The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


From the first volume of Alexis De Tocqueville's (d.1859) magisterial Democracy in America (Mansfield/ Winthrop edition/translation) p.42 (Chicago: 2000). He quotes the following extract from Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, or, the Ecclesiastical History of New England vol. 1 116-117 (Hartford: 1820) regarding the Puritan idea of 'Liberty.' Mather is in turn quoting John Winthrop. De Tocquivlle refers to this passage as a "fine definition of liberty":

"Concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beast and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is compatible and inconsistent with authority, and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: Omnes Sumus Licentia Deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, among men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with hazard not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this, is not authority, but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." 


Quoted from my own copy of De Tocqueville, Editor Phillips Bradley, 1945; 9th printing, 1961, 44-45. De Tocqueville's further comments on this passage would be well worth reflecting on. Thanks to Nima Hazini for bringing this passage to my attention.