When Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Democracy on Trial appeared in 1995, it attracted great attention because it challenged the democratic triumphalism that still prevailed in the United States in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dramatic expansion of democracy around the world. The book’s central message was that while the threat to democracy from without had diminished, the threat from within had grown more acute. Democracy was vulnerable to a variety of internal crises — a weakening of democratic civil society; the disintegration of the family and other social webs that had once helped to morally ground individuals and prepare them for democratic citizenship; the rise of political cynicism and even despair, and a societal vacuum that was being filled by an increasingly ubiquitous state.
If Democracy on Trial was a fire bell in a night of pervasive complacency, today we no longer feel so confident and invulnerable. The U.S. has still not recovered from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and it is paralyzed by a deepening crisis of governance that is born of conflicting visions over how to address issues of productivity, fairness, and the proper role of the state. Matters are even worse in Europe, where the economic deterioration marked by the growth of debt in relation to output is compounded by demographic trends that are shifting unfavorably the ratio of workers to pensioners. The possible need to call upon China, with its plentiful reserves of foreign exchange, to rescue Europe signals another unfavorable trend, in this case the shift in power from the U.S. and Europe, democracy’s traditional heartland, to countries in the global south, most significantly authoritarian China.
The deepening financial crisis is not unrelated to the decline of citizenship and moral responsibility that Jean Elshtain first identified in Democracy on Trial. Following the London riots in August, Jonathan Sacks, England’s Chief Rabbi, wrote that the violence was “the bursting of a dam of potential trouble that has been building for years,” especially “the collapse of families and communities [that] leaves in its wake unsocialized young people…” He called these young people “the victims of a tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.” The financial troubles, he added, simply grew from that failure of responsibility: “Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world’s resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when….We have been spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital.”
For Rabbi Sacks, the charred ruins of London neighborhoods are a symptom of a process of civilizational decay that is affecting, to one degree or another, all of the established democracies of the West. Here we have “democracy on trial,” but at a later stage of decay and in a different, much starker context. In Sacks’ view, the solution will require nothing less than “the remoralization of society,” a process that will have to be driven by a religious revival, since it is religion, he believes, that fosters “moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility.” The loss of faith is responsible for the weakening of such attributes, according to Sacks, and only its revival will enable modern democracy to recover its strength and viability. The very existence of democracy, in other words, is tied to the reinvigoration of religious faith.
The issue of religion and its relation to democracy is a central issue in the thought of Jean Bethke Elshtain, though she places more emphasis on a revival of civil society activism than of religious faith. In Democracy on Trial, she suggests that the restoration of democratic citizenship and a sense of community can be achieved “when men and women, acting in common as citizens, get together and find a way to express their collective hopes and possibilities.” As examples of such common actions, she celebrates the nonviolent freedom struggles of the American civil rights movement, the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, and the dissident movement led by Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. Such struggles, she writes, provide evidence of democracy’s resilience, for democracy is “the dream dreamed by democrats everywhere” and “the great source of political hope in our troubled world.”
Elsewhere, though, she writes that that such struggles are not self-generating but are inspired by religious faith. “If we look at the saga of U.S. history,” she asks in her Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture delivered in 2008, “what do we see? We see that every major social movement in American history (until recent decades, perhaps) has been interlaced with religious language, inspiration, and enthusiasm.” She cites the American Revolution with its rallying cry of “No King but King Jesus,” abolitionism, women’s suffrage, the Social Gospel movement of the early twentieth century and the civil rights movement of the 1960s (that was headed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). Social movements may generate the moral purpose and common action that a healthy democracy requires, but they themselves are the product of religious faith.
Moreover, her parenthetical qualification – “until recent decades, perhaps” – implies that something has changed in America, and that the faith-based social movements that have had such a positive influence on American society may be a thing of the past. In Democracy on Trial Elshtain writes a great deal about how feminism, identity politics and other movements of recent vintage have not helped avert democracy’s crisis but rather have contributed to the very ills she decries: the divisive multi-culturalism, the shift from an ethic of personal responsibility to a system of state entitlements, and the politics of “displacement” and “victimization.” Her problem with such movements is that they treat rights as nothing more than wants, demands, and grievances. The rights they talk about stand alone, she observes, because “the dimensions of sociality and responsibility are missing.” They are missing because there is no connection to a religious tradition that sanctifies all life and, by so doing, carries with it a moral code that obliges citizens to take responsibility for the well-being of others. That tradition is expressed in Christianity, which according to Elshtain “created a new vision of community that sanctioned each life as well as everyday life,” as well as in other faiths that share the universalist belief that all human life is holy and must be respected and protected. That same belief is contained in the American Declaration of Independence, which links the idea of equality to the belief that all human beings are endowed with rights “by their Creator.” This belief has been called America’s civil religion, meaning that rights are not entitlements, that people are subject to a higher being, and that citizenship carries with it certain obligations and responsibilities.
Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former President of the Czech Republic, has spoken eloquently on this point. “The relativization of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, the reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general consequences – the very things that Western democracy is most criticized for – originate not in democracy but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendental anchor, and along with it the only genuine source of his responsibility and self-respect.” The institutions of democracy, he adds, “are merely technical instruments that enable man to live in dignity, freedom, and responsibility. But in and of themselves, they cannot guarantee his dignity, freedom and responsibility. The source of this basic human potential lies elsewhere: in man’s relationship to that which transcends him. I think the fathers of American democracy knew this very well.”
The view that democratic society depends very powerfully on the influence that religious faith exercises on the individual and on society as a whole was set forth in the most compelling way by Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal work Democracy in America. Tocqueville famously declared that when he arrived in the United States, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.” What he found in America surprised him because the philosophers of the eighteenth century had predicted “the gradual decay of religious faith” with the spread of liberty and knowledge, but this clearly not happened. He was also surprised because in France he “had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions,” while in America he found them “intimately united” and reigning “in common over the same country.” How could this be?
His answer was that in the new era of democracy that was beginning to unfold, religion had an indispensable role to play in instructing people “in the art of being free” and in the requirements of self-government. “Despotism may govern without faith,” he wrote, “but liberty cannot.” Advocates of democracy in France could not understand this, and so they continued to attack religion, even if in so doing “they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests.” What his countrymen failed to understand, in Tocqueville’s view, was that “Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; it is more needed in democratic republics than in any others” because it is the way “to prepare men to be free.” He then posed two questions that showed both his belief in the desirability of democracy and his awareness of its profound vulnerabilities: “How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?” Democracy requires that people have the character and wisdom to govern themselves, and in Tocqueville’s view such qualities could not be nurtured, strengthened and preserved without religion.
Tocqueville writes about three ways that religion prepares people for democratic citizenship. The first is that it cultivates the “habits of restraint” that are “favorable both to the tranquility of the people and to the durability of the institutions they have established.” Tocqueville was impressed by the bold and enterprising spirit of the Americans, and he saw in them the capacity to become the world’s “most daring innovators” and its “most persistent disputants.” Given the boundless energy and ambition that liberty released in people, he thought it a good thing that Americans were restrained by an obligation “to profess an ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity, which does not permit them to violate wantonly the laws that oppose their designs.” No one in the U.S., he said, has dared to advance the maxim that “everything is permissible,” which he prophetically called “an impious adage which seems to have been invented in an age of freedom to shelter all future tyrants.” Religion checks any tendency Americans might have to abuse their freedom. It “prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust.”
Religion also shapes the behavior of citizens, according to Tocqueville, by directing what he called “the customs of the community.” In this way it has a powerful “indirect influence” on the politics of Americans, so much so that Tocqueville called religion “the first of their political institutions,” even though it “takes no direct part in the government of society.” While religion keeps aloof from parties and refrains from the advocacy of policies to promote freedom, it nonetheless “facilitates” the use of freedom by fostering “great austerity of manners,” and “by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state.” In this connection Tocqueville emphasized the great influence religion has on women, who are “the protectors of morals,” and the importance for democracy of marriage and stable families, an area where Europe was woefully deficient. Unlike Americans, he wrote, Europeans “despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of home,” with the result that they have a greater “taste for excesses” and a tendency to forget their “domestic troubles by agitating society.” In America, by contrast, the “love of order” that exists in the home carries over into public affairs.
The third and “greatest advantage of religion,” according to Tocqueville, was that it inspires “diametrically contrary principles” to certain “dangerous propensities” that are encouraged by conditions of equality, and that if left unchecked could lead to human degradation and even servitude. One propensity that Tocqueville warned against was an excessive taste for “physical gratification” that “soon disposes men to believe that all is matter only,” trapping them in an obsessive materialism that Tocqueville called a “pernicious” and “dangerous disease of the mind.” A second is that the condition of equality “tends to isolate [men] from one another, to concentrate every man’s attention upon himself,” thereby feeding his “love of material gratification” and causing him to neglect “the duties which are due from man to man.” And the third is that in the absence of religion, people are beset by doubt that “cannot but enervate the soul,” leading to fear and confusion, a loss of will, and a readiness to accept servitude. When “everything is at sea in the sphere of the mind, they determine at least that the mechanism of society shall be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.”
Since Tocqueville believed that the disappearance of religion in democratic societies would have catastrophic consequences, he stressed the vital importance for new democracies of guarding and preserving traditional faith “as the most precious bequest of aristocratic ages.” He also said that it should be “the unceasing object of the legislators of democracies and of all the virtuous and enlightened men who live there to raise the souls of their fellow citizens and keep them lifted up toward heaven.” In a passionate appeal that can be read today as both an anticipation of democracy’s present trials and a recommendation for how to respond to them, he urged “that all who feel an interest in the future destinies of democratic society should unite, and that all should make joint and continual efforts to diffuse the love of the infinite, lofty aspirations, and a love of pleasures not of earth.”
While Tocqueville wanted political and intellectual leaders to appreciate the importance of religion in a democracy, he didn’t put the burden of preserving faith entirely on their shoulders. He also appealed to religious leaders to understand that their best interests, as well as the goal of preserving influential and respected religious institutions, would be served if they would refrain from getting “mixed up with the bitter passions of the world.” He urged that they “confine themselves within their own precincts” and steer clear of the bitter controversies and transient loyalties of politics. Religion’s influence should be based “only upon the desire of immortality that lives in every human heart.” If it “clings to the interests of the world, it becomes almost as fragile a thing as the powers of earth.” This is especially true if a nation becomes democratic and political authority is consequently subject to constant change and competition. “Agitation and mutability are inherent” in democratic republics, he observed, and religion would lose respect “amid the struggles of faction.”
Tocqueville’s warning about the harm that religion would do to itself by seeking to exercise sovereign power was not addressed to Americans, since they didn’t need to hear it. Every American he had met, without exception, agreed that “the peaceful dominion of religion” in their country was the result of the separation of church and state. Rather, his entreaties were addressed to the clergy in Europe, where the Christian church had formed a union with the temporal powers, for which it was paying the price. Since those powers were dying and democracy was inexorably being born, Tocqueville thought it would be a fatal error if “the living body of religion” tied itself ‘to the dead corpse of superannuated polity.” He would not dare to predict if the church in Europe could regain the energy it once had by breaking its bond to the ancien regime. But the wisest policy for the church, he wrote, would be “to leave to faith the full exercise of the strength which it still retains.”
We know today, nearly two centuries later, that the church in Europe has not been able to recover that energy, and that the continent’s deep and growing troubles may well be intimately related to the virtual disappearance in Europe of a living Christian faith. The consequences of this disappearance were described with disturbing clarity by Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia in Europa (The Church in Europe), an “apostolic exhortation” issued in 2003, less than two years before he died. He spoke of a civilization facing “grave uncertainties at the level of culture, anthropology, ethics, and spirituality,” all rooted in a loss of hope that he called “the most urgent matter Europe faces.” Among the signs of this hopelessness were “fear of the future,” an “inner emptiness that grips many young people,” a “weakening of the very concept of the family,” “existential fragmentation” and “loneliness,” “selfishness that closes individuals and groups in upon themselves,” and a “diminished number of births” as the result of “an obsessive concern for personal interests and privileges.” George Weigel, in his book The Cube and the Cathedral, has added to this list the influx of Muslim immigrants who are filling the demographic vacuum and altering the cultural identity of Europe, with many becoming radicalized in the process. He wonders if the vaunted human-rights ideals contained in the preamble to the European constitution can survive in a culture of moral relativism that has lost any connection to its roots in Christianity.
Nothing in the existential crisis of Europe described in Pope John Paul’s exhortation is inconsistent with Tocqueville’s dark premonitions about the consequences of the abandonment of religion. As noted earlier, democracy in the United States is also “on trial,” though not to the same extent as in Europe, and a revival of interest in Tocqueville’s thought could have the salutary effect of focusing closer attention in this country on the importance of religion to democracy. Such attention would challenge the commonly held view that the decline of religion is an inevitable and desirable by-product of democracy’s advance in the world. Jean Elshtain has described a person who holds this view, often called a secularist, as “someone who wants to go beyond the separation of church and state and to effect a thoroughgoing separation of religion and politics at the level of civil society.” Such a position is harmful to democracy because it fails to appreciate the essential role that religion plays in building and preserving freedom. It is also inconsistent with the way Tocqueville properly understood the relationship between religion and democracy as a finely balanced system of institutional separation and mutual inter-dependence, with religion helping democracy by preparing the people to assume the obligations of citizenship, and democracy helping religion by giving it the freedom to minister to the people and to uplift their spirits.
Not only is this “secularist” view not good for democracy; it also narrows the support for democracy internationally. Vaclav Havel has said that democracy is often presented to the world “as something given, finished, and complete as is, something that can be exported like cars or televisions, something that the more enlightened purchase and the less enlightened do not.” This approach, he adds, “betrays an attitude of superiority and contempt for all those who hesitate to accept the offered goods automatically.” It’s lacking something that would give democracy “universal resonance” and convey the message that all the people who are involved in supporting democracy are bound together by human solidarity. What’s lacking, Havel says, is “the spiritual dimension that connects all cultures and in fact all humanity.” Democracy, therefore, “must rediscover and renew its own transcendental origins,” not just the Judeo-Christian belief that man was created in the image of God, but also, among other faiths, the Muslim belief that God created all mankind “from an individual male and an individual female; and the Buddhist belief, expressed by the Dalai Lama, that democracy and Buddhism are “rooted in a common understanding of the equality and potential of every individual.”
Nowhere today is there a greater need to understand and appreciate the necessary link between religion and democracy than in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world, where a debate is raging over the proper relationship between politics and faith. Tocqueville himself was skeptical that the Muslim faith could adapt to democracy since the Koran, in his view, contained “political maxims” and various laws that went beyond spiritual matters. But it is not as if other religions that have successfully adapted to democracy are without such maxims. And as Phil Costopoulos has reminded us, the system of “twin tolerations” (the term first used by political scientist Alfred Stepan) that today exists in all established democracies – he calls it a system of “differentiation that gives due regard to both religious and political authority while rejecting any attempt by one to dominate or interfere unduly with the other” – was only embraced in the Christian West after “a terrible effusion of blood.” This process is now working itself out in the many Muslim countries, and the results so far offer cause for modest hope.
Even before the outbreak of the Arab Spring there was an accumulation of evidence refuting the view that democracy and Islam are incompatible. No single development has been more significant in demonstrating their compatibility than the surprising success of democracy in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. The resurgence of Islamist political forces following Suharto’s fall in 1998 was just one of many reasons that few people expected democracy in Indonesia to succeed. The transition followed a devastating economic collapse. The country inherited from the Suharto era a strong military that many assumed would consolidate control in the new period. Not least, the unity and very existence of the country were threatened by severe ethnic, religious, and separatist violence. Despite all these challenges, though, Indonesia has succeeded in building a stable democracy. Indonesian President S.B. Yudhoyono extolled this achievement in a speech delivered in Jakarta last year to a gathering of the World Movement for Democracy: “We in Indonesia have shown that Islam, democracy, and modernity can grow together. We are a living example that there is no conflict between a Muslim’s spiritual obligation to Allah, his civic responsibility as a citizen in a pluralist society, and his capacity to succeed in the modern world. It is also telling that in our country Islamic political parties are among the strongest supporters of democracy – and they have every reason to be.”
Indonesia is one of many Muslim-majority countries where Islamist parties have been integrated as minority parties into a democratic process. A survey published in 2010 of the electoral performance of Islamic parties in 89 parliamentary elections in 21 countries over the past forty years found that they averaged about 15 percent of the vote in each, and that they tended to do worse the freer and more routinized elections were. Interestingly, Islamist parties have tended to do best in first elections after a period of authoritarian rule in which they used their access to the mosque and the street to become the best organized opposition force. In addition, their popularity is greater, as a general rule, when democracy is suppressed, suggesting that the more extreme Islamists benefit when they can proclaim Islam as “the solution” without having to explain how they will provide jobs or protect the basic political rights that people are fighting for. Nonetheless, the Islamist parties in all these 21 countries have embraced participation in democratic elections.
What has happened so far during the Arab Spring is consistent with these findings. The New York Times reported on September 30 that in the run-up to the elections that will be held next week in Tunisia, the Islamists of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia “are rejecting the name ‘Islamist” to stake out what they see as a more democratic and tolerant vision.” The party’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi recently said that “All the values of democracy and modernity are respected by Ennahda. We are a party that can find a balance between modernity and Islam.” Secularists in Tunisia accuse Islamists of engaging in a deceptive “double discourse” that hides their real agenda, which they say is to impose sharia law on the society. But in Indonesia and other Muslim-majority countries, Islamist parties have lost support when they have pursued such an agenda, and Ennahda’s very cautious strategy shows that its leaders appreciate this danger. In Egypt, where parliamentary elections will begin in November, the Muslim Brotherhood has begun to fracture, as more extreme elements are resisting efforts by Islamist politicians to follow the moderate Turkish model, which is currently very popular in the Middle East.
The story of Tawakkul Karman, the young Yemeni journalist and activist who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is illustrative of the profound changes that are sweeping the Middle East. She started out in Islah, an Islamist party that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, but soon became an advocate for women’s rights and in 2005 started an activist NGO called Women Journalists Without Chains. Eventually she decided to replace her long black head covering with colorful scarves that framed her face, and her thinking continued to evolve after she joined with secularists in a broad-based movement against an authoritarian regime. Writing in Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch notes that her decision to remove her face covering “will likely be widely cited in coming days as an example of her evolution, and will likely be misunderstood — she was certainly not abandoning or repudiating Islam, but rather moving within an ongoing and ever changing Yemeni and Arab Muslim society. Her Nobel Peace Prize could become a landmark in the vital effort to prevent a ‘clash of civilizations’ — proving to politically engaged young Islamists that they can be accepted as full equals in Western international society and showing many in the West that such Islamists can be passionate advocates of shared values such as democracy and human rights.”
If the Arab Spring offers some modest hope that democracy and Islam may be able to reach a new accommodation with each other in the Muslim region that has been most resistant to democratic change, the very different situation in Iran may ironically offer still further hope that such an accommodation is possible. There is a growing body of evidence, some of it based on opinion surveys, showing that the effort to forcibly impose Islam on the Iranian people has led to an anti-Islamic reaction. One study, based on data from the World Values Survey, concluded that “the heavy regulation of religious belief leads to a decrease in religious participation.” [Religious Participation Among Muslims: Iranian Exceptionalism,” G.M. Tezcur et al, p. 222]. A second, based on a national survey conducted a decade ago, concluded that “the experience of having lived for more than two decades under an Islamic fundamentalist regime has had a counter-productive effect, making the Iranians less religious and less concerned about Western cultural invasion instead of more so.” [Mansoor Moaddel and Taghi Azad, p. 8] The Iranian political scientist Saeid Golkar has reached an even harsher conclusion, writing that “imposing Islam in every sector of Iranian society has …encouraged the flourishing of non-Islamic and even anti-Islamic behaviors,” an example being that Iran has one of the highest crime rates of all Muslim countries. “This ‘immoral’ behavior,” according to Golkar, “is often used to express discontent with the regime and symbolizes individuals’ resistance to state power.” The experience of Iran confirms Tocqueville’s view that efforts by clerics to intervene in politics will harm genuine religious faith, and it also suggests that Islam would fare better in a more tolerant democratic system.
The compatibility of Islam and democracy is demonstrated by a final example from Pakistan, where democratic activists are countering Pashtun extremists in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, the frontier province where Osama bin Laden was killed last May, by offering an alternative, nonviolent vision of Islam. Their group, the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, is named after Abdul Gaffer Khan, a devout Muslim and nationalist leader during the period of British colonial rule who preached social and political change through nonviolence and education. Called the “Frontier Gandhi,” he organized a grassroots movement called the “Servants of God” that was inspired by Quranic verses extolling compassion and that sought not just to oust the British from the Indian subcontinent but to transcend the Pashtun tribal culture of blood feuds and violent retribution. The reformers acting in his name today are working with schools and communities in the epicenter of militant activity, organizing volleyball and cricket tournaments, poetry readings, musical events, and public discussions on such topics as the “Compatibility of Islam and Democracy,” “Terrorism and Militancy,” and “Democratic Institutions and Social Change.” The goal is to recapture political, social and cultural spaces that were ceded to militants and their intolerant ideologies during the past decades of war and violence, with the result that young people have been cut off from education and economic opportunity. Though the various events organized by the Baacha Khan Trust have been repeatedly attacked by these militants, the work is continuing and demonstrates both the courage of the activists and the extremists’ vulnerability to an ideological challenge that links Islam to democracy.
These examples, drawn from across the Muslim world, show how people from very different Muslim societies are trying to fashion new ways of adapting Islam to the desire for greater democratic participation and economic progress. Of course, it’s not yet clear if these societies, especially those in the Middle East, will be able to adapt their traditional faith and culture to the requirements of democratic processes and respect for minority rights, and there will certainly be setbacks and difficult conflicts along the way. The plight of the Copts in Egypt is certainly cause for great concern. But what is clear is that Islamic radicalism has lost its ideological momentum, and there is an opening now to explore new ways of embedding democratic rights, participation and accountability in societies where Islam remains the dominant religion. While Tocqueville’s view that democracy is strengthened by religion and that religion benefits by abstaining from politics is not well known in the Muslim world, there might well be a receptive audience for his insights, which could provide a framework for a new vision of Muslim democracy where politics is secular but infused with religious values, and Islam respects democracy while only “indirectly” influencing the state.
We’ve come to a similar moment in the West, though for very different reasons. If Arab and other Muslim countries face the challenge of finding democracy while preserving traditional faith, in the West the challenge is to preserve democracy by rediscovering faith, which Havel has called “the only real alternative to extinction.” Far from there being a “clash of civilizations,” which Samuel Huntington said would be the defining feature of global politics after the Cold War, the Muslim world and the West are ironically both seeking a way to integrate religion and democracy, the former in order to resolve a political and cultural crisis of modernity, and the latter to survive a moral and spiritual crisis of post-modernity. It is surely too much to hope that these processes will eventually meet on common ground, where the state is essentially secular, influenced but not controlled by religion, and society is strengthened by religious values that build character and sustain hope. But the fact that they are taking place at all is a testament to the enduring relevance of Tocqueville’s two most deeply held beliefs – that the gradual development of democracy is “a providential fact,” even though its capacity to sustain a free society is by no means assured; and that faith is “the only permanent state of mankind,…one of the constituent principles of human nature” that no democratic society dare abandon.
In Democracy on Trial, Jean Elshtain wonders is democracy if “up to the task of satisfying the yearnings it unleashes for freedom and fairness and equality.” The answer is that it isn’t if it is left entirely to its own devices, without a sustaining link to the belief in a transcendent being that is the source of these values. The answer is sobering, but it points the way to hope – for democracy and for mankind.