Tocqueville’s Take on the Separation of Church and State

Alan S. Kahan teaches British Civilization at the Université de Versailles/St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, France. He is also the author of Tocqueville, Democracy, & Religion: Checks and Balances for Democratic Souls

Over at the Oxford University Press blog, Kahan provides a Tocquevillian approach to the separation of church and state in the United States.  Here is a taste:

Tocqueville firmly believed that religion properly understood was freedom’s friend, not its enemy, and that democracy was the friend of God, not God’s enemy. Religion and the state should be like two adjoining houses which share a common wall, but have separate entrances. In the hallway of religion, once one enters, one hangs up one’s right of individual inquiry and decision and accepts divine authority. In the hallway of politics, one hangs up one’s religious dogmas and accepts the decision of the majority while retaining one’s freedom of thought and action. The wall between religion and the state should be thin, however, so that the noise in one can be heard clearly in the other. Indeed, the moral expression of religion ought to be heard so clearly in the house of politics as to be able, if need be, to wake up its occupants in the middle of the night, and religion should never be allowed to be so indifferent to society as to be able to ignore a catastrophe happening next door. You hear a lot of things through a thin partition. Politics and religion must recognize their inevitably intimate relationship. – 

2 thoughts on “Tocqueville’s Take on the Separation of Church and State

  1. Not that Dr. Carson's candidacy was ever going anywhere, but if he'd have majored in history instead of wasting his time becoming a brain surgeon, he could have hidden behind the skirts of Alexis de Tocqueville

    Muhammad professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks 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 suffice to prove that the former of these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods.

    Respectfully submitted

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