Tocqueville’s Patriotic Republic: Nationalist Themes in “Democracy in America,” Part 2

Part 1

The Centrality of Custom and Religion

Tocqueville strongly emphasizes the role of custom and religion in determining a society’s character. He notes that colonial America’s rather oppressive social laws (concerning issues such as adultery) did not reflect the will of a tyrant but of the people, with its particular social customs. Contrary to a great deal of “liberal democratic” and “developmental” hopes today, Tocqueville then asserts that social conditions and ills often primarily stem from the people rather than oppressive governments. Legislation and “the social condition” certainly tend to determine each other in a dynamic relationship, but Tocqueville asserts that society tends to be the more powerful factor (94).

Tocqueville takes an expansive definition of customs (mœurs, related to “mores”): “I understand by this term the entire moral and intellectual condition of a people” (426). Tocqueville strongly emphasizes the interrelation between religion and custom. The norms and behaviors a society consider sacred tend to become established as custom, often remaining in secularized form. Thus for Tocqueville: “one cannot establish the reign of liberty without that of customs, nor found customs without beliefs” (48).

The paradigmatic example of this were the original Pilgrim Fathers themselves: “they tore themselves from the sweetness of the fatherland to obey a purely intellectual need; by exposing themselves to the inevitable miseries of exile, they wanted to make triumph an idea” (76). Thus we have a powerful case of religion (or ideology) among humans: first an ideal is established in the mind, then the individual and society seek to materialize this mental representation in reality. Tocqueville notes that colonial-era Americans justified the education of children partly on grounds of Protestant religious zeal, citing Satan’s love for ignorance: “in America, it is religion which leads one to enlightenment, it is the observance of religious laws which leads men to liberty” (88).

Tocqueville again repeatedly emphasizes Americans’ religious homogeneity. Though they were certainly divided into innumerable Protestant sects, all tended in fact to broadly worship God in the same way and, more importantly, have a similar conception of religion’s role in society.

Tocqueville denies that religion can or should be eliminated from human affairs. As he explains, an impulse for transcendental metaphysics is natural if human beings, with their short and limited lifespans, are to live meaningfully:

Never will the short space of sixty years enclose the entire imagination of man; the incomplete joys of this world will never suffice for his heart. Alone among all beings, man shows a natural disgust for existence and an enormous desire to exist: he has contempt for life and fears nothingness. These different instincts constantly push his soul towards the contemplation of another world, and it is religion which leads him there. Religion is then but a particular form of hope, and it is as natural to the human heart as hope itself. It is by a kind of aberration of the mind, through the help of a kind of moral violence inflicted upon their own nature, that men distance themselves from religious beliefs; an invincible slope brings them back there. Incredulity is an accident; faith alone is the permanent state of humanity. (439)

Tocqueville furthermore notes that this religious sensibility can be used to affect social customs and, therefore, improve the “social and intellectual condition of the people” with good beliefs and habits.[9] He saw religion as an extremely durable force in human affairs:

So long as a religion finds its strength in feelings, instincts, and passions which one sees reproduce themselves in the same way throughout all historical epochs, it overcomes the efforts of time, or at least it can be destroyed only by another religion. (440)

Customs were furthermore the real fundamental basis of a regime or a people’s character rather than the formal laws: “The laws always waver so long as they are not supported by customs; customs form the only durable and lasting power in a people” (406).

Patriotism: An Extension of Family Feeling, a Means to Altruism

This consideration of religion, as a means of spreading good customs, naturally brings us to patriotism. Tocqueville considered patriotism in the United States to be a virtual religious practice: “In the United States one rightly thinks that love of country is a kind of cult to which men join in through practices” (123). This assessment is in accord with a large body of later literature on the so-called “American civil religion.”[10]

Indeed, American patriotism in general presents elements typical of religions: sacred texts such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, reverence and commemoration of saint-like figures such as the Founding Fathers and great presidents, and pious visits to sacred sites such as the memorial buildings in Washington DC and elsewhere. American presidents commonly use uplifting or quasi-religious rhetoric arguing that whatever they are doing is in line with the sacred national tradition. In some cases the religious aspects are overt and explicit, as with the painting on the rotunda of Capitol building: “The Apotheosis of George Washington.”

But whereas non-patriotic religion appears purely ideological — a drive to materialize ideas in reality for their own sake, reflecting the need to find meaning and continuity in man’s brief individual existence — patriotism depends upon a different mechanism. For Tocqueville, patriotism is a kind of altruism achieved by extending one’s selfish interest to one’s family and then further beyond to one’s entire nation. Tocqueville writes on family sentiment as an antidote to individualist solipsism:

What we call the family spirit is often based upon an illusion of individual selfishness. One seeks to perpetuate and immortalize oneself in a sense in one’s grand-nephews. Where the spirit of the family ends, individual selfishness enters in the reality of its tendencies. As the family only presents itself then as something vague, indeterminate, uncertain, each concentrates on the convenience of the present; one  only thinks of the establishment of the next immediate generation, and nothing more. (99)

Family sentiment is a powerful source of group solidarity: “So long as lasted the spirit of the family, the man who struggled against tyranny was never alone” (462). This power of resistance disappears “when the races mix” (though here, Tocqueville seems to mean the disintegration of [aristocratic?] clans and lineages, rather than continental races, 463).

Tocqueville explicitly compares love of family and love of country:

In the United States, the fatherland is felt everywhere. [. . .] [The citizen] glorifies himself with the glory of his nation; in the success it obtains [. . .]. He has for his fatherland a feeling analogous to that which one feels for one’s family, and it is again by a kind of egoism that he takes an interest in the State. (159-160)

Tocqueville saw patriotism as largely a positive force, more or less synonymous with civic virtue and political altruism (within one’s nation). The “love of the fatherland” was meant to “fight against these destructive passions” which are the selfishness of ambitious individuals and corrupt parties (247).

Tocqueville distinguished between the “instinctive” traditional patriotism associated with monarchies and the “considered” modern patriotism associated with republics. He argues that the instinct for patriotic feeling should be carefully appealed to, polished, and cultivated in order to transcend selfish interest and serve the common good:

[L]aws must make men interest themselves in the destiny of their country. Laws must awaken and direct this vague feeling of the fatherland which never abandons the hearts of men, and, by binding it to the thoughts, passions, and habits of each day, to make it a considered and lasting feeling. (159)

Tocqueville further elaborates on this theme in an insightful passage, again comparing family love and patriotism:

There exists a love for the fatherland which has its source principally in this unthought, disinterested, and undefinable feeling, which binds man’s heart to the places where he was born. This instinctive love is synonymous with the taste for old customs, with respect for ancestors and memory of the past; those who feel it cherish their country like one loves the paternal household. [. . .] Often this love for the fatherland is exalted further by religious zeal, and then one sees it achieve wonders. It is itself a kind of religion; one does not reason, one believes, one feels, one acts. [. . .]

Like all thoughtless passions, this love of country pushes one to great short-lived efforts rather than continuity of efforts. After having saved the State in a time of crisis, it often lets it wither in the peace.

When peoples are still simple in their customs and firm in their beliefs; when society rests gently upon an ancient way of things, whose legitimacy is not contested, one sees this instinctive love of the fatherland reign.

There is another [patriotism] more rational than this; less generous, less ardent perhaps, but more fecund and more lasting; this one is born of enlightenment; it develops thanks to the laws, it grows with the exercise of rights and it ends, in a sense, by becoming synonymous with personal interest. A man understands the influence which the well-being of the country has on his own; he knows that the law allows him to contribute to producing this well-being, and he takes an interest in the prosperity of his country, first as something which is useful to him, and then as something which is own work. (353–54)

Whereas the government should cultivate the public’s patriotism, individual citizens in turn had a duty to participate in the body politic. Jury duty and township democracy, with the socialization and time they required, meant citizens would in effect buy into and come to identify with the political nation as a whole. This taught each citizen responsibility (407). In America according to Tocqueville, in a perhaps somewhat idealized fashion, patriotism then flowed upwards from the township through the state to the nation: “The public spirit of the Union is in a sense itself a summary of provincial patriotism” (250).

Tocqueville saw the decline of patriotism and the rise of individual selfishness as harbingers of national disaster:

I say that such nations [where patriotism and civic virtue have declined] are ready to be conquered. If they do not disappear from the world stage, it’s because they are surrounded by nations similar or inferior to themselves; it’s because there is still in them some sort of undefinable instinct for the fatherland, some thoughtless pride in the name they carry, some vague memory of past glory, which, without being attached to anything, is sufficient to imprint upon them if need be with an impulse to conserve. (158)

Conclusions: Tocqueville as a Nationalist, Civil-Religious, and Aristocratic Thinker

From the above, I believe we can say that Tocqueville has aged very well as a writer and that his classic book remains highly relevant today, including for nationalists. Tocqueville was very explicitly a “negative” nationalist in the sense that he clearly and repeatedly identified the reality of “national character,” the benefits of ethno-cultural homogeneity, and the inevitability of conflict in multiracial societies. For Tocqueville, homogeneity was an obvious prerequisite of nationhood and an equally obvious goal. These observations were largely common sense in the Western political tradition prior to the 1960s.

Tocqueville was however also a nationalist in the “positive” and constructive sense as well. Whereas diversity entailed a large number of ills, a strong sense of patriotism enabled positive outcomes, most notably altruism within the nation. Tocqueville clearly saw both the power and dangers of democracy, and proposed means of attenuating them. These means included: a respect for aristocratic elements (namely for the more “enlightened” parts of society) and the cultivation of a civil-religious patriotism to instill good habits and identification with the nation as a whole among the citizenry.

Many of these insights have been further investigated, expounded upon, and/or confirmed by later writers and scientists. Philippe Rushton sought to explain the universal pervasiveness of ethnocentrism in terms of Genetic Similarity Theory, as an instinct evolved to defend one’s perceived genetic kin. Nicholas Wade has described the equally universal religious impulse as evolved during man’s prehistory, enabling fantastic levels of “social programming”and group cohesion, both absolutely necessary to surviving in a context of constant inter-tribal warfare. In both cases, ethnocentrism and religiosity are described as extremely powerful emotional systems necessary to overcoming individual self-interest and achieving in-group altruism. These perspectives are entirely congruent with Tocqueville’s interpretation of civil-religious patriotism as an overcoming of individual selfishness by (emotionally and apparently irrationally) sharing one’s identity with the nation, as one would with one’s own family.

In my opinion, the ongoing tragedy and angst of Western countries today — visible for instance in the general unpopularity of governments and ruling elites[11] — is in the radical separation and even violent opposition that has emerged between ethnocentrism and civil-religiosity. The reigning civil-religion of the West — egalitarianism, anti-racism, the Shoah . . . — effectively demonizes ethnocentric sentiment and ethno-nationalism for Whites (and only Whites, minority ethnic activists including Jewish Zionists enjoying special favor with our governments).

The result is a painful fragmentation, even within individuals’ minds, as they try to conciliate their natural ethnocentric impulses with a civil-religion that demonizes them (not dissimilar, perhaps, to the vilification of the sex drive in certain conservative religious traditions). Our societies themselves become sharply divided in an absolutely recurring distribution. White voters become polarized along a spectrum of ethnocentrism, with majorities typically voting for implicitly White, dog-whistling conservative parties. White liberal voters and White media-political elites however, for various reasons,[12] tend to be lower down the ethnocentrism scale and higher up the “piety” scale, and are more eager to enforce globalist orthodoxy by systematically excluding and demonizing nationalist parties, thus neutralizing the people’s ethnocentric leanings.

Tocqueville’s insights are then highly relevant to the Alternative Right today. Tocqueville saw that a good society was achieved foremost by custom, that is to say by long-term cultural action, rather than laws. Men being unequal, society must be illuminated by its most intelligent and enlightened minority.  That is our task. I dare say it is a therapeutic one: a radical change can occur if the reigning culture is turned on its head, so that our people’s moralistic impulse be used not in a vain and self-destructive war against ethnocentrism,[13] but in service of the European family of nations, including European diaspora nations in the Americas, Australasia, and southern Africa. Destroying the reigning ideology of political correctness is of course painful for those Whites who have already emotionally invested themselves in it, but in the long run the realignment of beliefs with reality and self-interest will be psychologically and materially beneficial to all.

Tocqueville writes powerfully on the disaster that is the loss of traditional patriotism and the need to respond with a modern patriotism that, rather than being backward-looking, is responsive to historical trends:

But occasionally happens, in the lives of peoples, a time when the old customs are changed, the mores destroyed, the beliefs shaken, the prestige of memories dispelled, and where, however, enlightenment has remained incomplete and political rights poorly guaranteed or restrained. Men then only see their fatherland in a weak and dubious light; they place it no longer in the soil, which has become in their eyes an inanimate land, nor in the customs of their forefathers which they have been taught to consider a yoke; nor in religion, which they doubt; nor in the laws which they do not make, nor in the legislator which they fear and despise. They see it nowhere then, no more under its own traits than under any other, and they withdraw to a narrow and unenlightened egotism. These men escape prejudices without recognizing the empire of reason; they have neither the instinctive patriotism of the monarchy, not the considered patriotism of the republic; but they have stopped between the two, amidst confusion and misery.

What is to be done in such a state? To step backward. But peoples no more return to the feelings of their youth, than men return to the innocent tastes of their infancy; they can miss them, but never make them be born again. One must then continue to march forward and hasten to join together in the eyes of the people individual interest and national interest, for disinterested love of the fatherland is fleeing with no return. (354–55)

Tocqueville, in this passage, was almost certainly referring to the troubled post-revolutionary France of his day. He specifically suggested granting political rights to Frenchmen as a way of restoring patriotism.

Our times are different. Everywhere, ethnic Europeans are deprived of the right to rule in their own interests and are being disenfranchised, not by being formally deprived of the vote, but by being purely and simply reduced to fatal minorityhood in their own traditional homelands. We can easily imagine a world in which, Europeans’ right-to-life having been recognized and harmony having returned to the European soul by re-embracing our Tradition and our self-interest, our people would learn again to love themselves and joyously fight for their own survival.

[9]I am struck here by the similar of Tocqueville’s thought with that of the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who also believed that wisdom could be spread among the people through appeal to religious sensibility. See: Guillaume Durocher, “Schopenhauer & Hitler,” North American New Right, March 9, 2016.

[10]See the classic article: Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Winter 1967, vol. 96, no. 1, pp. 1-21.

[11]Conversely, one sees that the ostentatious patriotism of the Russian and Hungarian governments, for example, has led them to enjoy high approval ratings.

[12]Higher IQ Whites, on average, appear to be lower down the ethnocentrism scale. This is apparently because they are better able to avoid the negative consequences of multiculturalism, because their relative economic security also relaxes ethnocentric impulses, and because they are better able to rationalize the “subtleties” (in fact, contradictions) of the reigning ideology (which, in itself, has perversely become a marker of higher status).

[13]As the proverb goes: If you cast out nature with a fork, it will still return.

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