Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Frenchman's Perspective-If You Can Keep It

When we began our high school homeschool studies of the 19th century a few years ago, we jumped into a frenchman's tome, Democracy of America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Meant for our government studies, we were a bit lost. It's not that terribly difficult to read, but there were a lot of words (over 600 pages worth) on top of deep high school studies that included other classics, along with the arduous high school math and sciences for college prep, along with my kids' need for vision therapy which we didn't discover until college years. Despite the hurdles we at least we got the gist that a frenchman from  revolutionary France (exactly how many revolutions have they had????) came to America for a grand tour in 1831. While here he became fascinated with the nineteenth-century Americans "keeping it." So...he wrote a book about it.

Now these days I've been reading Eric Metaxas' If You Can Keep It. One of the things I like about his book is that he shares greatly about Tocqueville's Democracy in America...and now some key points from that book are clicking for me!  As I drive my daughter to and from college I share with her about Metaxas' book...and Tocqueville. She exclaimed that if only she had If You Can Keep It back then, it would have laid a good foundation for digging into Tocqueville's writings.  So again, I highly recommend this book for homeschoolers, public schoolers, private schoolers...and everyone else! There is always something new to learn and this book has something for everyone!

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Back to the topic of Tocqueville from within the pages of If You Can Keep It, where the pages beautifully open with the crux off the matter, "Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom." (Tocqueville, as quoted in Metaxas, 1)

In 1831 some forty years after the Constitution came into being, the French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America with his lifelong friend Gustave de Beaumont. The French government-the so-called July Monarchy-had sent them to examine the prisons and penitentiaries in America, in an eye to bringing what they learned back to France. But his travels and investigations in America would range much farther and wider. (Metaxas, 58)

Oh the agony. The July Monarchy was yet another revolution (aka attempt) for yet another French government system in 41 years. I've blogged about this rather extensively too, but long story short, many government systems had fought and tugged back and forth in France. Toqueville was in his mid-twenties when he arrived in America. His concept of government was basically one of dissatisfaction and unrest in France, to the point that the governments and constitutions were forever changing. Then he came to America to learn about the prison systems, only to be struck by something else that was quite amazing to him as he traveled America.

"In France," Tocqueville wrote, "I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions.  But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country." (Metaxas, 67)

The philosophers of the eighteenth-century explained in a very simple manner the gradual decay of religious faith. Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. But the facts by no means accord with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and debasement; while in America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations of the world, the people fulfill with fervor all the outward duties of religion. (quoted from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, found on p68 of If You Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas) 

"The character of Anglo-American civilization...is the product...of two perfectly distinct elements that elsewhere have often made war with each other, but which, in America, they have succeeded in incorporating somehow into one another and combining marvelously. I mean to speak of the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom."  (Metaxas quoting Tocqueville, 68)

...and so on and so forth as Metaxas uses Tocqueville to help illustrate the Golden Triangle of Freedom. Throughout Metaxas summarizes Tocqueville's experiences from his French perspective while showcasing his discoveries of the uniqueness of America and what made it great. Tocqueville was so impressed that when he returned to France, he wrote a book about it...Democracy in America. He wrote his book in French, so when it was republished in America, it was of course translated into English. Thus there are slightly different wordings of various quotes on the internet today, based on which interpretation by various translators is used.

Anyway, if only we had If You Can Keep It when we did our government studies in high school. It would have streamlined our studies, giving us a more firm foundation for deeper research.

If You Can Keep It is available for purchase at your favorite bookstore, including through Amazon. By the way, I receive no commissions. I did, however, receive a free copy to review before the launch date which was June 14th. I blog because I'm passionate about this topic and I've been sharing bits and pieces of this information over the years. Because many of my readers have asked me questions about resources for this topic before, I want to make If You Can Keep It known. It's highly relevant for today, for adults as well as students. You can read more about it at Metaxas' website.

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