Peter Lawler says:

Larry Arnhart explains that a Darwinian conservative believes that religious belief can be socially useful and, for that reason, salutary. A metaphysical conservative, such as ME, believes that religious belief can actually be true. He adds that Hume and Tocqueville agree with him and not ME by understanding all religion as basically civil religion. But Tocqueville actually agrees with ME. Alexis does understand religion, in part, as the foundation of a politically beneficial common morality. But he goes further: He says that the individual’s soul has needs which can be denied or distorted but not destroyed. He adds that, in democratic times, Christianity is the carrier of what’s true about aristocracy: Human beings are hardwired to have thoughts and produce deeds that point in the direction of immortality, and that materialism–or the denial of personal, immaterial greatness–is pernicious as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe everything we do is ephemeral, then in fact it will be. Tocqueville goes even further: He explains that people are restless in the midst of prosperity because they’re particularly haunted by and disgusted with the prospect of personal mortality, and the effort to satisfy spiritual needs through materialistic or just mundane pursuits produces a kind of constant effort at diversion that can approach madness. So Tocqueville agrees with ME that human greatness soars far beyond anything experienced by the other animals. And that’s, in part, because we’re the animal with metaphysical needs: We experience ourselves as particular beings caught for a moment between two abysses, and our pursuit of greatness is intertwined with a fundamental anxiety about who we are. Tocqueville opposes pantheism on behalf of personal religion–religion that addresses the needs of individuals and can account for the irreducible greatness of human individuality.

Tocqueville, I think, was not actually a Christian believer. But he follows the Christians in refusing to reduce religion to merely impersonal NATURAL or CIVIL theology And that’s, in part, because of Tocqueville’s irreducible debt to Pascal. Locke, as Paul Rahe has recently showed, had a somewhat similar debt, which is why he and Tocqueville understood the fundamental human condition to be UNEASINESS.

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