Revolution and Counterrevolution: Change and Persistence in Social Structures

By Seymour Lipset Martin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Religion and Politics in the American Past and Present

INTRODUCTION: INTERACTION OF RELIGION AND POLITICS

The interrelationship between religion and politics in the United States has been of interest to most analysts of American culture. To a considerable extent there has been general agreement that the fact of a pluralistic religious culture -- the existence of many competing denominations -- has contributed to the development and stability of American democracy. All American religions have been numerical minorities for much of our history, and hence have an "interest" in democratic liberties. Tocqueville's comment on the source of American Catholic commitment to democratic rights applies to most groups: "They constitute a minority, and all rights must be respected in order to ensure them the free exercise of their own privileges."1 The prevalence of voluntary associations, many of which have played major roles in shaping political issues, seems causally related to the pattern of voluntary benevolent and moral associations which developed around the various denominations.

But if there is abundant discussion of the impact of religion as an institution on the general character of the polity, there is an understandable reluctance to deal with the way in which religious interest or belief enters directly into the main stream of political controversy, determining and structuring the nature of party conflict. No political party now wants to be in the position of explicitly alienating any religious group, and no religious denomination wants to acknowledge an identification with one political party.

____________________
1
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America ( New York: Vintage Books, 1954), Vol. I, p. 312.

-246-

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