domingo, 28 de agosto de 2016

Religious belief and practice have generally flourished, and progressivism was once a small intellectual movement

As America Grows Less Religious, Can the Tocqueville Model Still Work?

by Richard Samuelson

  • Can the separation of church and state function for an increasingly unchurched people whose secular passions rely on the exercise of state power?
  • The dangers to religious liberty that are facing the Jewish community are inseparable from the dangers facing other believing Americans

I want to thank David E. Bernstein, Wilfred McClay, and Peter Berkowitz for their kind words and thoughtful responses to my essay. In effect, all three suggest that, for American liberals and progressives, anti-discrimination is becoming nothing short of a religion, albeit one that denies it. More: it is becoming an established religion—a “secular theocracy,” in McClay’s words—and an official doctrine enforced by government.

David Bernstein poses three highly pertinent questions: how did we get to where we are today? Are things really so bad, or are there rays of hope? And what does today’s situation mean for America’s Jewish community? My comments will follow his order while drawing freely on the ideas and formulations of all three respondents.

How did we get here?

Wilfred McClay reminds us that, of late, large-scale religious fights seem to be breaking out all around the world. So the question really is whether America will remain an exception—the place where, as he writes with a nod to Tocqueville, “religious belief and practice have generally flourished . . . because they are voluntary and have not had to rely on a religious establishment to protect them.”

Can that model still work as America grows less religious in the traditional sense? To put it slightly differently, can the separation of church and state, which historically worked wonders both for American democracy and for the flourishing of religion, function for an increasingly unchurched people whose secular (though religiously-held) passions are reliant on the active exercise of state power? How will those passions be checked and balanced? For, under one name or another, there will be religion; the question is what sort of religion, and how and by whom American law will be shaped to suit the adherents’ way of life.

Peter Berkowitz’s comments shed light on this issue. The rise of a newly activist understanding of government’s role in shaping society did not begin with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which is where I focused attention in my essay). It actually began in the late-19th and early-20th century with the rise of the Progressive movement. Progressives, Berkowitz writes, “sought to overcome constitutional limits on government by redefining the Constitution as a living organism embodying progressive morals and authorizing activist government by elite-educated, impartial technocrats.”


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