Category Archives: politics

White Evangelicals, We Have a Responsibility for Women, Immigrants, and People of Color


A new president has been elected. Under normal circumstances, the supporters of the new president are thrilled and the supporters of the defeated opponent are depressed. But for the most part, just about all Americans are willing to fall in behind the new administration and give it a chance to govern.

But those circumstances, alas, are not ours. A polarizing figure has been elected. Another polarizing figure was defeated. It is unfortunate that these were our two major choices. According to the New York Times, only 9 percent of Americans voted to nominate Clinton and Trump. That in itself is a galling reality. But it is still the reality.

There are protests all over the country, less it seems over the fact that Clinton lost and more over the fact that Trump won. But as I see it, the consternation goes deeper than that. Trump, because of his own statements and behavior, has sent the message to the nation that he is anti-immigrant, misogynistic, and racist. (When I say racist, it is not necessarily because he doesn’t like black people–rather, it is because he is supportive of power structures that favor white people). Women, minorities, and immigrants are afraid for their safety and security–because of how Trump has constructed his image over the past 18 months. They are also worried because, as has been underscored time and again, Trump is an unknown element. Nobody knows what to expect out of a Trump presidency, because he has been so short on details and long on generalizations and emotions.

And since eighty-one percent of evangelical Christians supported Trump, they have a particular responsibility to demonstrate support for women, minorities, and immigrants. Evangelicals have risked their public witness by abandoning their traditional conviction that persons who stand for office should have an honorable character. They have also, in their support of Trump, gained (maybe–I stress, maybe) a seat at the table of power, while wagering their own credibility in the public square. If evangelicals ignore those who have legitimate concerns about their futures, then they will indeed lose any and all credibility that remains for them in America.

Many evangelical Christians did not vote for Trump. But even those who did not have a special responsibility to marginalized people, because they will be implicated in Trump’s election whether they like it or not.

Ed Stetzer and Laurie Nichols have a piece out in Christianity Today laying out some helpful specifics on what evangelicals can do to show support for those who are anxious for the future. It’s very helpful, and evangelical Christians should follow their prescriptions.

Here is a portion of the article:

As such, let me share six ways that White Evangelicals, among others, can respond.

First, if you’ve never spoken up about some of the offensive things that Trump has said, this would be a good time to apologize for that.

I was deeply disappointed that many Evangelicals changed their views about the private character of public officials as President-elect Trump emerged. And many Evangelicals, who were deeply concerned about Hillary Clinton’s possible election, were inappropriately silent while Trump acted and spoke so divisively.

It’s a good time to apologize for that silence. Even if you made the decision that Hillary Clinton was a greater evil, if you never spoke up about some of Trump’s comments, you’ve failed those to whom those comments were addressed.

Second, if you are in ministry leadership, affirm (or begin) a commitment to developing a multicultural approach that more intentionally elevates people of color.

My friend Derwin Gray, who is lead pastor at Transformation Church in North Carolina, has a helpful video to help us get started in our churches. We must lead our churches in such a way that when non-Christians come in, they see a commitment to Oneness in the Body of Christ. We must provide places where each person in the church, regardless of race or gender or age, feels welcomed and affirmed.

The last place I spoke before the election was the Mosaix Conference, where I and many others expressed a hope (and plan) for a more diverse church. As our nation is more divided, at this moment, the church needs to become more visibly diverse.

Honestly, I don’t really consider myself a “White Evangelical,” and maybe you don’t either. I preach every week at Moody Church, a multicultural congregation of over 70 nations, but the fact that “White Evangelical” is so clearly a thing reminds us of the work we have to do.

Third, we must all speak for—and sometimes even join—those who are marginalized. My friend Charlie Dates, who serves as senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, wrote a helpful piece on The Exchange recently. In it, Charlie wrote:

Evangelical churches in America can benefit from the testimony of other Christians who have long lived on the cultural margins, from a people group who wielded no political influence or economic superiority—a people who functioned largely as a subset, or minority in the larger American Evangelical story. In their history abides a witness, a recipe for thriving ministry, and an illustration of the gospel’s power to make buoyant a church relegated to the periphery of national significance.

His statement is powerful; it is a lesson for White Evangelicals to embrace the opportunity to join those who have historically been at the margins for the good of the Church and the glory of God.

This may mean more advocacy in the face of injustice. It may mean volunteering time with inner-city youth who come from single-parent homes. There are many opportunities for compassion and solidarity, and we should be looking for them.

Fourth, we must embrace the refugee, the immigrant, and people on the move. This is a particularly frightening time for some people, precisely because of campaign promises that were made by candidates and approved by voters. Some families genuinely have no idea what will happen next. We cannot underestimate their fears, and we should be the first ones ready to show love and care.

When World Relief launched it’s ‘We Welcome Refugees’ campaign, thousands of people planted a sign in their yards in a symbolic act of solidarity. As white Evangelicals, we pray hard and work hard so that those who find themselves without home and community have people of safety to run towards. We must be places of refuge.

Fifth, we must speak up and quickly condemn any and all racist comments flowing out of this election. Many were quick to condemn statements about other issues, and would have continued to speak out if things had gone a different way.

Racism is evil and we cannot pretend that it was not a part of the rhetoric in our culture these past several months. It simply must not continue, and we should be among the first to repudiate it.

Sixth, we must elevate non-Anglo evangelicals. If you have a platform, join me in sharing it with people of color. It’s not a mistake that I’ve just done a series on Race in America (hosting all African American Evangelicals) and been doing a series on Diaspora Missions (i.e. refugees). Share your pulpit, platform, conference, blog, and more with people of color.

Most of these things we already owe—as Christians, to brothers and sisters of Christ—but if we listen to our minority brothers and sisters, we owe them particularly now.



Talking Tocqueville at the Acton Institute


Just returned home from Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was honored to give a talk on “How to Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America” for the Acton Lecture Series. I lectured for about half and hour and then we had a great Q&A session afterwards about the role of voluntary associations in public life, religion and politics, the frontier and American identity, racial prejudice and slavery, and thinking historically about Tocqueville’s classic work. The audience was exceptionally well read, as evidenced by one person who brought along her copy of George Wilson Pierson’s Tocqueville in America to the lecture and referenced it in her question.

My host for the event was Trey Dimsdale, my former colleague at Southwestern’s Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He accepted a position at Acton this past July as Program Outreach Director. Trey had a big year this year–he finished his Ph.D. residency at Southwestern (AOS, ethics), passed the Texas Bar exam, and moved himself and his family from Ft. Worth to Grand Rapids in a U-Haul with no power steering and no cruise control.

My lecture was focused on the importance of grasping the historical context of Democracy in America as a necessary discipline for appreciating the many insights and perspectives Tocqueville offered in his classic work. Tocqueville was born into an ancient, yet only moderately wealthy, aristocratic line in 1805 and died in 1859. His great grandfather went to the guillotine during the Terror, and his father and mother were imprisoned and scheduled for execution. They were released from prison only after the execution of Robespierre. The experience of the Revolution lingered over the family for decades, and Tocqueville’s perspective on America was shaped by his family’s experiences. He was also deeply impacted by the rise and fall of Napoleon and the July Revolution of 1830 which toppled the restored Bourbon monarchy and raised Louis-Philippe to power. Perhaps the most salient feature of French political, social, economic, and religious culture during Tocqueville’s life was instability. When Tocqueville came to America, one of the features that struck him was the comparative stability of American culture, even though the United States was born out of a revolution.

We also have to understand that Tocqueville visited America during a ten month window of time in 1831-1832. That world is long gone. Tocqueville is often considered to be something of a prophet, because there are some uncanny warnings and prognostications in his work that we clearly recognize in contemporary times. It is also tempting to be nostalgic about the America that Tocqueville saw in the early 1830s. Tocqueville strenuously believed in human freedom, that persons were responsible for their own choices and actions. Although he believed that the spread of democracy was being directed by God, and hereditary privilege would soon be irresistibly supplanted by a providentially directed world movement of equality, he rejected historical determinism. He never considered himself anything more than a studious observer of America–an America that, while he admired many characteristics about its people, institutions, and habits, still did not escape his criticisms. One of his most penetrating censures was how Americans tolerated slavery, and more importantly, race prejudice. “Slavery recedes,” Tocqueville said of free blacks in the North, “but the prejudice to which it has given birth is immovable. . . . Thus the Negro is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labor, nor the affictions, nor the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared to be; and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in life or in death.” Nostalgia for 1831 America is misguided for many reasons–but with regard to reading Democracy in America, we completely miss the point of the book if we pine for a recovery of the past.

So it was a great visit. Ben Domenech of The Federalist will be up next, speaking on “The Rise of American Populism.”

Blurbs for *Democracy in America* Abridgment Are In


Democracy in America has always been essential reading for students of American history, and well as of the history of political and social thought. But teachers on the secondary-school and undergraduate levels who might otherwise make generous use of Tocqueville’s luminous text have often been daunted by the length and expense entailed in assigning the whole book. For such teachers, and their students, this careful abridgment of the Democracy, trimmed to half its original length and framed by the editor’s thoughtful introductory essay, will prove to be just what the doctor ordered.

Wilfred M. McClay
G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, and Director, Center for the History of Liberty
University of Oklahoma

Tocqueville’s unparalleled analysis of the American experiment — his praise of it, and his prescient warnings about a people detached from virtue and religion — should be required reading for every American citizen. This superb abridgment communicates the power of the original in a way that makes thinking with Tocqueville easier than ever. Recommended!

C.C. Pecknold
Associate Professor of Theology
The Catholic University of America

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is one of the most important books–indeed, perhaps the most important book for understanding American politics and society. John D. Wilsey’s abridgment succeeds in placing an accessible version of this magnum opus in the hands of students and general readers, while his Introduction provides a clear guide for understanding the work. By sharing Tocqueville’s ideas broadly, Wilsey has contributed to educating the American democracy.

Jonathan Den Hartog
Associate Professor of History
University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Minnesota

John D. Wilsey’s edition of Democracy in America brings Tocqueville’s essential text into the classroom. Focusing on democracy, liberty, and racial prejudice, Wilsey draws attention to the important themes that have made Tocqueville’s work required reading as both a historical artifact and a statement of political philosophy. With careful abridgment and an approachable introduction, Wilsey helps faculty and students alike understand the meaning of Democracy in America in its own time and today.

Emily Conroy-Krutz
Michigan State University, Department of History

Wilsey’s volume on Tocqueville’s notoriously complex Democracy in America does an excellent job of contextualizing for the modern reader.  He reminds readers of the importance of reading Tocqueville in a historically critical manner that takes into account Tocqueville’s own views of democracy, as well as the fact that his writings should be properly understood as a “window into Jacksonian America.” Wilsey’s consideration of Tocqueville’s predictions on what slavery and racial inequality might mean for the United States are another important contribution this volume makes to the considerable scholarship on Tocqueville.

Jessica M. Parr
Adjunct Professor and Project Coordinator for Public History, UNH-Manchester
Author of Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon

Wilsey’s marvelous editing of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America is both timely and instructive, given our current political context and racial climate in twenty-first century America. Students, professors and the general reader will benefit from a renewed edition of Tocqueville’s prescient nineteenth century observations of our still-burgeoning Republic as well as from Wilsey’s skillful teasing out of Tocqueville’s views on race and slavery in a fresh, thoughtful and insightful introduction. This book will be a benefit to American classrooms and a “must have” for educator’s libraries for decades to come.

Otis W. Pickett
Assistant Professor of History
Mississippi College

John D. Wilsey has achieved something near impossible–the abridgment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterpiece Democracy in America while retaining its core contributions to our understanding of Jacksonian America up to the present. In his introduction, Wilsey provides readers an excellent guide for understanding Tocqueville’s treatment of equality, democracy, liberty, and especially slavery. This volume is perfect for high school and college students, but any curious reader could pick up a copy to start his or her study of this classic text.

James M. Patterson
Assistant Professor of Politics
Ave Maria University

Framed by a thoughtful introduction to Democracy in America’s historical context and its core philosophical and social concerns, this volume deftly balances reader accessibility with coverage of essential elements of the original text.

Lloyd Benson
W.K. Mattison Professor of History
Furman University

Alexis de Tocqueville is the greatest political theorist of democracy, and Democracy in America is his greatest writing. Editor John D. Wilsey provides an excellent introduction to Tocqueville’s thought and a judicious abridgement of the book that trims it down to half its original size, while retaining Tocqueville’s most important thoughts on issues such as democracy, liberty, religion, and race. Highly recommended.

Bruce Ashford
Provost and Professor of Theism and Culture
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary



Some Historical Context for Clinton’s Remarks on Exceptionalism


J. William Fulbright

During the first half of 1966, rifts in the Democratic Party began to develop over American involvement in Vietnam. By then, about 250,000 US troops were engaged in operations against the Communists in Vietnam as a result of Congress having granted President Lyndon Johnson a blank check in the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. In televised hearings, speeches on the Senate floor, and public addresses in early 1966, Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that if the war in Vietnam continued indefinitely without prospects for victory or negotiated peace, domestic divisions over the war would become dangerously pronounced. There was also grave risk of the war escalating into a general Asian war involving China.

On April 21, Fulbright spoke to the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on “The Arrogance of Power.” In this speech, he insisted that dissent against the government’s policies during the course of a war was not unpatriotic, but one of the purest expressions of patriotism. “To criticize one’s country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment,” he said. “Criticism . . . is more than a right—it is an act of patriotism—a higher form of patriotism, I believe than the familiar rituals of national adulation.” Ultimately, Fulbright’s argument was moderate. Rather than advocating for a withdrawal from Vietnam, he underscored the necessity for serious reflection in the application of military power. That reflection must take place in government according to the pattern laid down in the Constitution—in the give and take of advice and consent which was supposed to occur between the legislative and executive branches of the government. Fulbright noted that as a first rate power, the United States is continually tempted to “confuse” its power “with virtue.” Furthermore, it is “particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations . . . to remake them in its own shining image.”

Less than a month later, Johnson responded to Fulbright with a speech of his own—“The Obligation of Power.” He delivered this speech to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, shortly after the completion of Robertson Hall at Princeton University on May 11. Johnson spoke of how Americans did not exercise power in a spirit of arrogance, but of “agony.” “We have used our power not willingly and recklessly ever but always reluctantly and with restraint,” said the president. “The United States of America has never sought to crush the autonomy of her neighbors.” (A strange statement, considering the events of 1846-1848, for example. But I digress.)

Johnson went on to insist that America was not a servant of its power, but the master of it. He warned against withdrawal from Southeast Asia, implying that doing so would not only send the message that America could not be trusted, but also that darker forces would enter and fill the vacuum left behind. Johnson said, “a great power influences the world just as surely when it withdraws its strength as when it exercises its strength.” In the Vietnam War, America was engaged in defending transcendent values—the triumph of right over might, the defense of the weak, and the championing of the principle of self-determination. It might be tempting to cut and run, but Johnson’s advice to dissenters against his foreign policy was to face reality such as it was. “That is all we expect from those who are troubled even as we are by the obligations of power the United States did not seek but from which the United States cannot escape,” Johnson said.

Both Fulbright and Johnson were calling on American exceptionalism, even though their appeals represented two distinct articulations of the idea. Fulbright said that “America is worthy of criticism,” and that its strength lay in diversity of cultures, nationalities, and points of view that were united “in an open, receptive, generous, and creative society.” Ultimately for Fulbright, it was precisely because of America’s greatness that the nation would be able to overcome the destructive allure of power.

In contrast, Johnson articulated a rigorously interventionist form of exceptionalism. He believed America was indispensable to freedom and justice in the world. “What nation has announced such limited objectives or such willingness to remove its military presence once those objectives are achieved? What nation has spent the lives of its sons and vast sums of its fortune to provide the people of a small thriving country the chance to elect the course that we might not ourselves choose?” Johnson asked.

Johnson’ brand of exceptionalism imagined a consistent (even inherent) judicious and humble exercise of power. Johnson’s America was innocent of the transgressions of empires past—even though it only takes a cursory look at American history to witness the emptiness of such a conception. Fulbright’s exceptionalism is celebratory of American ideals, but realistic enough to recognize that America is flawed, and vulnerable to great error. Fulbright identified one of the brilliant characteristics of American republicanism is the division of power in the national government, in order to check the willfulness of any one person or group of people in power. The Congress is to be a check on the President  because it is human nature to become enamored with power for power’s sake while cloaking irresponsible uses of power in the rhetoric of innocence, good intentions, and patriotism.

I was reminded of this feud between Fulbright and Johnson after reading the transcript of Hillary Clinton’s remarks on August 31 before the national convention of the American Legion. Her statements on American exceptionalism were surprising to many. Most of us are used to Republicans giving harangues on exceptionalism. But here we had the Democratic presidential nominee criticizing her Republican opponent for not believing in American exceptionalism! I’m looking around now to see if any pigs have taken flight. Haven’t seen any yet, but Election Day is still many weeks away.

Clinton (I am not on a first-name basis with the lady, so I’ll confine myself to the more formal use of her last name here) claimed that her belief in American exceptionalism was her “one core belief that has guided and inspired [her] every step of the way” in her political career. Her exceptionalism is based on American ideals, determination, and grit. Diversity is central to her articulation of exceptionalism too, but Fulbright’s emphasis on unity arising from diversity is conspicuously absent from Clinton’s version. She noted what a blessing it is to be an American, and correctly observed that the reason so many people around the world clamor to get here is because they also recognize what a blessing being an American is. But the flip side of this blessed state is the responsibility that attends it.

This is where Clinton’s exceptionalism is so much like Johnson’s as he articulated it at Princeton in May 1966. She called America “the indispensable nation” with a “unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress.” Similar to Johnson, Clinton maintained, “our power comes with a responsibility to lead humbly, thoughtfully, and with a fierce commitment to our values.” And what if America were to withdraw its hand? Clinton said, “when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum” that other nations—whose motives are presumably not as righteous as America’s—will inevitably fill.

Clinton’s exceptionalism, at least as she articulated it to the American Legion the other day, is Johnsonian. There is little moral reflection in her understanding of the proper uses of American power aside from flowery rhetoric about peace and progress. Ironically, she seems to have scant appreciation for the limits of American power despite her many experiences with those limits since her political career began in the United States Senate in 2001. Furthermore, her brand of exceptionalism is defined by American innocence, just as Johnson’s was. This is perhaps the strangest part, because when she first began talking about exceptionalism, she cast it in terms set forth by Lincoln, Reagan, and Robert Kennedy. Reagan did see America as an innocent nation, but by no means did Lincoln or Kennedy. Clinton’s calling on these figures was great for the emotional appeal, but for historical, philosophical, and civil religious reasons, their articulations of exceptionalism do not belong in the same category.

So far, I’ve left Trump out of this analysis. Part of this is because Trump has distanced himself from the term “American exceptionalism” as Clinton rightly noted. But he still deserves mention. After all, his campaign slogan (in case you didn’t know) is “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s exceptionalism seems to be birthed out of a desire to recover a golden age long gone. This feature of exceptionalism is also prominent historically, along with innocence and responsibility.

All this goes to show at least one important truth that I have spent a great deal of energy trying to argue over the years: American exceptionalism is a complex and ambiguous concept. When the term is used in political discourse, it seems that everyone assumes that we are all talking about the same thing. And over the years, I have seen a lot of ink expended on the thesis that American exceptionalism is irrelevant, nobody takes it seriously anymore, and that millennials in particular see it as a dead issue.

But American exceptionalism is clearly not dead. Historically, it has taken various forms. Moreover, whatever form it has taken in whatever historical context, exceptionalism has always been multi-faceted. And when exceptionalism is called forth in today’s political discourse, its meaning depends on both the person using the term as well as its contextualization.

For example, many have accused President Obama of being ambivalent about exceptionalism. Such people usually refer to comments he made early in his presidency about Americans, Brits, and Greeks all believing in their exceptionalism. But those people have either misunderstood him, not listened to him, or are mischaracterizing him for political purposes. Obama has referenced exceptionalism quite frequently during his presidency. One of the most notable references was in his speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march in March 2015. In the context of Bloody Sunday, he said, “What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?” Self examination is central thread in Obama’s exceptionalism, but he is hardly the first American to recognize its importance. The American tradition of patriotic self examination goes back to the Puritans of the 17th century.

Obama certainly has embraced American exceptionalism during his presidency. It just isn’t Lyndon Johnson’s brand (or Clinton’s, at least as she articulated it in front of the American Legion). But it is consistent with an open, inclusive, idealistic exceptionalism espoused by Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps the first American president to put  patriotism on a higher moral plane than a narrowly defined, temporal set of national interests.

American exceptionalism is not one “thing.” But it isn’t in the eye of the beholder either. Its parameters are definable, despite its complexity as a historical and contemporary national identity paradigm. While it has not always been called “exceptionalism,” the idea is alive and well. Always has been. Probably always will be.

Cover Art for *Democracy in America* Abridgment is Ready


Looking good! Available early November.

Considering Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in Historical Context


Thomas Cole [Public domain], “The Arcadian, or Pastoral State,” via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a new abridgment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America? Then look no further. You will have to wait until early November for the release from Lexham Press, but my Democracy in America: A New Abridgment for Students will (hopefully) fill a need. Tocqueville’s Democracy is two volumes–the first volume was published in 1835 and the second followed in 1840. The entire work is about 305,000 words–my abridgment consists of 150,000 words. Many abridgments of Democracy are far too short, so my contribution is designed to offer an accessible abridgment that isn’t cut to the quick.

This September, I will be giving a lecture at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan entitled “How to Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.” Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is one of the most recognized names among readers of American political science, philosophy, and history. Most people who are familiar with his name also know that he wrote one of the most important books of modern times dealing with American social ideas and institutions—Democracy in America (1835/1840). While Tocqueville’s name is well known, and his book is frequently referenced and quoted, many who attempt to read the two-volume work find themselves disoriented in what seems to them a howling wilderness of minutiae and esotericism. Still others labor within the work as though it were a diamond mine, hacking away at it in search of usable quotes to deploy for narrow ideological purposes, or to cast Tocqueville as a prophet with warnings for present-day Americans to heed his clairvoyant wisdom. Finally, there are others who simply rely on experts to break it down into bite-sized pieces, in order that they may understand the gist of Tocqueville’s classic before moving on to more recent (and comprehensible) books.

Like any book, we should read Tocqueville’s Democracy with its historical context in mind. Tocqueville wrote his work as an outside observer, not as an American. He wrote as a critical bystander, not as an admirer. And he wrote as one who saw first hand the effects of revolution on his family and his country. Furthermore, he was describing a snapshot of an America that is long gone—Jacksonian America, to be precise. And also, Tocqueville thought of New England as the frame of reference for America. New England left a deep impression on Tocqueville, and so he saw most things outside of New England in relative terms.

Tocqueville’s Democracy is a classic for good reasons. It is an historical artifact, but it is not valuable only as such. But to fully appreciate, grasp, and utilize the work, we must understand how to receive it in our own times. When we join historical with philosophical thinking in our chewing of Democracy, then we may find ourselves most ready to digest and absorb it.

If you’re in Grand Rapids on September 29, drop by the Acton Institute for a noon lecture and Q&A. Would love to see you!

New Abridgment of Tocqueville’s *Democracy in America* Forthcoming

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) , french jurist and political thinker, painting by Chasseriau

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) , french jurist and political thinker, painting by Chasseriau (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

I’ve been out of the blogosphere the past several weeks because I have been finishing up my abridgment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic work, Democracy in America for Lexham Press. My project was specifically to take a Goldilocks approach to editing this book–to produce an abridgment that was not too short, not too long, but “just right.” Tocqueville’s two volume work comes in at just over 300,000 words, and I brought it down to 150,000. I hope it will serve as a useful resource for students in high school and college, but more importantly, I hope that it is accessible to the broader public.

I included a 9000 word introduction to Tocqueville’s work. In the introduction, I gave a brief biography of Tocqueville and also touched on some of his major themes. Equality of condition, despotism, liberty, manners, religion, exceptionalism, and interest rightly understood figure prominently in Democracy. These are, indeed, some of the things for which the book is most famous. But Tocqueville’s chapter on race–chapter XVIII of Volume I–is the longest chapter in the book. And while Tocqueville admitted that race was a secondary topic in the book, he was unable to simply ignore it. I find it interesting also that Tocqueville’s views on race, which were quite forward thinking for his time, are often slighted or ignored altogether by many who have analyzed his work. One abridgment that I am aware of does not even include chapter XVIII–which I found to be a profound weakness.

One of the ways I hope the abridgment will be useful is that I did not cut any chapter out in either volume I or II. I also did not cut any of Tocqueville’s sentences short. I tried to make logical cuts at appropriate points in the prose, without disturbing Tocqueville’s overall development of his ideas.

More on this project later, but the good news is that I recently submitted the manuscript to the publisher. It should come out in late 2016 in three formats–electronically, as part of the Logos Bible Software platform; paperback; and cloth bound hardback.

In the meantime, head over to The American Conservative and see my op-ed on Tocqueville and the importance of manners in a democracy, and what they say about the status of our national character and value-assumptions.