Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 19, 2014

Kenneth L. Grasso
Pages 21-37

Catholicism and “the Great Political Problem of Our Time”
Tocqueville, Vatican II, and the Problem of Limited Government in the Age of Democracy

This essay compares the reflections of Tocqueville and the Second Vatican Council on the perils of modern civilization as they relate to the question of limited government. While their analyses diverge in some respects, both Tocqueville and the Council are concerned about the proclivity of the modern state to absorb all of human life and see this political danger as the expression of a deeper crisis prompted by the secularization of Western culture. Convinced that this threat cannot be addressed at the political level alone, both conclude that the principle of limited government cannot be successfully institutionalized absent a far-reaching religious renewal. In Tocqueville’s famous formulation, “despotism can do without faith, but not liberty.”