Tocqueville’s Comparison of America and Russia, Updated

Published September 25, 2012

Ulyanovsk International Demographic Conference

Mr. Mueller at the Ulyanovsk International Demographic Conference


I am grateful for the invitation to address this International Ulyanovsk Demographic Conference, and would like to thank Governor Sergey Morozov for his leadership in recognizing the importance of this issue.[1] At the World Congresses of Families in Warsaw[2] in 2007 and Amsterdam[3] in 2009, I presented a country-by-country model of fertility, which has since been published in my book Redeeming Economics.[4] I updated the model last year at the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit[5] to discuss “Babies and Dollars: Implications for USA, Russia, and the World,”[6] and earlier this year at the World Congress of Families in Madrid.[7] Today I’d like to deepen that analysis to discuss demographic trends and dynamics in Russia, the U.S. and around the world, with recommendations for family policy based on international experience. But to introduce these themes more accessibly, I’d like begin by reconsidering Tocqueville’s 1835 comparison of America and Russia in light of actual population and real GDP growth, and suggest why Russia’s birth rate, after sinking as low as 1.2 children per couple, is sharply improving, while America’s birth rate, after remaining for the past decade near the replacement rate of 2.1 children per couple, is sharply declining.

Alexis de Tocqueville was a sympathetic but by no means uncritical observer of the United States. He credited the U.S. Constitution with “the progress that the population makes each year.”[8] But he did not mince words in declaring that the despotic treatment of African slaves and Native Americans contradicted its ideals. Tocqueville concluded the first two volumes of Democracy in America in 1835 with this prediction: “Today there are two great peoples on earth who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans,” he wrote. “All other peoples seem to have almost reached the limits drawn by nature, and have nothing more to do except maintain themselves; but these two are growing.” U.S. population numbered only 15 million, but extrapolating Europe’s population density, he predicted an American population at least ten times as large (which the U.S. reached in 1950, and has since more than doubled again to more than 300 million). He added, “Russia is of all the nations of the Old World the one whose population is increasing most rapidly.” He commented: “The American struggles against obstacles that nature opposes to him; the Russian is grappling with men. The one combats the wilderness and barbarism; the other, civilization clothed in all its arms. Consequently, the conquests of the American are made with the farmer’s plow, those of the Russian with the soldier’s sword. To reach his goal the first relies on personal interest, and, without directing them, allows the strength and reason of individuals to operate. The second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man.” Tocqueville concluded: “Their point of departure is different, their paths are varied; nonetheless, each one of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold in its hands one day the destinies of half the world.”


What has happened since? To update Tocqueville’s analysis I will draw on the life’s work of the late Scottish economist Angus Maddison, which largely corroborates Tocqueville’s analysis in 1835, but adding the perspective of developments in economics since his time.[9] Tocqueville’s analysis combined natural, moral, and institutional factors. But it roughly corresponds to Maddison’s analysis of world population and real GDP since AD1. If we begin at the year 1820, roughly contemporary with Tocqueville, the story seems to concern the peaking of Western Europe’s relative economic importance in the 19th century, of the United States in the 20th century, and the rapid economic rise of China in the 21st.


But if we include all Maddion’s data back to the year AD1, the story is more complicated and at the same time somewhat less sensational. For most of the period before the 18th century, the world economy was dominated by the two most populous countries, China and India, each comprising one-quarter to one-third of world GDP, though they traded the lead in economic supremacy several times.


To understand the economic and demographic dynamics, it helps to begin by distinguishing real GDP per capita from the “Capita”–that is, the number of “heads,” or population size. Perhaps the most striking fact is the stagnation of real GDP per capita in nearly all countries from Roman times until the Industrial Revolution. The main exception was a gradual rise in per capita income in Western Europe starting in the late Middle Ages. Then, between the start of the 19th and the end of the 20th century, nearly all countries joined in the progress.


We can see the variation among countries and regions more clearly if we focus on the period since 1820. This allows us to see that the United States emerged as the major nation with the highest per capita income, followed by Western Europe, with variations related to the Great Depression, the First and Second World Wars, the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the sharp catching up by China after a long period of decline, and the slower but still steady rise of India.[10]


What accounts for what has been called the “hockey stick” pattern in long-stagnating, then sharply rising modern incomes? To speak of increases in “resource productivity,” as Theodore W. Schultz remarked, “gives a name to our ignorance but does not dispel it.”[11] Schultz shed a great deal of light around 1960 when he coined the term “human capital” to describe the economic value of investments in people, and theorized that people “maintain roughly a constant ratio between all capital and income.”[12] John W. Kendrick built on Schultz’s foundation when he comprehensively classified and measured these investments and proved, using the United States as an example, that growth in (adjusted) real gross domestic product is indeed entirely accounted for by investments in human and non-human capital, and that each may further be classified as tangible or intangible forms.[13] For example, tangible investments in human capital result in a larger population, while intangible investments would include education and health. Similarly tangible nonhuman capital includes machines, land and livestock, while intangible nonhuman capital includes research and development, typically invested in patents or copyrights. Between them, Schultz and Kendrick rediscovered and modernized Aristotle’s theory of household production,[14] as the Scholastic doctors had already done seven centuries earlier.[15]

In Redeeming Economics, I suggested that the single most important factor in the “hockey stick” pattern of real income per capita has been the similarly shaped pattern in longevity, due especially at first to improvements in public health.[16]


But because parents seek live children, the decline in mortality has also meant that parents need to raise fewer children as the rate of survival has increased. Thus the rise in longevity has been mirrored by a fall in the total fertility rate. To see this effect, it is helpful to compared the total fertility rate (TFR: a hypothetical composite average of the experience of all women in a single year) with the Net Reproduction Rate (NRR: which takes mortality as well as fertility into account) An NRR of 1.00–corresponding to a mortality-adjusted TFR of 2.00–indicates that women are exactly reproducing themselves, while a higher or lower NRR indicates population growth or shrinkage, leaving aside immigration or emigration.[17]


These last considerations bring us to the population. A retrospective view back to AD1 shows that during the period when per capita incomes were stagnating, population was also nearly constant or showed only a slight tendency to rise. But population took off during and after the “demographic transition.”


The biggest modern population innovation was the rapid rise of the American population (to the third most populous country after China and India) as well as of its standard of living, both of which Tocqueville tried to explain. (He encouraged but regretted that he was unable to accomplish a similar analysis for Russia.)


These dynamics help us interpret the changing shares of the largest countries in total world population. Until the mid 19th century, China and India were the two most populous countries in the world, but their leadership changed several times.


Lately, though, China’s and Europe have led declines in shares of world population have declined while India’s has recovered and recently Africa’s has grown sharply.


The cover of my book features Gustave Dore’s engraving, “Arrival of the Good Samaritan at the Inn” because the parable illustrates all the possible economic transactions we can have with our fellow man: the robbers beating a man and leaving him for dead illustrate crime; the priest and Levite who passed him by illustrate indifference; the innkeeper’s bargain with the Samaritan illustrates justice in exchange; and finally, the Samaritan’s devotion of time and money to restore the beaten man to life illustrates a gift. Crime, indifference, just exchange, and gift: this is the range of possible transactions.


In contrast, the premise of today’s neoclassical economic theory was expressed by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations with his assumption that “every individual . . . intends only his own gain.”[18] “Neoscholastic” economics differs from neoclassical economics chiefly in retaining Augustine and Aristotle’s theory of gifts (and their opposite, crimes) as well as exchanges. This also makes the neoscholastic theory much more accurate.


For example, updating scholastic theory refutes the famous claim by economist Steven D. Levitt, featured in Freakonomics, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in 1973 caused the crime rate to fall 15-20 years later, by eliminating potential criminals.[19] In fact, there is a 90% current inverse relation between economic fatherhood and homicide. Legalizing abortion raised crime rates immediately and with a lag.


The “Neoscholastic” fertility model is also more accurate than neoclassical models of fertility. Just four factors explain most variation in birth rates among the 70 countries for which sufficient data are available (comprising only about one-third of all countries, but more than three-quarters of world population).[20] The birth rate is strongly and about equally inversely proportional to per capita social benefits and per capita national saving (both adjusted for differences in purchasing power). This is because both represent mostly provision by current adults for their own well-being.




When these factors are taken into account, a legacy of totalitarian government is also highly significant in reducing the birth rate, by about 0.6 children per couple.


Finally, the birth rate is strongly and positively related to the rate of weekly worship. This is because all gifts of scarce resources–whether rearing a child or worship–require the same lowering of self and raising of others in our scale of preferences for persons. On average throughout the world in 2006 (adjusted for differences in mortality), a couple which never worshipped had an average of 1.19 children; but the average couple which worshipped at least once a week had 2.44 more–an average of 3.63 children.[21]


But regular worship is not only positively related to fertility in a roughly linear fashion. It is also inversely related to the incidence of abortion, which (like crime in general) rises exponentially as the rate of worship declines.[22]

There are four main reasons, then, for “demographic winter,” in order of importance: First, low rates of religious observance, which are associated with low birth rates and high incidence of abortion; second, social benefits so high as to displace gifts within the family, particularly the gift of life; third, legacies of totalitarianism; and finally, finally, heavy reliance on so-called “consumption” taxes, which penalize investment in “human capital,” on which the return is labor compensation.


I have estimated that if legal abortion continues and social benefits double as a share of U.S. national income, as now projected, the U.S. Total Fertility Rate will likely fall in coming decades from around the replacement rate of 2.1 to less than 1.7. (Since this prediction, the U.S. TFR has already fallen to about 1.9.)

More more than ten years ago, I estimated the impact of legal abortion on the U.S. population and economy (accounting for fertility as well as mortality). At the same time, I showed that the entire prospective imbalance in the U.S. pay-as-you-go Social Security retirement pension system is due to the decline in the ratio of workers to beneficiaries caused by legal abortion.[23] Updating that analysis now indicates that legal abortion has reduced U.S. population by about one-sixth in 2012, and that at current annual rates it will have been reduced by about 24 per cent in 2030 and by 31 per cent in 2050. In fact, without legal abortion, U.S. population would be about the same share of total world population as at the end of the Baby Boom in the mid-1960s, and that share would be rising instead of declining.


But the same is true of other countries. Fifty years ago and today, the three most populous countries were China, India, and the United States. But the practice of abortion in China but not as widely in India is causing a reversal of their first and second population ranks.

Even with the negative impact from projected expansion of U.S. social benefits, if legal abortion were ended the birth rate would be about 2.5 now and remain above the 2.1 replacement rate indefinitely in the USA (it fell to 1.93 according to the most recent TFR in 2010), and “demographic winter” would be reversed in most other countries. For example, adjusted for differences in mortality rates, in 2005-2010 China’s TFR was 1.53 after but 2.10 before abortions; India’s 2.34 after and 2.41 before abortions, the USA 2.01 after but 2.66 before abortions; and Russia’s TFR was only 1.29 after, but 3.08 before abortions.[24] (But the number has declined rapidly, a point to which I will return late. The world’s Total Fertility Rate adjusted for mortality has been estimated at 2.16, slightly above the replacement rate. A comprehensive world estimate of abortions is not available. But based on all 52 countries for which data are available (comprising about two-thirds of world population), the World TFR in 2005-2010 was 1.88 after, but 2.34 before abortions.

Continuous Russian fertility data do not not appear to be available before 1945, but indicate that the Russian Total Fertility Rate was far higher than the American TFR before World War II.[25] Since then, the most striking feature has been the far higher rate of abortions by Russian couples (chart below).

Demographer Igor Beloborodov estimated at the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit that Bolshevik legalization of abortion in 1918 has reduced Russian population by 240-270 million people. That reduction approximates the size of the USA today, the world’s third most populous country.


The Russian pregnancy rate peaked at about 8 children per woman in 1965, of which nearly 6 were aborted. But since abortion was legalized in the U.S. in 1973 , the pregnancy rates for both countries have been converging. The Russian TFR hit a low of 1.16 children per couple in 1999, but had risen to 1.61 in 2011. Meanwhile, the U.S. TFR, at 2.12 had been almost exactly at the replacement rate in 2007, but fell to 1.93 by 2010. Rates of pregnancy before abortion converged at about 2.5 children per couple for both countries. But the number of children aborted per couple has been falling much faster in Russia (from a staggering 5.79 in 1966 to 0.89 in 2011), than in America (where the rate peaked at 0.82 in 1990 and declined to 0.59.

The key negative features in Russia’s experience are the longstanding ingraining of abortion into Russian culture, going back several generations to 1918 (as demographer Igor Beloborodov indicated in this remarks to the Moscow Demographic Summit), and the longstanding prevalence of the communist system, which seems to reduce fertility about 0.6 children per couple apart from other factors. The key positive factor is that more than 3 children were conceived by the typical Russian couple in 2005-2010. If the children are there, the task is to allow them to be born and raised.

So I would suggest a strategy at several levels which (as Abraham Lincoln put it in forming his strategy to overturn the deeply ingrained culture of U.S. slavery), would combine ‘high principle with self-interest.’ Russia’s reforms of abortion law last year, as I understand them, were the first restrictions but still fairly modest. The region of Ulyanovsk has benefited from a concerted strategy which supplements the federal “motherhood capital” incentive (which is capped at two children) with a “family capital” payment that rises with each child after the first.[26] I think an effective plan building on these initiatives might succeed which would place more emphasis on the carrot rather than the stick.

First, a new campaign might be instituted, termed something like “Every child wanted,” which would make sure that every single child born in Russia would be placed in the care of a married male-female couple, ideally their natural parents; but when this is not possible, through adoption; and if enough Russian married couples could not be found, adoption should be permitted from foreigners. (Many of the children would eventually return as adults.) This would make sure that even a woman who would otherwise choose abortion would see an alternative for that child if she brings it into the world. The campaign would emphasize and honor the sacrifices that parents make for their children; but also the multigenerational family as the chief transmitter of both cultural tradition and progress, since each generation of parents seeks to provide the next with greater opportunities than it had.[27]

Second, to increase the likelihood that Russian children are adopted by Russian married couples, preferably their natural parents, Russian retirement pensions should simultaneously be reformed to include a spousal benefit (the U.S. version is 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s–usually though not always the wife’s–individual benefit, if that is larger than the individual pension to which the lesser-earning spouse is entitled), but the spousal benefit would increase both with the number of surviving children (and thus future Russian taxpayers) and the length of time a woman remained married to her first husband.[28] Other features might be added–but great care is necessary so that government benefits, however well intended, do not act as substitutes for fathers. This is the main difficulty with family-oriented benefit programs.

Finally, we have seen the strong relation between religious practice and fertility, and that the rate of abortion, like crime rates in general, increases exponentially as the rate of weekly worship declines. But this also means that in a country like Russia, where the rate of weekly worship is very low, a small increase in the rate of religious practice is accompanied by a large decline in the rate of abortions.

But how can religious practice realistically be encouraged? The support of, say, the Russian Orthodox church would be welcomed. But I suggest that a successful campaign would not be institutionally tied to it or specifically religious. The reason is not simply that such a policy must be approved by Russian voters, and there are too many Russian agnostics, Jews, Muslims, and other varieties of Christian to allow that. Rather, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of what Kevin Seamus Hasson has called the “right to be wrong–In more traditional terms, we could say that while there is no ultimate right that one can assert against God Himself to hold erroneous beliefs, we are nonetheless entitled to be free from coercion by our fellow human beings.”[29]

As an economist I practice what has been called the ‘dismal science.’ But my message is one of hope. All the unfavorable trends we have discussed here at the Ulyanovsk International Demographic Summit are reversible, if we heed the lessons of history and international experience–going back at least to Alexis de Tocqueville’s penetrating comparison of America and Russia.

John D. Mueller is the Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


[1] As well as Alexey Komov for his role in organizing this conference.

[2] John D. Mueller, “A Family-Friendly Fiscal Policy to Weather Demographic Winter,” remarks to the Fourth World Congress of Families, Warsaw, Poland, 11 May 2007, http:/ /, and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/family-friendly-fiscal-policy-to-weather-demographic-winter/.

[3] John D. Mueller, “How Do Nations Choose ‘Demographic Winter’? Is America Doing So?” Remarks at the Fifth World Congress of Families Panel on “Family and Demography,” Amsterdam,, Netherlands, 11 August 2009, and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/how-do-nations-choose-a%C2%80%C2%9Cdemographic-wintera%C2%80%C2%9D-is-america-doing-so/

[4] John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element (ISI Books, Wilmington, DE, 2010).

[5] John D. Mueller, “Babies and Dollars: Implications for USA, Russia, and the World,” Remarks to the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, Moscow, Russia, 30 June 2011, and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/babies-and-dollars-implications-for-usa-russia-and-the-world/.

[6] A longer version of the article on which these remarks are based may be found in The Family in America at and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/dollars-and-sense/

[7] John D. Mueller , “The Demographic Winter (How We Got to Where We Are),” VI World Congress of Families, Madrid, Spain, 25 May 2012,, (video) and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/the-demographic-winter-how-we-got-to-where-we-are/; “Benefits or Babies: Will Social Benefits ‘Crowd Out’ Children?” and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/benefits-or-babies-will-social-benefits-crowd-out-children/; “Practical Steps on Births, Benefits, Booms and Busts,” and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/practical-steps-on-births-benefits-booms-and-busts/.

[8] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 2. Chapter: Conclusion a, Accessed from on 2012-09-09 Other quotations in this paragraph, ibid.

[9] Angus Maddison, Historical Statistics of the World Economy: 1-2008 AD,, and

[10] Unfortunately, Maddison’s statistics do not distinguish Russia from the former Soviet Union before the Second World War.

[11] Theodore W. Schultz, “Investment in Human Capital,” American Economic Review (March 1961): 1-17; 6.

[12] Ibid., 5.

[13] John W. Kendrick, The Formation and Stocks of Total Capital (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1976); updated in John W. Kendrick, “Total Capital and Economic Growth,” Atlantic Economic Journal, vol. 22, no. 1 (March 1994): 1-18.

[14] Aristotle, The Politics, I, 3-4, op. cit.,

[15] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, trans. R. J. Regan (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 2007), 1271-72; book I, chap. 4; 6-7.

[16] John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics, 34, 111, 219.

[17] Author’s calculations based on Michael Haines, “Fertility and Mortality in the United States,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples (January 22, 2005), available at TFRs and NRRs derived by author from U.S. population estimates by age and sex, available at

[18] Smith, A. (1966 [1776], Smith, Wealth of Nations, IV.ii.9, accessed on 19 September 2009 from

[19] John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt, “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. CXVI, issue 2 (May 2001): 379-420. Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, New York: William Morrow, 2005.

[20] The model was first published in John D. Mueller, “How Does Fiscal Policy Affect the American Worker?” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy Vol. 20 No. 2 (Spring 2006), 563-619; available at http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/how-does-fiscal-policy-affect-the-american-worker/

[21] Weekly worship data: World Values Survey, It should be noted that some surveys of religious practice are biased upward compared with actual counts of church attendance or time diary studies, while others are not. The World Values Survey and the American National Election Studies (ANES: a semiannual American time series since 1948), appear to be relatively unbiased indicators and largely agree; American National Election Studies, See also Philip S. Brenner, “Exceptional Behavior or Exceptional Identity? Overreporting of Church Attendance in the U.S., Public Opinion Quarterly,” Vol. 75, No. 1, Spring 2011, pp. 19-41; Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson, “Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 137-145; C. Kirk Hadaway et al., “What the Polls Don’t Show: A Closer Look at U.S. Church Attendance,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 58 No. 6 (Nov. 1993), 741-752.

[22] As Augustine noted, a crime is the opposite of a gift: the taking from other persons their own goods. As with “legal” abortion, the objective facts remain the same whether or not the crime is recognized as such by human law. Augustine,On Christian Doctrine3. 10. 16 (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), pp. 396-97, Data on abortion rates by country from update of section VII, “Global Abortion Summary,” March 2000, © 2000-2007, 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston,

[23] John D. Mueller, “The Socioeconomic Costs of Roe v. Wade: How America would be Stronger if Abortion Remained Illegal,” and ” How Abortion Has Weakened Social Security,” Family Policy, March-April 2000, http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/the-socioeconomic-costs-of-roe-v-wade/ and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/how-abortion-has-weakened-social-security/.

[24] Fertility rates should be adjusted for differences in mortality rates. The Net Reproduction Rate (NRR) represents a hypothetical woman whose experience matches the average rates of fertility and death of all women in a given year. (The Total Fertility Rate measures fertility alone.) An NRR of 1.00 indicates that each woman bears exactly one surviving daughter. The Total Fertility Rates used in the model equal twice the NRR. For example, the TFR in Mali in 2006 was 7.42, but the NRR was 1.987, which corresponds to a TFR of 3.97 children per couple. In other words, in Mali the typical couple had about 3-1/2 children simply to compensate for the likelihood of premature death before reaching child-bearing age. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, New York, 2009;

[25] E.Andreev, L.Darski, T. Kharkova “Histoire démographique de la Russie. 1927-1959”; ^ “Goskomstat”. Goskomstat. Retrieved 14 May 2011. Data at

[26] “Demography with a ‘+’ Sign,” Ulyanovsk Region Government Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Ulyanovsk, Russia, 2012. The personal family capital payment rises from 50,000 rubles (about $1,600) after the second child to 700,000 rubles (almost $22,000) after the seventh and further child.

[27] To reinforce these intergenerational ties, perhaps a slogan like “snack with grandma” (zakuska s babushkoy) or something more euphonious (and grammatically correct) might work.

[28] Without such a pension structure, both Russia’s Motherhood Capital and Ulyanovsk region Social Capital payments might encourage biological paternity and maternity without commensurate economic fatherhood and motherhood: provision for one’s children. At the same time, American mistakes should also be avoided. To receive the spousal benefit in the US, it is necessary to remain married to one’s spouse for at least ten years; but this minimum term also creates an incentive to divorce one’s spouse after ten years. (Most American divorces are filed by wives.) A schedule of benefits that, like the Ulyanovsk Region’s Family Capital incentives for children, which increased both with more children and with longer spousal fidelity, would avoid such perverse disincentives and tend to be self-financing, insofar as more children raised by their natural parents would mean both more future taxpayers and fewer children raised in socially challenging circumstances.

[29] Kevin Seamus Hasson, The Right to Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America, Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2005; p. 170. The peculiarities of Russian history are often mentioned to imply that America’s (continuing) struggle over freedom of worship is irrelevant for its higher rate of religious practice or for Russian experience today. The American constitution prohibits Congress from enacting any law respecting religion; but state governments could do so, and all but two of the original states had religious tests preventing members of other than the officially sanctioned religion from voting or holding office. (For example, both I as a Roman Catholic and Don Feder as a Jew would have been barred from voting or holding office in most states.) The elimination of such religious tests also at the state level helps explain the relatively high rate of American religious practice (though it has declined). To practice one’s religion in America, one must really want to be a Protestant or Catholic or Muslim or Jew; the practice of other faiths stimulates practice of one’s own faith; and one finds that one often has much more in common politically with members of other faiths who are serious about practicing their own faiths than with one’s co-religionists who don’t. This is certainly the case at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where there are seriously committed Catholics, Protestants and Jews. And the same is apparent today in the broad agreement on policy between me (an American Roman Catholic) and Don Feder (an American Jew) despite our religious differences. In the third book of Democracy in America (1840), Tocqueville made two prescient observations. First, that “pantheism seems to me the one most likely [philosophy] to seduce the human mind in democratic centuries. All those who remain enamored of the true grandeur of man must join forces and struggle against it.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, op. cit., Vol. 3. Chapter 7: “What Makes the Minds of Democratic Peoples Incline toward Pantheism,” Accessed from on 2012-09-09. Second, “America is [now] the most democratic country on earth, and at the same time the country where, according to trustworthy reports, the Catholic religion is making the most progress…. You see today, more than in earlier periods, Catholics who become unbelievers and Protestants who turn into Catholics…. Men today are naturally little disposed to believe; but as soon as they have a religion, they find a hidden instinct within themselves that pushes them without their knowing toward Catholicism.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, op. cit., Vol. 3. Chapter 6: “Of the Progress of Catholicism in the United States,” accessed from on 2012-09-09 This was prescient because Americans who identify themselves as Roman Catholics grew from almost nil at the American Founding to become the largest single denomination in the United States, comprising some 23 per cent of the total in 2011, a share roughly constant since 1948. Those identifying themselves with a specific Protestant denomination have declined from 69% in 1948 to 42% in 2011. (American Protestants are divided among thousands of denominations, though the share of self-identified “nondenominational Christians” has grown to about 10%.) “Religion,” Gallup, Inc.., retrieved 3 September 2012. Tocqueville worried that in his native France, “Catholicism, I am very afraid, will never adopt the new society. It will never forget the position that it had in the old one and every time that [it] is given some powers, it will hasten to abuse them” (citation ibid). A similar temptation and danger seem to exist today because of its similar history for the Russian Orthodox Church (with which about 95 per cent of Russia’s Christians identify:, but in which the rate of weekly worship is less than 5 per cent: World Values Survey, op. cit.). Both Tocqueville’s analysis and recent international experience imply that by forswearing political privileges or penalties on other denominations, the Russian Orthodox Church would be surprised to see Russian religious practice rise significantly, and that the vast majority of the additional practitioners would be Orthodox.

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