the power to verify for himself, but which men of greater ability have found out, or which the crowd adopts.
On this groundwork he raises for himself the structure of his own thoughts; he is not led to proceed in this manner by choice, 8 Source of Belief in Democracies but is constrained by the inflexible law of his condition. There is no philosopher in the world so great but that he believes a million things on the faith of other people and accepts a great many more truths than he demonstrates.
This is not only necessary but desirable. A man who should un- dertake to inquire into everything for himself could devote to each thing but little time and attention. His task would keep his mind in perpetual unrest, which would prevent him from pene- trating to the depth of any truth or of making his mind adhere firmly to any conviction.
His intellect would be at once independ- ent and powerless.
He must therefore make his choice from among the various objects of human belief and adopt many opinions without discussion in order to search the better into that smaller number which he sets apart for investigation. It is true that who- ever receives an opinion on the word of another does so far en- slave his mind, but it is a salutary servitude, which allows him to make a good use of freedom.
A principle of authority must then always occur, under all cir- cumstances, in some part or other of the moral and intellectual world. Its place is variable, but a place it necessarily has. I have shown in the preceding chapter how equality of con- ditions leads men to entertain a sort of instinctive incredulity of the supernatural and a very lofty and often exaggerated opinion of human understanding.
The men who live at a period of so- cial equality are not therefore easily led to place that intellectual authority to which they bow either beyond or above humanity. They commonly seek for the sources of truth in themselves or in those who are like themselves. This would be enough to prove that at such periods no new religion could be established, and that all schemes for such a purpose would be not only impious, but absurd and irrational.
It may be foreseen that a democratic peo- ple will not easily give credence to divine missions; that they will laugh at modern prophets; and that they will seek to discover the chief arbiter of their belief within, and not beyond, the limits of their kind. When the ranks of society are unequal, and men unlike one an- 9 Democracy in America other in condition, there are some individuals wielding the power of superior intelligence, learning, and enlightenment, while the multitude are sunk in ignorance and prejudice.
Men living at these aristocratic periods are therefore naturally induced to shape their opinions by the standard of a superior person, or a superior class of persons, while they are averse to recognizing the infallibility of the mass of the people. The contrary takes place in ages of equality. The nearer the people are drawn to the common level of an equal and similar condition, the less prone does each man become to place implicit faith in a certain man or a certain class of men.
But his readiness to believe the multitude increases, and opinion is more than ever mistress of the world. Not only is common opinion the only guide which private judgment retains among a democratic people, but among such a people it possesses a power infinitely beyond what it has elsewhere. At periods of equality men have no faith in one another, by reason of their common resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost unbounded confidence in the judgment of the public; for it would seem probable that, as they are all endowed with equal means of judging, the greater truth should go with the greater number.
When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows and to place himself in contrast with so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own in- significance and weakness.
The same equality that renders him independent of each of his fellow citizens, taken severally, ex- poses him alone and unprotected to the influence of the greater number. The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enor- mous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence. In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multi- tude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.
Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself 10 Source of Belief in Democracies holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.
The fact that the political laws of the Americans are such that the majority rules the community with sovereign sway materially increases the power which that majority naturally exercises over the mind. For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor. This political om- nipotence of the majority in the United States doubtless augments the influence that public opinion would obtain without it over the minds of each member of the community; but the foundations of that influence do not rest upon it. They must be sought for in the principle of equality itself, not in the more or less popular insti- tutions which men living under that condition may give them- selves.
The intellectual dominion of the greater number would probably be less absolute among a democratic people governed by a king than in the sphere of a pure democracy, but it will al- ways be extremely absolute; and by whatever political laws men arc governed in the ages of equality, it may be foreseen that faith in public opinion will become for them a species of religion, and the majority its ministering prophet. Thus intellectual authority will be different, but it will not be diminished; and far from thinking that it will disappear, I augur that it may readily acquire too much preponderance and confine the action of private judgment within narrower limits than are suited to either the greatness or the happiness of the human race.
In the principle of equality I very clearly discern two tendencies; one leading the mind of every man to untried thoughts, the other prohibiting him from thinking at all. And I perceive how, under the dominion of certain laws, democracy would extinguish that liberty of the mind to which a democratic social condition is favor- able; so that, after having broken all the bondage once imposed on it by ranks or by men, the human mind would be closely fet- tered to the general will of the greatest number.
If the absolute power of a majority were to be substituted by democratic nations for all the different powers that checked or re- tarded overmuch the energy of individual minds, the evil would only have changed character. Men would not have found the means of independent life; they would simply have discovered no easy task a new physiognomy of servitude. For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke because it is held out to me by the arms of a million men.
He sur- veys at one glance and severally all the beings of whom mankind is composed; and he discerns in each man the resemblances that assimilate him to all his fellows, and the differences that distin- guish him from them. God, therefore, stands in no need of gen- eral ideas; that is to say, he never feels the necessity of collecting a considerable number of analogous objects under the same form for greater convenience in thinking. Such, however, is not the case with man. If the human mind were to attempt to examine and pass a judgment on all the indi- vidual cases before it, the immensity of detail would soon lead it astray and it would no longer see anything.
In this strait, man has recourse to an imperfect but necessary expedient, which at the same time assists and demonstrates his weakness. Having superficially considered a certain number of objects and noticed their resemblance, he assigns to them a common name, sets them apart, and proceeds onwards. General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the in- sufficiency of the human intellect; for there are in nature no beings exactly alike, no things precisely identical, no rules indiscrimi- nately and alike applicable to several objects at once.
The chief merit of general ideas is that they enable the human mind to pass a rapid judgment on a great many objects at once; but, on the other hand, the notions they convey are never other than incomplete, and they always cause the mind to lose as much in ac- curacy as it gains in comprehensiveness. As social bodies advance in civilization, they acquire the knowl- edge of new facts and they daily lay hold almost unconsciously of some particular truths. The more truths of this land a man ap- prehends, the more general ideas he is naturally led to conceive.
Several in- dividuals lead to the notion of the species, several species to that of the genus. Hence the habit and the taste for general ideas will always be greatest among a people of ancient culture and exten- sive knowledge. But there are other reasons which impel men to generalize their ideas or which restrain them from doing so.
This contrast becomes much more striking still if we fix our eyes on our own part of the world and compare together the two most enlightened nations that inhabit it. It would seem as if the mind of the English could tear itself only reluctantly and painfully away from the observa- tion of particular facts, to rise from them to their causes, and that it only generalizes in spite of itself.
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Among the French, on the contrary, the taste for general ideas would seem to have grown to so ardent a passion that it must be satisfied on every occasion. I am informed every morning when I wake that some general and eternal law has just been discovered which I never heard men- tioned before. There is not a mediocre scribbler who does not try his hand at discovering truths applicable to a great kingdom and who is not very ill pleased with himself if he does not succeed in compressing the human race into the compass of an article.
So great a dissimilarity between two very enlightened nations surprises me.
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If I again turn my attention to England and observe the events which have occurred there in the last half -century, I think I may affirm that a taste for general ideas increases in that country in proportion as its ancient constitution is weakened. The state of civilization is therefore insufficient by itself to ex- plain what suggests to the human mind the love of general ideas or diverts it from them. When the conditions of men are very unequal and the inequali- ties are permanent, individual men gradually become so dissimi- lar that each class assumes the aspect of a distinct race.
Only one of these classes is ever in view at the same instant; and, losing u American Aptitude for General Ideas sight of that general tie which binds them all within the vast bosom of mankind, the observation invariably rests, not on man, but on certain men. Those who live in this aristocratic state of society never, therefore, conceive very general ideas respecting themselves; and that is enough to imbue them with a habitual dis- trust of such ideas and an instinctive aversion for them. He, on the contrary, who inhabits a democratic country sees around him on every hand men differing but little from one an- other; he cannot turn his mind to any one portion of mankind without expanding and dilating his thought till it embraces the whole.
All the truths that are applicable to himself appear to him equally and similarly applicable to each of his fellow citizens and fellow men. Nothing shows the truth of this proposition more clearly than the opinions of the ancients respecting their slaves. The most pro- found and capacious minds of Rome and Greece were never able to reach the idea, at once so general and so simple, of the common likeness of men and of the common birthright of each to freedom; they tried to prove that slavery was in the order of nature and that it would always exist.
Nay, more, everything shows that those of the ancients who had been slaves before they became free, many of whom have left us excellent writings, themselves re- garded servitude in no other light. All the great writers of antiquity belonged to the aristocracy of masters, or at least they saw that aristocracy established and un- contested before their eyes. Their mind, after it had expanded it- self in several directions, was barred from further progress in this one; and the advent of Jesus Christ upon earth was required to teach that all the members of the human race are by natiire equal and alike.
In the ages of equality all men are independent of each other, isolated, and weak. The movements of the multitude are not per- manently guided by the will of any individuals; at such times hu- manity seems always to advance of itself. In order, therefore, tn 15 Democracy in America explain what is passing in the world, man is driven to seek for some great causes, which, acting in the same manner on all our fellow creatures, thus induce them all voluntarily to pursue the same track.
This again naturally leads the human mind to conceive gen- eral ideas and superinduces a taste for them. JLhave already shown in what way the equality of conditions leads every man to investigate truth for himself. It may readily be perceived that a method of this kind must insensibly beget a tend- ency to general ideas in the human mind. When I repudiate the traditions of rank, professions, and birth, when I escape from the authority of example to seek out, by the single effort of my reason, the path to be followed, I am inclined to derive the motives of my opinions from human nature itself, and this leads me necessarily, and almost unconsciously, to adopt a great number of very gen- eral notions.
All that I have here said explains why the English display much less aptitude and taste for the generalization of ideas than their American progeny, and still less again than their neighbors the French; and likewise why the English of the present day display more than their forefathers did. The English have long been a very enlightened and a very aris- tocratic nation; their enlightened condition urged them constantly to generalize, and their aristocratic habits confined them to the particular. Hence arose that philosophy, at once bold and timid, broad and narrow, which has hitherto prevailed in England and which still obstructs and stagnates so many minds in that country.
Independently of the causes I have pointed out in what goes before, others may be discerned less apparent, but no less effica- cious, which produce among almost every democratic people a taste, and frequently a passion, for general ideas. A distinction must be made between ideas of this kind.
Some of them are the result of slow, minute, and conscientious labor of the mind, and these extend the sphere of human knowledge; others spring up at once from tHe first rapid exercise of the wits and beget none but very superficial and uncertain notions. Such men are prone to general ideas because they are thereby spared the trouble of studying particulars; they contain, if I may so speak, 16 American Aptitude for General Ideas a great deal in a little compass, and give, in a little time, a great return. If, then, on a brief and inattentive investigation, they think they discern a common relation between certain objects, inquiry is not pushed any further; and without examining in detail how far these several objects agree or differ, they are hastily arranged un- der one formula, in order to pass to another subject.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of a democratic period is the taste that all men then have for easy success and present en- joyment. This occurs in the pursuits of the intellect as well as in all others. Most of those who live in a time of equality are full of an ambition equally alert and indolent: These conflicting tendencies lead straight to the search for gen- eral ideas, by the aid of which they flatter themselves that they can delineate vast objects with little pains and draw the attention of the public without much trouble.
And I do not know that they are wrong in thinking so. For their readers are as much averse to investigating anything to the bot- tom as they are; and what is generally sought in the productions of mind is easy pleasure and information without labor. If aristocratic nations do not make sufficient use of general ideas, and frequently treat them with inconsiderate disdain, it is true, on the other hand, that a democratic people is always ready to cany ideas of this kind to excess and to espouse them with injudicious warmth. This is especially true in poli- tics.
Although the Americans infuse into their legislation far more general ideas than the English, and although they strive more than the latter to adjust the practice of affairs to theory, no politi- cal bodies in the United States have ever shown so much love for general ideas as the Constituent Assembly and the Convention in France. At no time has the American people laid hold on ideas of this kind with the passionate energy of the French people in the eighteenth century, or displayed the same blind confidence in the value and absolute truth of any theory.
This difference between the Americans and the French origi- nates in several causes, but principally in the following one. The Americans are a democratic people who have always directed public affairs themselves. The French are a democratic people who for a long time could only speculate on the best manner of conducting them. The social condition of the French led them to conceive very general ideas on the subject of government, while their political constitution prevented them from correcting those ideas by experiment and from gradually detecting their insuffi- ciency; whereas in America the two things constantly balance and correct each other.
It may seem at first sight that this is very much opposed to what I have said before, that democratic nations derive their love of theory from the very excitement of their active life. A more attentive examination will show that there is nothing contradic- tory in the proposition. Men living in democratic countries eagerly lay hold of general ideas because they have but little leisure and because these ideas 18 The French More Eager for General Ideas spare them the trouble of studying particulars.
This is true, but it is only to be understood of those matters which are not the neces- sary and habitual subjects of their thoughts. Mercantile men will take up very eagerly, and without any close scrutiny, all the gen- eral ideas on philosophy, politics, science, or the arts which may be presented to them; but for such as relate to commerce, they will not receive them without inquiry or adopt them without re- serve. The same thing applies to statesmen with regard to general ideas in politics. If, then, there is a subject upon which a democratic people is peculiarly liable to abandon itself, blindly and extravagantly, to general ideas, the best corrective that can be used will be to make that subject a part of their daily practical occupation.
They will then be compelled to enter into details, and the details will teach them the weak points of the theory. This remedy may frequently be a painful one, but its effect is certain. Thus it happens that the democratic institutions which compel every citizen to take a practical part in the government moderate that excessive taste for general theories in politics which the prin- ciple of equality suggests. I now add that, of all the kinds of dogmatic belief, the most desirable appears to me to be dogmatic belief in matters of religion; and this is a clear inference, even from no higher consideration than the interests of this world.
There is hardly any human action, however particular it may be, that does not originate in some very general idea men have conceived of the Deity, of his relation to mankind, of the nature of their own souls, and of their duties to their fellow creatures. Nor can anything prevent these ideas from being the common spring from which all the rest emanates. Men are therefore immeasurably interested in acquiring fixed ideas of God, of the soul, and of their general duties to their Cre- ator and their fellow men; for doubt on these first principles would abandon all their actions to chance and would condemn them in some way to disorder and impotence.
This, then, is the subject on which it is most important for each of us to have fixed ideas; and unhappily it is also the subject on which it is most difficult for each of us, left to himself, to settle his opinions by the sole force of his reason. None but minds singu- larly free from the ordinary cares of life, minds at once penetrat- ing, subtle, and trained by thinking, can, even with much time and care, sound the depths of these truths that are so necessary. And, indeed, we see that philosophers are themselves almost al- ways surrounded with uncertainties; that at every step the natural light which illuminates their path grows dimmer and less secure; and that, in spite of all their efforts, they have discovered as yet only a few conflicting notions, on which the mind of man has been tossed about for thousands of years without every firmly grasping the truth or finding novelty even in its errors.
Fixed ideas about God and human nature are indispensable to the daily practice of men's lives; but the practice of their lives prevents them from acquiring such ideas. The difficulty appears to be without a parallel. Among the sci- ences there are some that are useful to the mass of mankind and are within its reach; others can be approached only by the few and are not cultivated by the many, who require nothing beyond their more remote applications: General ideas respecting God and human nature are therefore the ideas above all others which it is most suitable to withdraw from the habitual action of private judgment and in which there is most to gain and least to lose by recognizing a principle of authority.
The first object and one of the principal advantages of religion is to furnish to each of these fundamental questions a solution that is at once clear, precise, intelligible, and lasting, to the mass of mankind. There are religions that are false and very absurd, but it may be affirmed that any religion which remains within the cir- cle I have just traced, without pretending to go beyond it as many religions have attempted to do, for the purpose of restrain- ing on every side the free movement of the human mind , imposes a salutary restraint on the intellect; and it must be admitted that, if it does not save men in another world, it is at least very condu- cive to their happiness and their greatness in this.
This is especially true of men living in free countries. When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the higher powers of the intellect and half paralyzes all the others. Every man accustoms himself to having only confused and changing no- tions on the subjects most interesting to his fellow creatures and himself.
His opinions are ill-defended and easily abandoned; and, in despair of ever solving by himself the hard problems respecting the destiny of man, he ignobly submits to think no more about them. Such a condition cannot but enervate the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude.
Not only does it Democracy in America happen in such a case that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently surrender it themselves. When tliere is no longer any principle of authority in religion any more than in politics, men are speedily frightened at the aspect of this un- bounded independence. The constant agitation of all surround- ing things alarms and exhausts them. As everything is at sea in the sphere of the mind, they determine at least that the mechanism of society shall be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.
For my own part, I doubt whether man can ever support at the same time complete religious independence and entire political freedom. And I am inclined to think that if faith be wanting in him, he must be subject; and if he be free, he must believe. Perhaps, however, this great utility of religions is still more ob- vious among nations where equality of conditions prevails than among others.
It must be acknowledged that equality, which brings great benefits into the world, nevertheless suggests to men as will be shown hereafter some very dangerous propensities. It tends to isolate them from one another, to concentrate every man's attention upon himself; and it lays open the soul to an inordinate love of material gratification. The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire diametrically contrary principles. There is no religion that does not place the object of man's desires above and beyond the treasures of earth and that does not naturally raise his soul to regions far above those of the senses.
Nor is there any which does not impose on man some duties towards his kind and thus draw him at times from the con- templation of himself. This is found in the most false and danger- ous religions. Religious nations are therefore naturally strong on the very point on which democratic nations are weak; this shows of what importance it is for men to preserve their religion as their condi- tions become more equal.
I have neither the right nor the intention of examining the su- pernatural means that God employs to infuse religious belief into the heart of man. I am at this moment considering religions in a purely human point of view; my object is to inquire by what means they may most easily retain their sway in the democratic ages upon which we are entering. It has been shown that at times of general culture and equality 88 Religion and Democratic Tendencies the human mind consents only with reluctance to adopt dogmatic opinions and feels their necessity acutely only in spiritual matters.
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This proves, in the first place, that at such times religions ought more cautiously than at any other to confine themselves within their own precincts; for in seeking to extend their power beyond religious matters, they incur a risk of not being believed at all. The circle within which they seek to restrict the human intellect ought therefore to be carefully traced, and beyond its verge the mind should be left entirely free to its own guidance. Mohammed professed to derive from Heaven, and has inserted in the Koran, not only religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science.
The Gospel, on the contrary, speaks only of the general relations of men to God and to each other, beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suf- fice to prove that the former of these religions will never long pre- dominate in a cultivated and democratic age, while the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods. In continuation of this same inquiry I find that for religions to maintain their authority, humanly speaking, in democratic ages, not only must they confine themselves strictly within the circle of spiritual matters, but their power also will depend very much on the nature of the belief they inculcate, on the external forms they assume, and on the obligations they impose.
The preceding observation, that equality leads men to very gen- eral and very vast ideas, is principally to be understood in respect to religion. Men who are similar and equal in the world readily conceive the idea of the one God, governing every man by the same laws and granting to every man future happiness on the same conditions. The idea of the unity of mankind constantly leads them back to the idea of the unity of the Creator; while on the contrary in a state of society where men are broken up into very unequal ranks, they are apt to devise as many deities as there are nations, castes, classes, or families, and to trace a thousand private roads to heaven.
It cannot be denied that Christianity itself has felt, to some ex- tent, the influence that social and political conditions exercise on religious opinions. When the Christian religion first appeared upon earth, Provi- dence, by whom the world was doubtless prepared for its coming, 83 Democracy in America had gathered a large portion of the human race, like an immense flock, under the scepter of the Caesars. The men of whom this mul- titude was composed were distinguished by numerous differences, but they had this much in common: This novel and peculiar state of mankind necessarily predisposed men to listen to the general truths that Christianity teaches, and may serve to explain the facility and rapidity with which they then penetrated into the human mind.
The counterpart of this state of things was exhibited after the destruction of the Empire. The Roman world being then, as it were, shattered into a thousand fragments, each nation resumed its former individuality. A scale of ranks soon grew up in the bosom of these nations; the different races were more sharply de- fined, and each nation was divided by castes into several peoples.
In the midst of this common effort, which seemed to be dividing human society into as many fragments as possible, Christianity did not lose sight of the leading general ideas that it had brought into the world. But it appeared, nevertheless, to lend itself as much as possible to the new tendencies created by this distribution of man- kind into fractions.
Men continue to worship one God, the Creator and Preserver of all things; but every people, every city, and, so to speak, every man thought to obtain some distinct privilege and win the favor of an especial protector near the throne of grace. Unable to subdivide the Deity, they multiplied and unduly en- hanced the importance of his agents.
The homage due to saints and angels became an almost idolatrous worship for most Chris- tians; and it might be feared for a moment that the religion of Christ would retrograde towards the superstitions which it had overcome.
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It seems evident that the more the barriers are removed which separate one nation from another and one citizen from another, the stronger is the bent of the human mind, as if by its own im- pulse, towards the idea of a single and all-powerful Being, dis- pensing equal laws in the same manner to every man.
In demo- cratic ages, then, it is particularly important not to allow the homage paid to secondary agents to be confused with the wor- ship due to the Creator alone. Another truth is no less clear, that religions ought to have fewer Religion and Democratic Tendencies external observances in democratic periods than at any others. In speaking of philosophical method among the Americans I have shown that nothing is more repugnant to the human mind in an age of equality than the idea of subjection to forms. Men liv- ing at such times are impatient of figures; to their eyes, symbols appear to be puerile artifices used to conceal or to set off truths that should more naturally be bared to the light of day; they are unmoved by ceremonial observances and are disposed to attach only a secondary importance to the details of public worship.
Those who have to regulate the external forms of religion in a democratic age should pay a close attention to these natural pro- pensities of the human mind in order not to run counter to them unnecessarily. I firmly believe in the necessity of forms, which fix the human mind in the contemplation of abstract truths and aid it in embrac- ing them warmly and holding them with firmness. Nor do I sup- pose that it is possible to maintain a religion without external ob- servances; but, on the other hand, I am persuaded that in the ages upon which we are entering it would be peculiarly dangerous to multiply them beyond measure, and that they ought rather to be limited to as much as is absolutely necessary to perpetuate the doctrine itself, which is the substance of religion, of which the ritual is only the form.
I anticipate the objection that, as all religions have general and eternal truths for their object, they cannot thus shape themselves to the shifting inclinations of every age without forfeiting their claim to certainty in the eyes of mankind. To this I reply again that the principal opinions which constitute a creed, and which theologians call articles of faith, must be very carefully distin- guished from the accessories connected with them.
This is especially the case with Roman Catholicism, in which the doctrine and the form are frequently so closely united as to form but one point of belief Democracy in America in the same manner to the latter at a time when everything is in transition and when the mind, accustomed to the moving pageant of human affairs, reluctantly allows itself to be fixed on any point.
The permanence of external and secondary things seems to me to have a chance of enduring only when civil society is itself static; under any other circumstances I am inclined to regard it as dan- gerous. We shall see that of all the passions which originate in or are fostered by equality, there is one which it renders peculiarly in- tense, and which it also infuses into the heart of every man; I mean the love of well-being.
The taste for well-being is the prominent and indelible feature of democratic times. It may be believed that a religion which should undertake to destroy so deep-seated a passion would in the end be destroyed by it; and if it attempted to wean men entirely from the contem- plation of the good things of this world in order to devote their faculties exclusively to the thought of another, it may be foreseen that the minds of men would at length escape its grasp, to plunge into the exclusive enjoyment of present and material pleasures.
The chief concern of religion is to purify, to regulate, and to restrain the excessive and exclusive taste for well-being that men feel in periods of equality; but it would be an error to attempt to overcome it completely or to eradicate it. Men cannot be cured of the love of riches, but they may be persuaded to enrich them- selves by none but honest means.
This brings me to a final consideration, which comprises, as it were, all the others. The more the conditions of men are equalized and assimilated to each other, the more important is it for reli- gion, while it carefully abstains from the daily turmoil of secular affairs, not needlessly to run counter to the ideas that generally prevail or to the permanent interests that exist in the mass of the people. For as public opinion grows to be more and more the first and most irresistible of existing powers, the religious principle has no external support strong enough to enable it long to resist its attacks.
This is not less true of a democratic people ruled by a despot than of a republic. In ages of equality kings may often command obedience, but the majority always commands belief; to the majority, therefore, deference is to be paid in whatever is not contrary to the faith. I showed in the first Part of this work how the American clergy Religion and Democratic Tendencies stand aloof from secular affairs. This is the most obvious but not the only example of their self-restraint. In America religion is a distinct sphere, in which the priest is sovereign, but out of which he takes care never to go.
Within its limits he is master of the mind; beyond them he leaves men to themselves and surrenders them to the independence and instability that belong to their nature and their age. I have seen no country in which Christianity is clothed with fewer forms, figures, and observances than in the United States, or where it presents more distinct, simple, and gen- eral notions to the mind. Although the Christians of America are divided into a multitude of sects, they all look upon their religion in the same light.
This applies to Roman Catholicism as well as to the other forms of belief. There are no Roman Catholic priests who show less taste for the minute individual observances, for ex- traordinary or peculiar means of salvation, or who cling more to the spirit and less to the letter of the law than the Roman Catholic priests of the United States.
Nowhere is that doctrine of the church which prohibits the worship reserved to God alone from being of- fered to the saints more clearly inculcated or more generally fol- lowed. Yet the Roman Catholics of America are very submissive and very sincere. Another remark is applicable to the clergy of every communion. The American ministers of the Gospel do not attempt to draw or to fix all the thoughts of man upon the life to come; they are willing to surrender a portion of his heart to the cares of the present, seem- ing to consider the goods of this world as important, though sec- ondary, objects.
If they take no part themselves in productive la- bor, they are at least interested in its progress and they applaud its results; and while they never cease to point to the other world as the great object of the hopes and fears of the believer, they do not forbid him honestly to court prosperity in this.