Our nation has been founded in what we may call our American religion,
baptized and reared in the faith that a man requires no master to take care of him,
and that common people can work out their salvation well enough together if left
free to try.
William James, “Robert Gould Shaw Oration,” 1897
[T]he civic religion of which Whitman and Dewey were prophets … centered
around taking advantage of traditional pride in American citizenship by
substituting social justice for individual freedom as our country's principal
goal … You have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one to which
you wake up every morning.
Richard Rorty, “A Cultural Left,” 1997
James and Rorty refer here to what sociologists used to call the American
civil religion. In 1967, Robert N. Bellah coined this phrase to suggest how
Americans, shaped by the complex interplay of republican and Christian
traditions, believe they have an obligation “to carry out God's will on
earth.” Since the 1970s, though, it has been historians like J. G. A.
Pocock who have shown how republicans throughout the modern West
have for the last five centuries blended the millennialist beliefs of
Christianity with the ancient conviction that humans realize their political
nature through the virtuous acts required to sustain republics in a cosmos
ruled by fortune. As James once said of pragmatism, republicanism is a
new name for an old way of thinking.