When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the highest portions of the mind, and half paralyzes all the rest of its powers …they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it …they assume a master.
-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835
Will someone please tell Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Miller and a host of other political commentators to stop putting all of their eggs in one basket?
On Wednesday, November 7th, Bill O’Reilly had on Dennis Miller on The Factor as a guest as he does every Wednesday. They were giving their sad commentary on how the nation has changed from being self-reliant to being more dependent on the government. However, like most commentators that are, in part, inspired by conservative principles, they did not explore the reasons why America has acquired a taste for the welfare state. They zeroed in on the elections and went no further (or deeper). Being that the spot light is in on the elections, like moths, they flew towards the light because that’s where they think all the action is.
While everyone’s attention is riveted on political campaigns and elections, there is one undeniable fact that most of us dismiss: politics is but the result- and not so much the cause –of other institutions that precede it. An all-powerful State is emerging before our eyes because of other factors closer to home. For instance, the Church, the family and education have all suffered setbacks in the last five decades. Indeed, if these three institutions are weak, the powers of the State will inevitably increase.
Political commentators, and those who are concerned about America’s future, see our nation slipping away; but they give little, if any, attention to its causes. One such cause is that State-run schools, educating 90 percent of our nation’s children, leads to a State-run society. Sadly, such an education system has been purged of those principles and incentives that inspire self-governance, virtue and faith. "The only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself. Totalitarian education does nothing more than go the whole way along the same line. The result is what we know: political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery." (Etienne Gilson, Vanguard Press: 1951)
The U.S presidents, during the first hundred years of America’s existence, all received a religious education. Even as public education was becoming more universal, still, instruction on Christian principles was bound up with other forms of education. The Founding Fathers knew that political prosperity was dependent on such principles. After all, relying on Divine Providence is the best antidote for relying too much on the State. Perhaps, this is why Joseph Stalin, former dictator of the Soviet Union, said this: "America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within."
Christian education and a strong nuclear family is the guarantor of political freedom and prosperity. And in turn, a strong Church is the guarantor of the family and education. John Adams said that the Constitution was made for a religious people and
Washington, in his farewell address, said that we cannot indulge the supposition that political prosperity can be had without morality and religion. The Founding Fathers, it must be remembered, were the heirs of a Christian civilization.
Having traveled from France to visit the United States in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville (now widely quote among scholars, political commentators and churchmen alike) had a lot of good things to say about American democracy in his book, Democracy in America. But he was well aware of what happened in his own country just a few decades before with the French Revolution. He knew how fragile any form of government can be when its religious foundation erodes. In 1835 he cautioned his readers that a decline in faith and virtue is but a prelude to despotism:
"When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the highest portions of the mind, and half paralyzes all the rest of its powers…When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion anymore than in politics, men are easily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them. As everything is at sea in the sphere of the intellect, they determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master."
Tocqueville then elaborates what this new
master would look like in the shadows of American democracy. He said,
"If despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.
[Under such despotism] the will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd…”
If we can take Tocqueville’s word that the destruction of religion leads to soft-despotism, then let’s do something about it. Let’s inform those who have a public voice, like Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller, that the Christian religion, the sanctity of marriage and an education system inspired by Christian principles are the reasons why America became great to begin with.
And if it should be inquired as to why so many Americans are assuming a new master, tell them why!