I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lord Jonathan Sacks, a British rabbi who won the 2016 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion—a prize Chuck Colson also won. Lord Sacks told me that every American ought to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic book, “Democracy in America,” at least once a year. Why? To remind ourselves that citizens acting together can do far more good than a far-off government.
Just ask the citizens of Baton Rouge. Following a catastrophic flood recently which killed 13 people and rendered thousands homeless, residents learned yet again—as they did after Hurricane Katrina—how unreliable “the government” can be. U.S. Congressman John Mica called the federal government’s response “pitiful.”
But that didn’t mean Baton Rougers were without help—far from it. Hundreds of volunteers—members of churches, civic groups, and rank and file volunteers—showed up to pitch in. Volunteers in boats rescued some 30,000 people.
Wesley Pruden, a columnist at the Washington Times, marveled at the private citizens who worked to ease the suffering. For example, a Notre Dame student organized food contributions. Citizens in Appalachia loaded up a truck “with diapers, baby food, basic groceries, odd pieces of furniture and tape guns.” And University of South Carolina athletes “organized a truck to Baton Rouge for the benefit of their rivals at Louisiana State University.”
Alexis de Tocqueville would not have been surprised. During his long visit to America nearly 200 years ago, the Frenchman applauded the American habit of forming civic associations for the purpose of doing good. As Tocqueville put it, in the U.S., “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite,” forming associations “religious [and] moral . . . immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fetes, to found seminaries . . . to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools.
This article continues at [Breakpoint] Americans Doing Good