Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 17, 2012

Peter Augustine Lawler
Pages 21-32

Tocqueville’s Aristocratic Christianity

Tocqueville, the educator, employs both Christianity and aristocracy to elevate or give soulful content to the democratic personal identity, and he even presents Christianity as a kind of combination of aristocracy and democracy. The aristocratic dimension of Christianity, he says, is America’s most precious inheritance. He also says that Jesus corrected the prejudice of even the best philosophers of Greece against the possible greatness of ordinary people. Tocqueville seems most attracted to a Catholicism purged of any connection with the prejudices of aristocratic injustice. That Catholicism wouldn’t be so different from the Puritanism he describes, transformed by a criticism based on both the purely Christian and aristocratic views of freedom. Tocqueville reminds us of St. Thomas Aquinas’ realistic corrections of the unjust and self-absorbed excesses of Aristotle’s magnanimous man, and he at least suggests to us the need for a kind of American Thomism.