Entitled to the Truth?

I was with a group of friends recently who have known each other for years . . . ok, decades. Well, let’s just admit it all up front. We are a bunch of old codgers.

We have lived a lot of life together, seen our children grow and marry and have their own children. We’ve seen heartache and laughter. And we’ve stayed well connected.

Our age and stage of life came into sharp focus when Cooper, the twenty-something grandson of someone in our group, joined us for a get together. He had a sharp and active mind with an engaging personality. He listened a lot and then eventually began asking some incisive questions.

We were talking about the problem of fake news. Several voiced outrage at the challenges of discerning what was accurate and what wasn’t as well as at the ethics of those who intentionally put out twisted information.

Then Cooper said, “Can I ask a question? Do you feel you are entitled to the truth?”

Without hesitation everyone chimed in, “Yes.” “Of course.” “Certainly.”

“That’s interesting,” he responded. “Because I don’t think my generation believes that we are. This world of uncertainty is just the hand we have been dealt. Not being sure of what is true and of what isn’t is simply the way things are.”

The irony of Cooper using entitled did not escape me. We were now being gently labeled with a word that we had probably all used to malign people of his age.

I was also struck by the chasm between our generation and Cooper’s. Yes, it made me feel very old. But I appreciated the clarity that Cooper gave to our differences and the added challenges our children and their children have in the world.

My first reaction, nonetheless, when Cooper finished, was to blurt out, “Thank you, Cooper, for pointing out that we are all conservative here.”

Though we were a group of people with mixed political and religious ideas, at this one central point we were all united. We thought that Truth existed, that it was possible to find it, and that we deserved to know what it was. This is a very traditional, very conservative idea. It goes back millennia and permeates a wide variety of ancient cultures. And we all believed it, whether liberal or not.

I was encouraged that we held this important belief in common. Searching together for the truth was not a hopeless endeavor. It was worth us all pursuing.

Image by Hajnalka Mahler from Pixabay

We Aren’t As Reasonable As We Think

Most of us think of ourselves as reasonable, rational human beings who make decisions and come to conclusions using facts and logic. I know I do.

That’s also what Langdon Gilkey thought of himself and his two thousand fellow prisoners in a Japanese detention camp during World War II. He was amazed to find out how wrong he was.*

Since the Japanese allowed the prisoners to run some of their own affairs, he was, for a time during the internment, on the housing committee for the camp. That team’s role was to help create as much fairness as possible in crowded conditions.

When, for example, a group of eleven men complained that their living quarters had the exact same square footage as a group of nine, he took up their cause. Surely the nine would see the justice of the concern. They would be willing to accommodate one more. They were not.

The nine came up with every possible defense of the status quo. “We are already crowded ourselves.” “Why pick on us? Aren’t there worse problems to deal with?” “We won’t consider it. Get out of here.”

Not only in this one situation, but nearly every time they sought to solve a housing issue to create more comfort, care, or fairness, they were intractably opposed. No appeal to logic or ethics swayed anyone. Gilkey found this was true regardless of class, occupation, culture, nationality, or gender.

We may think that the stress of imprisonment in harsh conditions makes people more likely to defend what little they have through emotional reactions and transparent rationalizations. But years of research have proven otherwise.

In study after study, Jonathan Haidt discovered what he calls the rider and the elephant at work in each of us (also see here). We think in two ways. One is slower and more deliberate, including reasoning (the rider). The other is more automatic and includes emotion and intuition (the elephant). We tend to assume that the rider guides and controls the elephant. But as his studies have shown, because the elephant tends to react faster, the rider tends to follow the lead of the Elephant.

Riders are not mere lackies. They can learn new types of thinking (math, logic, technology, etc.) and explore alternatives which can help the elephant avoid disaster. “And most important,” as Haidt wrote in The Righteous Mind, “the rider acts as the spokesman for the elephant, even though it doesn’t necessarily know what the elephant is really thinking. The rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and it is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next.” [54]

Obviously, we do change our minds from time to time. The elephant is not totally unmoveable. But Haidt suggests that the elephant is more likely to change if it is addressed directly. That can then create enough openness for the rider to also be willing to entertain new ideas and different reasoning.

I enjoy thinking things through, deliberately working out questions and issues. But, like those civilized, educated folk in the internment camp as well as most everyone else, I also have intuition and gut reactions. I’m sure they guide me more than I think.

*See Langdon Gilkey, Shantung Compound, especially chapters 5-6.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

The Secret to Not Being Manipulated

In December 2000 a story appeared in several British newspapers, including The Guardian, about a man in New York, George Turklebaum, who had been dead at his office desk for five days . . . and no one noticed! Coworkers at “the publishing-services company” often passed by his cubicle and said hi without it registering that he hadn’t responded. “We just assumed that George was taking time to go over the text very carefully, as he always did,” said his boss.

Anything sound odd to you about that story? Anything odd besides a man being dead in an office for five days without anyone noticing?

Anything odd like, “Why did British papers report about a man being dead in New York instead of New York papers?”

Or odd like, “Why was the publishing-services company not named?”

Or odd like, “Wouldn’t a body start stinking to high heaven long before five days?” (Spoiler alert: it would.)

You’ve probably heard this story or variations of it which have circulated for at least the last twenty years. The truth is, it was first published by an American tabloid, the Weekly World News, which also publishes such important stories as “Newest U.S. Judge is 5-Years Old,” and “The Yeti Is Behind Cryptocurrency,” and former Vice President “Mike Pence Is a Cyborg.”* You get the idea.

The only source of this report for all the British newspapers, even for one as highly reputable as The Guardian, was the tabloid. There was no other corroborating evidence.

When David Mikkelson did some research at Snopes, he found that no one named George Turklebaum was listed in the Social Security Death Index, and the New York Medical Examiner’s office had no information on the death of anyone named Turklebaum for 1999 or 2000.**

Yet so many of us hear stories like this one about the dead office worker, and we think, “Weird. But I can actually see that. Don’t we all feel like nameless cogs in a machine sometime?”

We take it in, often uncritically. Yet right on the surface are aspects that should make us question what’s going on. Not just a rotten corpse, but the lack of specifics (like the company’s name) and of sources (like a police report).

The key word is uncritically. We don’t stop to question. Thinking critically about what we read or hear doesn’t mean being critical in the sense of finding fault. It means asking questions.

To some extent it doesn’t matter what questions we ask. Almost any question will do. The point is to ask a question and not stay on autopilot.

The question can come at the beginning, the middle, or the end. It can be profound or prosaic. Regardless, doing so engages us. We become actors in the drama, dialogue partners in the conversation, friends in the relationship. We are not merely passive receptacles into which entertainment, advertisements, opinions, information, or disinformation are poured.

Many people (including those we agree with) want to sway us for their own purposes. Nurturing the habit of asking questions about what we hear or read can, among other benefits, provide us with a vaccine against the virus of being manipulated by others.

*These are actual headlines from https://weeklyworldnews.com/, accessed January 28, 2021.

**David Mikkelson, “Man Dies at Desk,” Snopes, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/working-stiff/. See also https://www.truthorfiction.com/deadatwork/.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Reading Among Friends

Fifteen years ago Sandy and Jim invited us and three other couples to form a neighborhood book club. We’ve been meeting ever since.

We rotate hosting our get-togethers, with the hosts selecting the book and leading the discussion. Without trying, our books (and occasional movies) have been split almost evenly between fiction and non-fiction. We’ve enjoyed history, science fiction, mystery, memoir, classics, and current best-sellers.

Some themes have emerged. Several titles have had a Chicago connection, since that’s where we live. One person in our group is a chef so food has been a focus for his choices. Some authors we’ve liked have been repeated (Mary Doria Russell, Erik Larson, Fredrik Backman, Ta-Nehisi Coates).

I prefer our system of making selections over voting as a group which can result in choosing everyone’s second or third choice. That could also keep the range much more narrow and perhaps less challenging to our own tastes or viewpoints. I enjoy being stretched by the personal selections of my friends.

We see the personalities and interests of each person reflected in their picks. But we are all aware of finding something we think the others could like. As a result we (consciously or unconsciously) don’t get too idiosyncratic.

Reading is a wonderfully rich solo activity. It can be even richer in the company of friends.

Chart: Some of the books we’ve selected over the years.
Image credit: James Black

Being a True Patriot

We the Fallen People 6

Original sin is not a popular notion. You sure won’t find Oprah supporting it. The idea that we are born with a tendency to do wrong, to be selfish, to ignore the common good is just downright unAmerican.

As McKenzie notes in We the Fallen People, “A New York Times poll found that 73 percent of Americans believed that humans are born good. A 2014 Lifeway survey found that two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents believe that ‘most people are by nature good’” [250-51].

Today we live in what Tom Wolfe called the “Me Generation” and what David Brooks labeled in The Road to Character as the age of “the Big Me.” Yet, contrary to popular opinion, our sinful nature is, as Chesterton once observed, the only Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable.*

Admitting our flaws and weaknesses is the first step to improvement. That goes for us as individuals and as a country. As I’ve noted over several blog posts (beginning here), McKenzie makes the case that the Founders of America had a very different view of human makeup than we do today. They believed so strongly in our flawed natures that they structured the Constitution on this foundational idea to protect us from ourselves. McKenzie writes:

There’s nothing unpatriotic about acknowledging moral failures in our country’s past. G. K. Chesterton emphasized this truth over a century ago in his classic work Orthodoxy. In its essence, patriotism is less an expression of pride than a commitment to love a particular human community, and authentic love “is not blind,” Chesterton observed. “That is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.” Never for a minute accept the false dichotomy that pits patriotism against an honest acknowledgment of America’s failures and flaws. Because love binds rather than blinds, we are free to criticize our country without somehow betraying it. [259]

Living out a conviction of original sin will require that we confess the allure of power, acknowledge the danger of power, and work proactively to mitigate the abuse of power. If we accept the reality of original sin, we’ll know that the seductiveness of power is fueled by our self-interested nature. . . .

Heeding their [the Founders’] warning is complicated by two obstacles. First, in our heart of hearts we doubt that it really applies to us. Too much power may be dangerous in the hands of Nazis or Democrats or our teenage children, but we’re confident that we can be trusted. Second, we are blinded by our preoccupation with the present, unaware of how much the fall has left us short-sighted as well as selfish. [272]

It will require agreeing with the Framers that power is dangerous whoever wields it, not just when it is controlled by our political rivals. [279]

Criticizing the nation or the government is not disloyalty. Those from the right and the left do it all the time. True patriotism is love of country, celebrating what is good, and wanting what is best for all, but not blind loyalty. It is also admitting flaws in our past and in our present. Only then can we move from the good toward the better.

*G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908; repr., New York: Image Books, 2001), 8-9, noted in We the Fallen People, p. 70.

Image by Clarence Alford from Pixabay

Writing to Influence People

OK. You want to convince teens who don’t use sunscreen that they really should. How do you go about it?

Do you marshal facts about skin cancer? Explain how ultraviolet rays work? Add arguments about increases to health care costs? Then offer examples that support your case?

When we want to persuade someone, our tendency is to begin with a direct approach. Such a technique, however, is often ineffective. As I noted in Write Better, “When we put forward an argument, we can trigger the rational, judging, and evaluative faculties in our audience. As a result, they may respond (at least in their own minds) with arguments of their own” (p. 60).

Our brains aren’t just rational machines that pump out logic. We have another and probably larger dimension to our thinking that we often don’t consider. Some call this intuition or gut reactions. Jonathan Haidt calls them automatic processes.

Based on years of research into how people make moral judgments, Haidt believes we should instead start by being friendly, taking time to understand the other person’s point of view.

Why? Because our emotions have a profound effect on how we think about things. Emotions aren’t opposed to reason, he says. They are instead a way–a very important, very useful way–to reason. (Think about sociopaths who are very rational but lack many emotions and therefore make terrible decisions.) Emotions are not infallible in decision-making, but neither is a rational approach.

Contrary to what we might think, studies have shown that usually we initially have a hunch about what is right or wrong when faced with an issue. Then our rational faculties may or may not come into play, using our hunch as a starting point. If, then, you want to persuade someone (in person or in writing), start with that intuitive, emotional side because our hunches tend to guide our reasoning.

Haidt offers a model for how we might put together a persuasive case. Indeed he structured his book, The Righteous Mind, using this very approach. He tells us,

I have tried to use intuitionism [the theory that decisions begin with emotions] while writing this book. My goal is to change the way a diverse group of readers—liberal and conservative, secular and religious—think about morality, politics, religion, and each other. I knew that I had to take things slowly and address myself more to elephants [our intuition] rather than to riders [our reasoning]. I couldn’t just lay out the theory in chapter 1 and then ask readers to reserve judgment until I had presented all of the supporting evidence. Rather, I decided to weave together the history of moral psychology and my own personal story to create a sense of movement from rationalism to intuitionism. I threw in historical anecdotes, quotations from the ancients, and praise of a few visionaries. I set up metaphors (such as the rider and the elephant) that will recur throughout the book. I did these things in order to “tune up” your intuitions about moral psychology. If I have failed and you have a visceral dislike of intuitionism or of me, then no amount of evidence I could present will convince you that intuitionism is correct. But if you now feel an intuitive sense that intuitionism might be true, then let’s keep going (pp. 59-60).

That’s a pattern we can use too. If, then, we want to encourage people, especially teens, to form a habit of using sunscreen, is there a better way?

Could we connect with them at the emotional/intuitive level before going to a rational approach? We could begin by identifying with our audience about how much we love the tanned look. But instead of then moving to the topic of cancer, what if we stick with the beauty angle? Chip and Dan Heath suggest noting that too much tanning gives you wrinkles.* That distasteful image can get an immediate negative reaction from teens that can guide their thinking.

Will everyone be persuaded? No. But by approaching people as whole people, we are likely to persuade more.

*See Made to Stick, pp. 38-41.

Image by Pierre-Laurent Durantin from Pixabay

Do We Need the Cross to Be Forgiven?

A Lenten Reflection

Why would God need the cross to forgive us? Isn’t he powerful and merciful enough that he could just have declared us forgiven and reconciled? Why would Jesus have to die?

This is a point Muslims sometimes make. In fact, they say the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 backs their claim. The father (clearly a stand-in for God) did not die. We have no cross, no incarnation, no Son of God, no savior, no resurrection. In fact, the father doesn’t even pronounce forgiveness. The father simply wills their reconciliation and demonstrates that by restoring the son’s standing through clothing him in the best robe (which would be the father’s best robe) and putting the family signet ring on his finger.

No, they say, Jesus is clearly a good Muslim who affirms Muslim teaching. Christians, they say, have perverted his message.

This challenge was key in driving Kenneth Bailey deeply into this famous story. The result was his book, The Cross and the Prodigal. As he notes there, he found, to the contrary, that the cross, that sacrifice is profoundly embedded in this parable.

Long the father suffers. Devastated by the abrupt and painful rupture with his son, daily he waits, looking in the distance, hoping to see his son return, his son whom he misses dearly.

When he does spot him, the father sacrifices his dignity by running to meet his son. Nothing is more sacred to a Middle Eastern patriarch than his honor. Such men of his age and stature do not run in excitement like school boys. They float. They move with slow decorum, befitting their place in the community.

In addition, for such a man to run would require him to gather up his robes so he could move quickly and easily. This would shame him even more by exposing his legs in public. This may seem a minor point to those of us who do not live in honor-shame cultures. But for the father it was a very costly act.

The children of the town, “amazed at seeing this respected village elder shaming himself publicly,” would no doubt race after the man to see what the to-do was all about. Others would follow, including his servants who are present to receive instructions from the father regarding his son. In this way, openly for all to see, the father covers the son’s shame and humiliation, and takes it all on himself (p. 67).

Further, he acts as his own intermediary. Mediators are common in such cultures. Two people who are at odds do not confront each other directly lest one loose face. The father took this risk of rejection. Indeed, having been the grievously injured party, custom would require that the father wait and aloofly receive his groveling son—which is exactly what the son expects. The father again sets aside his honor for the prospect of joyful reconciliation.

I already mentioned the robe and the ring, costly gifts in themselves. The father also sponsors a lavish feast for the whole community. The son, you see, has not only alienated himself from the whole family but from everyone who knew of his despicable behavior—and in a small, tightly-woven village, everyone would know. They would all have felt shamed by the son. If the patriarch of their community is dishonored, they are all dishonored. The father must publicly demonstrate the son’s restored standing (restored honor) so others will do the same out of respect for the father.

During Lent, as through the whole year, we marvel at the God who surrendered his honor and his wealth to make forgiveness and reconciliation possible for we who wandered off.

Forgiveness comes with a cost. Our forgiveness comes with the cross.

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay

The Perils of Religion and Politics

We the Fallen People 5

Should religion and politics mix? Many today decry the involvement of “evangelicals” while others hail their impact. Religion has always had an influence. But are there better ways and worse ways to do it?

In the 1830s Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his classic Democracy in America that the clergy wielded extraordinary and positive influence in the country. How did they do it? Counterintuitively, they succeeded precisely because they deliberately distanced themselves from political parties.

As Robert Tracy McKenzie, in his landmark book, We the Fallen People, summarizes it,

It is by keeping all political parties at arms’ length, Tocqueville concludes, that America’s religious leaders have helped to make religion “the first of America’s political institutions.” By eschewing power, they have grown in influence. But note that this influence is indirect. “Religion in the United States never intervenes directly in government,” Tocqueville explains. “One cannot say” that it “influences the laws or the specifics of political opinion.” What it does is influence American mores, and it influences mores because “Christianity maintains more actual power over souls in America than anywhere else.” (p. 239)

McKenzie highlights Tocqueville’s exceptionally clear explanation of why direct identification with a party is so problematic for Christians, though really for any religion. This French aristocrat and nominal Christian shows a clearer understanding of the priority that the gospel should have over politics than many today.

American clergy in the 1830s recognized what so many contemporary Christian leaders have forgotten—namely, that political influence always comes at a cost to the church. When Christians ally themselves with a particular political leader or party, the church “increases its power over some but gives up hope of reigning over all.” The reason for this [writes Tocqueville] is straightforward: “Religion cannot share the material might of those who govern without incurring some of the hatred they inspire.” (p. 239)

I have friends, and perhaps you do as well, who have turned their backs on Christianity because they so disagree with the current policies and actions of the Republican party. Since they see so many Christians aligned with that party and its candidates, they reject Christianity too.

While those of us who are committed Christians are clearly called to support the causes of justice, this should not be at the cost of bearing witness to the kingdom. Indeed, many conservative Christians claim that the most important thing they can do is spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet they seem quite willing to sacrifice that on the altar of political power.

In a recent article Tim Keller echoes this sentiment:

In a polarized environment, white evangelicals’ strong identification with one party and one presidential candidate has produced deep and hostile reactions from the 50% of the country opposed to this political platform. And, in general, the 50% that it has alienated is younger and more multi-ethnic. Many fundamentalists consider this a victory, rather than a defeat. My informal perception is that many conservative Protestants voted for Donald Trump, but did so with far less enthusiasm or approval than fundamentalist Christians. But in any case, the identification of conservative religion with the political Right is now very strong in the public mind, and is a turn-off [to the Christian faith] to a large percentage of the populace.

Let me be clear. The reverse can and has happened. Some churches have been so identified with left-leaning politics that they also alienate half the population to the faith.

The separation of church and state is not just a good idea for the state. It’s good for the church too. One of the reasons the church in Europe has become so weak in recent centuries is that many countries have a state-sponsored religion. Two centuries ago Tocqueville saw that this practice generates disdain for the religion associated with detested political structures. Maintaining separation gives the church more influence in society morally and spiritually.

Should the church exercise public moral leadership? Yes. Work for justice and social reform? Yes. Become identified corporately with one party or candidate? No.

Image by alila1 from Pixabay

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of We the Fallen People from the Publisher. My opinions are my own.

Why a Flawed Democracy Worked

We the Fallen People 4

What has made democracy in America work despite its drawbacks?

One weakness Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his classic Democracy in America sounds all too familiar today. In the 1830s he saw that the most noble and qualified people were seldom elected. Instead those who won office often bowed to the lower impulses of the electorate rather than courageously doing what was right in the face of public opinion.

Another problem he spotted is also eerily familiar. Elected officials regularly offered simplistic answers which cannot hold in the face of complex problems. “An idea that is clear and precise even though false,” Tocqueville observed, “will always have greater power in the world than an idea that is true and complex” (p. 194). That is so whether the ideas come from the right or the left.

Why then, he wondered, did democracy still work in America? One reason he gave is geography. The country was so vast and open while the government was so small that it could not easily involve itself with the citizenry. In addition there is so much cultivatable land that the average citizen could prosper, adding stability to the country and the government.

A second reason was the Constitution with its brilliant collection of checks and balances (discussed in a previous post here).

Third were the country’s mores. Mores is a squishy term, but Robert Tracy McKenzie in his own exceptional book, We the Fallen People helpfully summarizes it and Tocqueville as a whole. Mores are “the common beliefs and values that shaped the ways that whites in Jacksonian America interacted with each other and their government” (p. 228).

Tocqueville labeled one such key belief as “self-interest, properly understood” united with Christian ideals. “The first trained them to believe that their short-term desires could betray their long-term self-interest. The second [Christian ideals] warned them that what they had the power to do was not always morally proper to do.

“What unified these seemingly disparate dispositions is that they both inculcated what Tocqueville calls ‘habits of restraint.’ In essence, both their religious beliefs and their commitment to ‘self-interest, properly understood’ conditioned Americans to question the wisdom of their natural impulses. To the degree that they did so, they discouraged a supremely self-confident and all-powerful majority from becoming agents of tyranny” (p. 229).

Americans lived by “enlightened” self-interest. It’s a big question whether we still do so now. Not only do children today rarely exhibit the virtue of delayed gratification; adults have trouble as well. Credit card debt is just one case in point. Concern for our economic well-being now can overwhelm long-term considerations for the Social Security system, the national debt, the environment, the country’s infrastructure, immigration, and more.

The appeal of both long-term self-interest and religion have diminished in recent decades. In the next post in this series we will consider how religion might have a more beneficial role in society.

Image by Mustafa Kücük – v. Gruenewaldt from Pixabay

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of We the Fallen People from the Publisher. My opinions are my own.

Where We Are All Above Average

We the Fallen People 3

You’ve seen the surveys. Most people think they are more friendly, more intelligent, more honest than average—an obvious impossibility.

We have a hard time seeing ourselves objectively. We are just too close, and too likely to accentuate our virtues and minimize our weaknesses. It’s true of groups (sometimes called ethnocentrism) as well as individuals. How can we then get an accurate view? An outside assessment can help.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America gave Americans just that. Writing after his extended visit and intense investigation into Jacksonian America in the 1830s, Tocqueville admired Americans for their freedom and hard work but was cautious of their overly congratulatory view of themselves. In this caution, Tocqueville’s thinking lined up with the Framers of the Constitution (see here).

People are and always will be a combination of “good instincts” and “wicked inclinations.” We are not getting better and better every day in every way. Human nature with its flaws and strengths has remained constant for thousands of years. (Are we more advanced, more civilized now than five thousand years ago? With 160 million or more killed for political reasons in the twentieth century, it is hard to argue it is so.)

Individuals embody this mix of traits as much as groups. Power, therefore, always carries dangers, regardless of whether a group or an individual wields it.

As Robert Tracy McKenzie summaries this in his outstanding, wide-ranging book We the Fallen People, “Power is always a threat to liberty and justice. This probably seems obvious under a monarchy or dictatorship, but Tocqueville is warning us that it holds no less true for a democracy” (p. 204).

Examples abound in American history including the forceable removal of thousands of Cherokees from Georgia under Jackson’s administration. Tocqueville didn’t think we should do away with democracy because of such problems. Democracy has many blessings. But we do ourselves a disservice when we fail to openly acknowledge that tyranny of the majority has happened here and that it can happen again. Therefore, we must always be on our guard—even from those we agree with who can also exercise that tyranny.

Tocqueville’s own family history made him sharply aware of this dynamic. Five of his relatives were guillotined (along with thousands of others) by the passions of a democratic majority in the French Revolution forty years before, and his parents were traumatized by the events for the rest of their lives.

Tocqueville viewed democracy in America with clear-eyed realism. He knew that both “Indians and Negroes suffer the effects of tyranny.” So while he did not have unalloyed faith in democracy, he nonetheless did have hope for it (despite his family’s history).

He saw its benefits at least among the white population, a diverse group by European standards. This country of immigrants was “a society compounded of all the nations of the world. People each having a language, a belief, different opinions: in a word, a society lacking roots, memories, prejudices, habits, common ideas, a national character” (p. 220). Yet in his view they were freer and more prosperous than any such population in Europe.

What made democracy in America work despite its drawbacks? That is the topic of the next post in this series.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of We the Fallen People from the Publisher. My opinions are my own.