Acton Institute Powerblog

PBR: Only as Good as the People

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What’s wrong with populism? Nothing, necessarily. But, to hazard a tautology, populism is only as good as the people. I think this territory was covered pretty well by Alexis de Tocqueville, whose view was in turn covered pretty well by Sam Gregg in his commentary of a couple weeks ago:

“The American Republic,” Tocqueville wrote, “will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

As Sam notes, Tocqueville cited the importance of religion as a bulwark against the drift to despotism. I don’t think it’s any accident that there is a public policy lean toward socialism at the same time as a perceptible weakening of religious adherence. The relationship is complicated (plenty of liberty-loving agnostics; plenty of Christian socialists), but at the level of generalization, religion (Christianity in particular) fosters centers of authority and action that are independent of the state and resistant to tyranny. It encourages virtue and concern for the common good. In short, it promotes those traits that might drive populist sentiment and action in helpful rather than harmful directions.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of CatholicHistory.net.

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