Tocqueville’s understanding of freedom, what is freedom for Tocqueville?

Tocqueville’s understanding of freedom, what is freedom for Tocqueville?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Freedom is one of the concepts that Tocqueville frequently refers to.

According to him, a series of values, from social relations to individual relations, from social mobility to trust, are shaped around the concept of freedom. According to Tocqueville, the condition of freedom is people’s traditions and beliefs. The determining factor of these traditions is religion. According to him, American society is a society that knows how to combine the understanding of religion with the understanding of freedom (1966: 43).

According to Tocqueville, there can be no sovereignty of freedom without the freedom of traditions, nor can tradition be formed without beliefs (Çağla, 2006: 21). In this context, according to Tocqueville, the power lies within the society itself, and the freedom of traditions also refers to a situation in which cultural values ​​are freely lived in society. In this context, democracy appears as the name of the management style in which the society will discover its own power. When he wants to describe the limits of power; “Nations are like people. They always bear traces of their origin. The conditions accompanying their birth and development also affect their subsequent departures” (1966: 14), emphasizing history and traditions.

The originality of America, according to Tocqueville, is that it is the only society that has been able to combine the understanding of religion with the understanding of freedom. The disadvantage of French society in terms of freedom is that it is fragmented by the opposition between church and democracy or between religion and freedom (Aron, 2000: 191). In another dimension of Tocgueville’s comparison between America and France in the context of ‘religion’, it is possible to read the traces of the dominance of religion over traditions and culture. According to this, religion in America remained “a part of daily life and family life”, thus “its place in tradition and habits is permanent”; In France, on the other hand, it appears to be “worn out because it is involved in conflicts of interest and intertwined with politics” (Çağla, 2006: 46). Tocqueville’s emphasis on religion is because it is interpreted as one of the sources of freedom in America, as mentioned.

According to Tocqueville, religion stems from the search for a permanent hope against the impermanence of human life; Because a person cannot live in doubt all his life, he wants to be comfortable and safe. According to Tocqueville, religion helps to meet this need of people in this world (Çağla, 2006: 46). According to him, religion regulates society and therefore the state through the institution of the family. While discussing the social functions of religion in this context, he often mentions the concept of ‘civilized religion’. Another thought of Tocqueville about religion is that he claims that religious beliefs are the best among dogmatic beliefs. He thinks that the idea of ​​God saves people from doubt and gives meaning to their actions. In this context, it is seen that the feelings that place human actions on the ground of trust originate from religion and metaphysics. In addition, it is possible to mention that Tocqueville, who mentions that believing in God is more than the loss of human gains (Çağla, 2006: 58), engaged in a Pascal-like gamble with God.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook