Does American Democracy Need God?

By Hyman, Lawrence | The Humanist, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Does American Democracy Need God?


Hyman, Lawrence, The Humanist


In a recent book, To Achieve Our Country, Richard Rorty reasserts the traditional idea that the United States has the unique potential of coming closer than any other nation to the creation of a moral society, one in which "liberty and justice for all" becomes a reality. But he departs from the traditional belief that we have this unique destiny because of our special relationship to God. Instead, he bases his optimistic belief on a political ethos that "has no room for obedience to a non-human authority" but only to "freely achieved consensus among human beings."

Rorty assumes that moral values are created by human beings out of our experience and therefore have no need of any foundation in some entity or force that transcends our needs, desires, and hopes.

He cites not only John Dewey, as might be expected of a humanist philosopher, but also Walt Whitman to indicate that this repudiation of any nonhuman foundation for our political ethos is as much a part of our tradition as the reliance on divine or natural law. Dewey told us that democracy doesn't "rest upon the idea that experience must be subjected at some point or other ... to some `authority' alleged to exist outside the process of experience." And in Democratic Vistas, Whitman complains about "how long it takes to make this American world see that it is, in itself, the final authority and reliance!"

This view has been questioned by many critics, as might be expected. An overwhelming proportion of Americans believe in God, U.S. currency confirms trust in God, and the Pledge of Allegiance asserts that the United States is a nation "under God." And there is little evidence that the majority of Americans agree with the humanist-pragmatic idea that moral values don't require a source in God or in natural law, contrary to the Declaration of Independence, which states that "the laws of nature and nature's God" entitle all people to "certain unalienable rights." Nevertheless, I think that Rorty's view is firmly rooted in our earliest tradition and that the belief that the authority of our government comes only from the "freely achieved consensus among human beings" owes as much to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln as to Dewey and Whitman.

For as much as our ancestors liked to believe that their deepest values had their source in God and nature, their experience told them, time and again, that the same God--whether Christian or deist--could be interpreted to justify very different values. And it is this experience that is reflected in the crucial passage of the Declaration of Independence--namely, that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Does American Democracy Need God?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.