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American religion and politics

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  1. How does Tocqueville believe that religion works to strengthen American democracy?
  2. How well do his ideas fit the historical situation that other course readings describe?

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1850 that religion "teaches the Americans the art of being free". Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian and political thinker, wrote "Democracy in America" after his travels in the United States of America in the 1830's. To his mind, democracies are fundamentally defined by three essential characteristics: equality of conditions between citizens, popular sovereignty, and existence of a public opinion (social power exerted by the society on itself). In Lincoln's words, a democracy is "the government of the people, by the people, for the people". This definition of democracy refers to the Social Contract theory. Several philosophers, such as Hobbes and Locke for example, have theorized it. Although there are fundamental differences between those different visions, they all agree on the fact that people left the state of nature by transferring their private sovereignty to a global sovereign (the "leviathan"). Thus, Men abandon a part of their freedom by willing to be submitted to the newly created State, which becomes the guardian of people's natural rights. The people and the State conclude, therefore, a contract in which the former submit to the latter that has, in exchange, to protect their fundamental liberties.

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