Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

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  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

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It’s Déjà vu all over again (Tocqueville on America, Part 3)

Posted by Dale Kuehne on March 4, 2010

As Cephalus said in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic, “There are many mad masters.” (See Feb. 23 2010)

Materialism, among all nations, is a dangerous disease of the human mind; but it is more especially to be dreaded among a democratic people because it readily amalgamates with that vice which is most familiar to the heart under such circumstances. Democracy encourages a taste for physical gratification; this taste, if it become excessive, soon disposes men to believe that all is matter only; and materialism, in its turn, hurries them on with mad impatience to these same delights; such is the fatal circle within which democratic nations are driven round. It were well that they should see the danger and hold back.

Most religions are only general, simple, and practical means of teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. That is the greatest benefit which a democratic people derives from its belief, and hence belief is more necessary to such a people than to all others. When, therefore, any religion has struck its roots deep into a democracy, beware that you do not disturb it; but rather watch it carefully, as the most precious bequest of aristocratic ages. Do not seek to supersede the old religious opinions of men by new ones, lest in the passage from one faith to another, the soul being left for a while stripped of all belief, the love of physical gratifications should grow upon it and fill it wholly.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Bk 2, Ch. 15


2 Responses to “It’s Déjà vu all over again (Tocqueville on America, Part 3)”

  1. Ann said

    I find that I disagree with this portion of the statement you quoted of de Tocqueville, Dale: “Most religions are only general, simple, and practical means of teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. That is the greatest benefit which a democratic people derives from its belief, and hence belief is more necessary to such a people than to all others.”
    ISTM that religion can be either prescriptive or descriptive, but “faith” is seen in what we do, how we act, choices we make. Perhaps de Tocqueville uses “teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul” as colloquial shorthand for teaching folks that there are consequences for every action, and by the way, if you don’t get those consequences here, you’ll get them after here. In that regard, religion can be prescriptive which is one central reason why governing authorities have co-opted religion to their own interests & purposes.
    Religion outside of the purview of the subjective and fleeting opinion-makers can be a sticky wicket, though, because religion while making the claim to be prequel is also sequel. It may attempt to explain why things are as they are (prequel), and why the status quo – personally and corporately – should change or remain the same (sequel). Of course, governing authorities want to remain governing authorities, and retain their positions of status, privilege, power, etc.
    What de Tocqueville misses is a phenomenon visible in this country: the pursuit of physical & material gratification by the majority can be steered to benefit the few & the powerful. Thus, the contemporary “religion” has indeed changed; we should read the signs of the times and perceive who is accruing the rewards of the worshipping throngs.
    This new “religion” isn’t one that benefits the community!

  2. Ann, I’ll go you one better. De Toqueville was fully a creature of those who had the arrogance to call themselves The Enlightenment, and saw no benefit in religion other than what it might teach the masses that was good for society. Good as he saw it. As I, and many Americans, tend to agree with him about what is good for society, we tend to miss that. It’s pretty conceited when you pull it apart.

    Secondly, “Materialism” in something very close to this sense, is what the Prussians criticised the English, French, and everyone who wasn’t them, in the run-up to WWI. It was on this basis that they considered themselves superior to others and destined to rule: they had “culture,” and “philosophy,” while we others had mere materialism. Despite the full evil flowering of that tree in WWII, one can still hear echoes of that today, with “materialism” in a barely-different sense used by many American groups to criticise other American groups. I don’t mean to imply that they approach the evil of the Prussians (much less nazis or communists), but only that this ground is littered with corpses, and we should all tread with exquisite care when talking about “materialism.”

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