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Christianity and American Democracy (Alexis De Tocqueville Lectures in American Politics) (The Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures in American Politics) [Hardcover]

Hugh Heclo

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Book Description

3 July 2007 The Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures in American Politics
Christianity, not religion in general, has been important for American democracy. With this bold thesis, Hugh Heclo offers a panoramic view of how Christianity and democracy have shaped each other. Heclo shows that amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant colonial society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, religious liberty. By the mid-20th century, American democracy and Christianity appeared locked in a mutual embrace. But it was a problematic union vulnerable to fundamental challenge in the Sixties. Despite the subsequent rise of the religious right and glib talk of a conservative Republican theocracy, Heclo sees a longer-term, reciprocal estrangement between Christianity and American democracy. Responding to his challenging argument, Mary Jo Bane, Michael Kazin, and Alan Wolfe criticize, qualify, and amend it. Heclo's rejoinder suggests why both secularists and Christians should worry about a coming rupture between the Christian and democratic faiths. The result is a lively debate about a momentous tension in American public life.

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[A] deeply engaging book...Heclo's book performs a valuable service.--Thomas E. Schneider"Claremont Review of Books" (06/01/2008)

About the Author

Hugh Heclo is Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University. Mary Jo Bane is Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Michael Kazin is Professor of History, Georgetown University. Alan Wolfe is Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life and Professor of Political Science, Boston College.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding -- Should Required for All Christians 13 Feb 2010
By David M. Dougherty - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a collection of five lectures or essays on the partnership of Christianity and democratic forces in the American republic. The first, "Christianity and Democracy in America," by Hugh Heclo is by far the most important and longest (144 pages.) Mary Bane contributed 23 pages on "Democracy and Catholic Christianity in America" in the weakest of the essays. That is followed by Michael Kazin, "Pluralism is Hard Work -- and the Work is Never Done" (18 pages), Alan Wolfe, "Whose Christianity? Whose Democracy?" (14 pages), and finally Heclo again with "Reconsidering Christianity and American Democracy" (34 pages.) Simply put, the first essay would be enough by itself to rate five stars.

Heclo initially dwells on De Tocqueville's seminal observations on the American citizenry and their republic, but his view is limited by his Deist background and the fact that he was, well, French. The United States did not have an official state religion as in all European countries (France was Roman Catholic), and Christianity, that is, Protestant Christianity, in America was highly supportive of democratic institutions even when those institutions did not support Christianity. Latitudinarianism was the norm, and even Roman Catholics in America before the coming of the Catholic Irish in the 1840s freely espoused latitudinarianism and their own independence from Rome.

Democracy was workable in the U.S. because of its "moral calculus": that is republican government requires virtuous citizens to be effective, virtue requires morality, and morality required religion and a responsibility to a high power than oneself. If anyone wants to look at the current U.S. political situation under attack by Progressives, there is the answer why Progressivism does not and will not work.

As defined in the U.S., freedom was not the absence of controls, but rather self-control from a combination of individual sovereignty and moral responsibility. On that basis, democracy was not workable in Europe with its legal system based not in the people, but being ordained by a King, Emperor or supreme religious authority and imposed on their subjects. The U.S. functioned under Common Law (some say Natural Law), direct from God to the people who then elect representatives to administer their law, while Europe functioned under Civil Law from God to King and imposed on the subjects.

Further, in the U.S., a shared religion or theology was not required -- only a shared morality. That was something new in history and has not proven to be exportable to other cultures. Almost unique in the annals of history, the U.S. has experienced no religious wars. The U.S.'s historical outlook is strange (& maybe incomprehensible) to foreigners because the establishment of the U.S. republic was seen by its citizens as beginning the "New Age" prophesized in the Bible. The U.S. was therefore an exceptional nation divinely inspired to bring democracy and freedom to the entire world.

Belief in the "Common Man" (and Common Law) made the American Protestant an autonomous individual with his liberty ensured by his own conscience. That contrasted sharply with the European idea, still prevalent today, of the individual adhering to precepts and orders passed down from some supreme authority, and even his religious beliefs being determined by dogma emanating from Church authorities. This problem is addressed weakly in the second essay, namely can a Roman Catholic be a full functioning member in a republic which relies on individual morality and responsibility? The experiment in the U.S. with Roman Catholicism has been mixed, with Catholics forming authoritarian political machines in large cities (Nancy Pelosi's family controlled one of these), and replacing individual self-control with control by Church doctrine.

The stress on individual morality and self-control is loosened as an individual drifts from Protestant Christianity into other religions or atheism. The citizen then becomes more easily self-centered, and subject to no judgments by himself or others. In our current time the idea of being non-judgmental has gained popularity, with the resulting loss of morality, virtue, and activity as a useful citizen. The increase of secularization, especially in American schools, has brought about a steep decline in citizenship as a result of its de-emphasizing religion and its moral and charitable structures.

I could go on and on with the various points and issues raised be these provocative and informative essays, but the reader gets the idea, I'm sure. Christianity needs to make no apology for its involvement in American democracy, and indeed, our representative republic couldn't have been formed or lived so long without it. What the future will bring under the stunning force of secular Progressivism, only the future can tell.

This work is highly recommended, especially to those Christians under attack today for "clinging to their God, their guns, etc." Personal self-control and responsibility is not yet completely dead, nor does anyone have to apologize for it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Coherent questions and answers on a puzzling topic 16 Aug 2013
By Cultural ghost - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Obviously Christianity has something to do with America, but what about its democracy? Today most commentary about this topic is either polemical or vapid. This book instead asks what did/does religion contribute to America's successful democracy. Non-Americans will appreciate the clarity of this book's presentation, which is intelligent but not too laden with academic jargon. Americans will probably find it most difficult, because it forces them to look around and inside, touching sentiments that all Americans have.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing 10 May 2011
By cdandrea - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Heclo's is a vital and thoughtful voice added to the American discussion -- dealing with a subject, in this case, that the academic machine is typically all to eager to ignore.
The book's insights are brisk, well-shaped, and many-layered.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heclo good, Bane and Wolfe not so much 18 Nov 2011
By Joseph M. Hennessey - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Theda R. Scocpol is correct (p. vii) that secularists "...have worked to displace Christianity from the hegemonic cultural authority it previously enjoyed," except "hegemonic" implies an intentional domination, whereas the Christian cultural predominance of the last 1500 years was more taken for granted, than imposed.

I agree with Heclo that ther is [p.5] "the real possibility of a coming rupture between Christianity and American democracy," taken in its secular/humanist misunderstanding. On p. 9 and 13, Heclo correctly summarizes Alexis de Toqueville as viewing " the human outrages of the French Revolution as stemming from the preceding Enlightenment assault on religion;" ". . .freedom without religious 'oughts and 'ought nots' must becme disorderly and self-destructive at both the individual and societal levels." On p. 17, Toqueville through Heclo adds that he has "no doubt that the tendency of democracy [is] to unleash passions for physical pleasure [and] to push individuals toward a short-sighted, brutish materialism." On pp. 31-32, Heclo adds that "the evidence is persuasive that the drafters of the 1787 Consitution produced a 'godless' document not because of some secular agenda, but mainly because they wanted to avoid inviting sectarian disputes and diversions that might interfere with the ratificaton business at hand;" i.e., positive neutrality among religions and denominations, but no [federal] establishment for any one of those.

On p. 112, Heclo incorrectly states that the SCOTUS 1973 Roe v. Wade decision "upheld a woman's right to an abortion," but of course it did no such thing, because prior to that date, there was no such so-called right. What that decision did do was to create a 'right' ex nihilo, and wipe out all state laws on the matter, pro and con, thus hastening the death of federalism as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

On the first page of her response, Mary Jo Bane refers to "the relatively intolerant [19th century] Catholic immigrants. . .], when of course it was the hyper intolerant Know-Nothings who were bigoted. On p. 151, Ms. Bane refers to Irish Catholic immigrants and their clergy to the USA as "rigid and devotional. . .fiercely loyal to the Pope," as if these all are synonyms, and all are bad. On p. 155, Bane refers to 'Cardinal Hughes,' but John Joseph was never named a Cardinal. on p. 157, she refers to a "change in doctrine," at Vatican II, which is impossible, but in the next sentence Bane states that Catholic doctrine "develops," which is both true and congruent with Catholic teaching.

On p. 200, Alan Wolfe states that "we [Americans] have our arguments, but we do not have anything like the Spanish Inquisition." First of all, the French Revolution, which was based on the same 'enlightenment' as the Fathers of our Constitution, killed exponentially more than the Inquisition, Spanish or otherwise. And yes, we Americans do have something akin to an Inquisition, the series of SCOTUS decisions since 1947 which have artificially barred religion from the public square."

On p. 35, Heclo beautifully describes the Christian and secular strands" of the Constitution as like a "double-stranded helix," which is the same as the "positive neutrality" toward religion which others have described the original American federal government attitude toward all religions and denominations. As Heclo states on pp. 129-130. "American democracy is and always has been full of people tring to get their way on the basis of publicly unreasoned convictions. Why should the religiously motivated be held to standards of universal public reasons than no else has to meet? . . .What sor of pluralism or democracy is it where secularists are entitled to enact policies based on their belief sysstems but religious people are not?"

This book is worth your reading time.
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