Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 22, 2017

John P. Moran
Pages 189-202

Between Scylla and Charybdis
Legitimacy, Public Opinion, and Church Doctrine

Alexis de Tocqueville and Fyodor Dostoevsky provide differing solutions to the tensions that can emerge between public opinion and Church doctrine in their classics Democracy in America and The Brothers Karamazov. For Tocqueville, Christianity can only survive in democratic times by compromising with democracy’s inclinations toward materialism. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, denounces catering to public opinion by providing an illustration of a distorted Christianity which relies upon public demands for “miracle, mystery, and authority.” In spite of these differences, however, these timeless works seem to agree upon the dangers associated with ignoring sacred truths in pursuit of a legitimacy based upon public opinion.