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Binding Leviathan: The Case for Institutional Liberty

Binding Leviathan: The Case for Institutional Liberty

A creative tension 

In political theory, as in any inquiry, a question must begin with a perception or a premise. The question is this: How can the identity and integrity of a self-governing institution – whether a church, business, school, even a family – be maintained independently of the public agenda of a pervasively secular modern state? The perception that frames the question is that the American system of constitutional government, in particular, originated with specific reference to – and derived its essential character from – the covenant tradition of the Bible.[1]

It is also here, where the perception and question meet, that a problem suggests itself. The disintegrating public authority of the church and other self-governing institutions in West today has left a vacuum of cultural and moral authority and gravitas. Given the premise that the American constitutional order and the Western legal tradition reflects a Biblical and specifically Christian view of man and society, the problem is whether that tradition is equipped to function effectively apart from the original cooperative relationship between church and state or, alternatively, upon a radically secular and different ideological basis.

Religious liberty is commonly thought to be secured in America by a constitutional wall of separation between church and state. Its character is best understood in the context of an original Christian cultural consensus which underlay the plurality of competing sects. Three observations may clarify the dilemma. First, American law and custom still preserve elements of an earlier Protestant state church tradition despite the historical coincidence between the framing of the Constitution and the disestablishment of official state churches in the former colonies. The political and religious perspective of the founders is in fact so strongly impressed upon the constitutional system that, second, discrepancies between the basic doctrines of Christianity and the expectations of diverse religious and secular subcultures are among the major sources of conflict within the political arena. But, third, changing interpretations of the provisions of the Constitution respecting religion, along with a growing state presence in all areas of social and economic life, tend to reduce the formal role of religion in public life, leading some religious leaders to express public concern over losses of liberty and influence by the church.[2]

Abraham Lincoln raised the issue of a founding purpose or ideal when he claimed that the American republic was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln’s way of characterizing the American ideal is still a source of controversy, but the argument is usually over which “proposition” should prevail. The problem is not only whether, simply as a practical matter, “that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” It is whether that nation can really thrive upon any except its original intellectual and cultural foundations. If ideas have consequences, we should endeavor to discover the consequences that flow from these premises and how they may bear on the great issues of the day. 

Cultural revolutions 

In recent years the term “culture war” has come into wide use as a way of characterizing the growing divergence of attitudes on social and moral issues throughout the West, which the late sociologist Philip Rieff tellingly referred to as “church civilization.”[3] The phrase echoes the Kulturkampf, or “culture struggle”, that German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck waged against the Roman Catholic Church a century and a half ago. Although the circumstances today may differ, similarities are evident. In The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), Philip Rieff wrote that 

Cultural revolutions before our own have asserted some limit on the race for status and satisfaction, and have promoted interdicts to limit and displace the dynamics of acquisitive appetite... Ours is the first cultural revolution fought to no other purpose than greater amplitude and richness of living itself. Is this not what is meant by a ‘revolution of rising expectations’?[4] 

Rieff’s concept of the therapeutic fits Pitirim Sorokin’s description of chaotic syncretism, which he depicts as a transitional phase of a “decaying sensate [materialistic] culture.”[5] What once was regarded as a paradigm shift in the 1960s – a countercultural Age of Aquarius – has devolved into a cultural revolution of increasing volatility with inherently nebulous and thus unachievable goals.[6]

At the end of his career, Rieff telescoped a lifetime of thought into the Delphic aphorisms and complex puns of the opening pages of My Life Among the Deathworks (2006). Rieff identified three culture or world types – first (ancient pagan), second (Judeo-Christian), and third (postmodern) – to bolster his analysis of civilization’s present discontents, somewhat in the vein of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions

From the authority forged in that inward, therefore outward, identity as God’s creation, no second world creature can escape. The present world fight [between the second and third world] is explicable as a flight from that authorized identity into third world theatrical roles... The guiding elites of our third world are virtuosi of de-creation, of fictions where once commanding truths were. Third world elites are characterized by their relentless promotion of the clean sweep.” 

This clean sweep is the genesis of today’s cancel culture. If fate appears to have shaped the first world of the ancients, “faith, not fate, sounds the motif of our second world... Faith means trust and obedience to highest most absolute authority: the one and only God who acts in history uniquely by commandment and grace.”[7] By contrast, today’s “third worlds” seek a lost authenticity but, lacking a sense of the transcendent, end in the denial of authority. As the Parisian demonstrators put it in 1968: “It is forbidden to forbid.” Whatever is “transgressive” becomes the opiate of the elites and their clientele: 

Anti-cultures translate no sacred order into social. Recycling fantasy firsts, third worlds exist only as negations of sacred orders in seconds... In contemporary American third culture (and in Europe), primordial power is widely thought to be desire; specifically, sexual. The alternative, closely related to desire in third culture, is power.[8] 

Sexual identity rather than faith has become the language of both authenticity and power: “identity, recognition, and belonging are now deeply connected to the sexual desires we have and the manner in which we express them.”[9]

The public authority of Christian churches of all denominations in America has been disintegrating for generations in favor of a doctrinally and ethically fluid secular humanitarianism promoted by third culture elites. The absence of a vibrant church at the vital center of a tacit civil religion has left a cultural and moral tension that appears to be both a cause and a consequence of the enhanced power of the state to set the ideological agenda of public and private life. The larger question, then, is how to bring the competing claims of church and state into a dynamic balance without doing violence to their respective missions.

In the historical development of the United States, threats to both religious and educational liberty generally arose over nativist opposition directed specifically against the Roman Catholic Church and its parochial schools. If there is a “third rail” in American politics, analogous to the rail that conducts the electrical current to move a subway train, it is the sanctity of public education. Since its advent as part of a more comprehensive social reform package in Massachusetts in 1837, the public education movement has been the leading edge of efforts to establish a humanitarian/secular humanist system of belief – what John Dewey later called “a common faith” – which began only four years after the Massachusetts electorate abolished the congregational church establishment, which had been previously taken over by the Harvard/Unitarian political elite.[10] The capture and/or restructuring of authoritative institutions, exemplified by Rudi Dutschke’s “long march through the institutions,”[11] is a long-familiar pattern that warrants serious attention. Just as pagan temples were once converted into churches, so churches today are closing, often for lack of doctrinal distinctives. In Massachusetts, some of the attributes of the earlier religious establishment, such as certification of teachers, public taxation, and accreditation of schools and teaching seminaries, were either retained or restored by public education authorities to strengthen their cultural grip.[12]

History suggests that any assumption of the traditional functions of the church by the state leads it to play the role of the church in society.[13] Theodore Roosevelt called the Presidency, for example, a “bully pulpit.” The state is most apt to cloak itself in clerical garb, so to speak, as a means of enhancing its perceived calling to reform society, mobilize community support, and instill unity of purpose. The clever public servant anticipates the public pleasure and, in meeting it, makes himself indispensable. Too often his performance casts some doubt as to whose interests are being served and here is the danger. The combination of the traditional kingly and priestly powers – the imperium and sacerdotium as they were known in ancient Rome – has supported political despotism from time immemorial.[14]

In the early modern era, the same divine right monarch, Henry VIII, who was the parens patriae of orphans was also the persecutor of religious Nonconformists in his capacity as Defender of the Faith. Under Biblical law, by contrast, the royal and priestly offices were kept strictly separate. King Saul and King Uzziah each paying dearly for usurping priestly authority. A separation of offices and powers, the rule of law, limited government, federalism, fundamental freedoms, equal justice, the sanctity of life, protection of the vulnerable, and the accountability of office holders – all find practical and intellectual expression in the Bible.

Adherents of what Kenneth Minogue called “political moralism” seldom observe a strict separation of powers or offices. More than a century ago, Progressive reformers in the United States promoted various plans to combine administrative units, such as school districts, or to consolidate legislative and executive, as with the commission form of city government. Nineteenth century idealists – often under the banner of Christian socialism – promoted coercive programs of social reform.[15] The Fabian Society’s stained-glass window merges the symbolism of a workers’ party with that of a medieval monastic order. It features a shield with the insignia of a wolf in sheep’s clothing presiding over a scene of Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw hammering away at a globe on an anvil. Its Romantic motto is taken from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: “Remould It Nearer to the Heart’s Desire.”[16]

The changing equation 

Part of the challenge in preserving liberty today is the indefinite scope of civil government and the unlimited demands of political parties and various constituency groups. It is the natural outgrowth of a long-standing political and economic dynamic. Modern technology invests political organization with the means to increasingly organize all variables which directly impinge on its operation. Moreover, the need to economize an organization’s activities, which is due to a condition of insufficient means and materiel, motivates an effort to secure greater control over those variables on behalf of the organization’s presumed interests.[17]

Where once the American political system was strictly defined, federal, and co-operative, it is becoming highly complex, centralized, and intricately regulated. During the early Republic, legal reforms and judicial rulings tended to take a “release of energy” view of property that encouraged and rewarded the competitive spirit and self-reliance of the pioneer and the entrepreneur.[18] In recent generations, the rise of the administrative state stifles initiative and rewards dependency. Reliance on administrative law throughout the West compounds the problem,[19] especially in an age of identity politics, expressive individualism, and the putatively sovereign self.[20] Like a codicil to a will, each new policy effectively rewrites the whole Constitution so that its application is governed by the most recent theory or interpretation.[21]

The growing role of – and public acquiescence in – the state as the arbiter of first resort threatens to overpower all other institutions: families, churches, schools and universities, regional and local governments, businesses, service organizations, trade unions, and professional associations. Many of these institutions have acted as mediating structures which stand as a buffer between the individual and the central state.[22] Many have weakened or disappeared. Others succumb to the blandishments of the beneficent state to serve as yet another of its appendages through incorporation, regulation, and subsidization. Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America noted the significant role once played by voluntary associations in America.[23] Those days had gone long before Covid-19 and the lockdown made them even more superfluous.[24]

The church historically has been the most powerful of these mediating structures but the state has adopted many of the ministries it originated – among them, hospitals, universities, and orphanages – and is today restricting the church’s in them. In America, the changes have been often slow and subtle, but the old boundaries that once separated church and state have been effectively breached by the relaxing of constitutional safeguards. Principled opposition to such encroachment fades away with the passage of time until constitutional innovations cease to be questioned. The church as a consequence has lost much of its distinctive prophetic character. This means, among other things, that institutions which historically were cloaked in robes of authority – the church, the university, and the judiciary – are less equipped to serve as the independent conscience of the polity.[25]

Events of the past half century suggest that a relationship more characteristic of adversaries than allies is replacing an earlier accommodation between church and state.[26] Some cooperation is still evident but an earlier willingness by the state to make common cause with church ministries seems to be giving way to a pattern of domination over the church and society in general. A major indicator of this power shift is the gradual displacement of the protective immunities churches and church schools once enjoyed through exemptions from taxation and regulations that impinge upon their ministry. In United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 257-58 (1982), for example, the Court held: “Not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional... The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.”

The originality of the Constitution lies in its attempt to secure the blessings of religious and political liberty in a republic of self-governing people. The issue of concern here involves at least two questions: whether the original constitutional limitations on civil authority have been superseded or abrogated – at least in part – and whether such a turnabout has subordinated the church, as well as the people generally, to the public policy of the state.

The expanding sphere of fiscal and regulatory activity by the state has placed it into a conflict of moral or cultural, if not legal, jurisdiction with the church. This does not mean that church and state are competing political or juridical entities. The church in late twentieth century America is not an empire within an empire. It lacks the resources and the popular allegiance that buttressed the universal Church of medieval Christendom. The relationship has changed. What the state subsidizes it may regulate and what it regulates it may prohibit. At one time, the church was recognized as an authority independent of the state and historically has acted as a restraint upon it. Its officers and spokesmen – Ambrose, Thomas Becket, Stephen Langton, and countless others – sought to articulate an eternal perspective while dramatizing the great issues of the day and taking principled stands at great personal risk. Today, the church is increasingly marginalized and often treated as a charitable organization subject to regulation like any state-licensed commercial enterprise.

Church and state are now also coming to represent or symbolize two sides in a great cultural divide within modern civilization. The conflict has to do with what role each will play in setting the moral and cultural agenda of American society. The caseload and pattern of decisions by the United States Supreme Court places it in the vanguard of defining and redefining the language of the Constitution. The institutional conduits – particularly public schools – of the prevailing secular humanitarianism continue to exhibit the characteristics of a religious establishment. Controversies over political correctness, the toppling of historical monuments, the 1619 project, “wokeness,” the BDS movement, cancel culture, the endless political investigations – all have the whiff of a religious or ideological crusade designed to intimidate the weak, harass dissenters, and delegitimize putatively unorthodox views. As Philip Rieff wryly commented: “Culture is the form of fighting before the firing begins.”[27]

The best evidence that a rivalry, or an ideological rift, exists between the church and the secular state may be discerned from the changing status of religious institutions within the public sphere, as reflected by popular attitudes and expectations. As Pierre Manent has put it recently: “Instead of being separate, politics and religion risk becoming confused under the humanitarian dispensation, since the religion of humanity seems to make the State and the Church one.”[28]

Yet the heart of the issue here is something even more fundamental than a conflict between rival elites or competing loyalties. Historically, the conflict dates back to the very beginning of what we call Western civilization. The exaltation and centralization of the modern state and the secularization and fragmentation of the modern church are tendencies that have been many generations in the making.[29]

The great divide

 In the view of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in Out of Revolution (1938), Western civilization – what Philip Rieff called “church civilization” – began a thousand years earlier as a re-founding of the Roman Empire at a time when “the West was no longer united” and “the modern nations of Europe did not exist.” First, Charlemagne was crowned the Western Emperor and protector of the Church by the Pope on Christmas Day in the year 800. The concept was later revived and adapted by Otto I into the vision of an imperium christianum: what came to be known as the Holy Roman Empire. “The concept of a universal civilization opposing a multitude of local economic units was the emperor’s gift to the European tribes.”[30] 

No nation, no cities, yet an emperor, was the paradoxical situation a thousand years ago. Since an emperor already existed, the obsession of the last thousand years has been to build cities. Countless words have been derived from the Latin ‘civitas’ to express this homesickness of Europe for the lost cities which had once flourished on her soil. Citoyen, Civilization, City (Citta` del Vaticano), Civil service, the Italian word civilita (culture, politeness, humanity), Civil lists are offsprings of a permanent longing to re-endow the Western World with some kind of citizenship...[31]

From all this, Rosenstock-Huessy concluded that “the unique experiment of the Western World consists in regenerating a former world.” Like the monasteries of Cluny, it was a corporate missionary venture that built new settlements upon land reclaimed from the wilderness, spread of the Gospel, and revived learning. 

The result is, among other things, the modern nations. Nations have taken the place of the ancient city or polis. The word politics or policy signifies today the tendencies of national government, even though ‘politikos’ is the adjective of polis, which means town, urbs. Whenever we speak of policy today, we move in the sphere which has transformed the classical city-state into a world-wide institution.[32]

 Here Rosenstock-Huessy raises an issue that was later developed by Remi Brague, who referred to this pattern as “the cultural model of secondarity.”[33] One of the major attributes of the West is a deliberate cosmopolitan pattern of “cultural appropriation.”

 “Western civilization is distinguished by an unusual curiosity about both nature and the lives of other societies. Europeans have appropriated many of their ideas and inventions from other civilizations. Partly for this reason, it has been extraordinarily open to others who wish to engage in its activities. Its religion, its languages, and its knowledge have been widely diffused.[34]

Not surprisingly, the phrase “cultural appropriation” is today attacked as culturally insensitive, inauthentic, racist, or imperialist.

Yet secondarity is not a flaw so much as it is a feature of the Western imagination. Just as the Greeks borrowed from the Egyptians and the Romans borrowed from the Greeks, so the barbarian tribes that moved into Europe appropriated the language, law, architecture, titles, and countless other aspects of Roman culture and gradually assimilated them even as they adopted Christianity, another secondarity. Elements or imitations of the Roman Empire were preserved or revived multiple times in places like Byzantium, Aix-la-Chapelle, Moscow, Paris, Washington, and Berlin by Emperors, Czars, Kaisers, and Presidents.

So it was that a thousand years ago a German emperor presided over reform in the Church and made Rome once again the basis for unity and universality. “One great ocean of creed and an archipelago of economic islands -- that was the situation in the year 1000.”[35] Religion (from religare) – the tie that binds – knit together Europe a thousand years after the Apostle Paul heeded the Macedonian call. Today, it is the church rather than the economy that has become local, parochial, and narrow.

Church and economy have changed their places during the last thousand years... The universal church becomes more and more particular in her operations; economy becomes more and more universally organized.[36]

At work here perhaps is something resembling Henri Bergson’s law of dichotomy. Bergson suggested that human society exhibits a kind of psychic “dimorphism” that “makes of each of us both a leader with the instinct to command and a subject ready to obey.”[37] The concept of dimorphism is merely one way of representing the old dilemma of the One and the Many: the problem of how to reconcile the twin imperatives of unity and diversity, authority and liberty, or the universal and the particular. To use Bergson’s language of “creative evolution”, the life of society is dynamic as well as static: flowing, then ebbing; opening, then closing; uniting, then dividing. Life is its dynamic aspect, growing ever more complex as it seeks to enrich itself. Matter is its static aspect. It is the “congealed residue of creation” left from all that has taken place.

The law of dichotomy is what “apparently brings about a materialization, by a mere splitting up, of tendencies which began by being two photographic views, so to speak, of one and the same tendency.”[38] The result is “two organizations, two indivisible systems of qualities”, each of which is apt to claim rights and duties that bring it into conflict with the other. With organizations as comprehensive in character as the modern nation-state and the historic Christian church, the potential for conflicts of loyalty and citizenship between them is immeasurable.

The historical interplay of these two organizations illustrates what Bergson called the law of twofold frenzy: “the imperative demand, forthcoming from each of the two tendencies as soon as it is materialized by the splitting, to be pursued to the very end -- as if there was an end!”[39] Paul Valéry made a similar point in his essay, “The European”, when he characterized Europe as an intellectual factory:

Thought has to develop and it has to be preserved. It can advance only by extremes, but it can endure only by means. Extreme order, which is automatism, would be its ruin...[40].

Religious bodies and other institutions are finding their independence and integrity endangered by public policies that contradict long-established doctrines and practices relating to church government, property, membership, ministries, discipline, sacraments, evangelism, and public affairs. The effective extension of state operations into all areas of social life within the state’s political and juridical boundaries is opening a serious breach in the “wall of separation” that has traditionally protected the church. As a consequence, churches began being subjected by the late 1970s to novel strictures upon their corporate rights and privileges, tax immunities, property ownership, doctrinal expressions and practices, as well as specific ministries such as those involving education and missionary outreach.

What is missing in current discussions about church and state today is a comprehensive theory -- even a common understanding -- of the role each should play within the other’s recognized sphere of operation. Before such a theory may be developed, various elements that might eventually form the nucleus of one must be examined. Little more may be needed than some cement to hold them together. But isn’t this the real issue? What we seek is a force which holds a society together and binds the state to a set of constitutional limitations while at the same time leaving a high degree of liberty for self-governing individuals and institutions, giving rise to what Francis Lieber called institutional liberty.

Acquiescence and complicity

More than four centuries ago Johan Althusius coined the word symbiosis – “living together” – to express an application of the Biblical covenant idea in a form of federalism that reconciles liberty and authority – a condition Francis Lieber later found to be characteristic of the English constitution and common law tradition. Lieber contrasted Anglican liberty – practical, organic, decentralized, and developmental – with Gallican liberty – abstract, rationally constructed, codified, centralized, and purpose-driven, like the French bureaucracy and civil law tradition. A century later Michael Oakeshott offered a similar dichotomy – nomocracy versus telocracy – in Rationalism in Politics. Friedrich Hayek cited Lieber’s model in A Constitution of Liberty (1960). More recently, Niall Ferguson drew a similar contrast between the English common law and the French civil law traditions, quoting one study to the effect that common law tends to support private market outcomes “whereas civil law seeks to replace such outcomes with state-desired allocations.”[41]

In order for the American experiment in liberty – economic as well as religious – to succeed, it is evident that unity must somehow emerge and reemerge out of diversity. This requires a strong consensual base, perhaps a common faith. Yet the very liberty that the founders wished to pass onto future generations of Americans is highly dependent on the same need to secure a practical consensus that has led other nations to destroy their people’s liberty, often in the name of national self-preservation.

If the nature of liberty in America has changed during our history, perhaps it is because successive generations of policymakers have developed a different perception of what is needed to achieve social harmony. It is here that a comparative and historical study can provide invaluable leads.

Traditionally, nation-states have sought to achieve social cohesion through measures – often quite oppressive – designed to create or preserve religious, cultural, and ethnic homogeneity.[42] But the American situation was complicated by several factors: a tradition of civil and religious liberty, a long-standing need to promote steady population growth, and a foreign policy that reflects the country’s ethnic diversity. American politics consequently tends to reflect a historical alternation between a variety of discriminatory or compensatory policies and a cultural pluralism that has been gradually divorced from its religious origins in favor of a rather bland political pragmatism.

Changes in public policy have contributed to a weakening of the older consensus. Increasingly, social control is being asserted through direct administrative regulation, especially in the areas of education and social welfare, rather than through the culture’s customary sanctions. “In its disarming manner”. as Rieff put it, “a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary.”[43] The power of the public purse was recognized early as an effective instrument of social policy and has been relied on heavily ever since. Money – the insatiable search for revenue and Augustine’s libido dominandi – appears to have been the root of most entanglements between church and state – if not in the beginning, then certainly later whenever conflicts dictated expensive legal remedies.

Today, however, it is increasingly evident that the fiscal crises of government at all levels are less the cause of the problem than a consequence of the political – indeed ideological – motives favoring the present imperial overreach of the state. Henry VIII did not dissolve the monasteries simply because he needed revenue. He dissolved them because he sought to eliminate real and perceived threats to his reign and, in part, because he sought to reward his allies among the gentry of the House of Commons and subsidize a rival power against the House of Lords.[44] For Henry, the threat was a divided realm and the solution was a clearly delineated dynastic succession. In the end, he failed to put his personal stamp on the realm in the manner of his rival Francis I – or the later Louis XIV – because the nobility were still sufficiently strong to keep him in check, illustrating the principle that preserving countervailing power is one of the keys to protecting liberty. Despotism – enlightened or otherwise – did not take root in England at that time.

In its continuing drama, the West today must confront the legacy of two world wars – the Iliad of the modern system of states – and the impact of totalitarian ideologies that sparked and shaped them. The post-traumatic Odyssey of the often-hot Cold War that followed and the appeasement of undeterrable enemies[45] led not to a return to home and hearth but to their reimagining beyond the recognition of those soldiers and citizens who sought only to preserve them. The shattered urban and rural landscapes at wars’ end were rebuilt only to have them marred and blighted by other plagues – the drug culture, the sexual revolution, family breakdown, and other social stresses – that are now scenes of shattered communities, families, mores, and a loss of compass.

The West’s leadership has chosen to attribute these problems to a legacy nationalism, racism, and imperialism, offering regional and global governance as the solution. But these elites are themselves in denial, often complicit in facilitating the growing social anarchy. Percy Shelley once claimed that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. For the past century, that role has been played by a large class of knowledge workers trained in state-subsidized universities. As Kenneth Minogue noted, “the real threat to universities came not from students but from government. Students were a minor irritant in academic life, but governments were now bent on destroying the autonomy of the institutions of civil society. Students merely functioned as their fifth column.”[46] Speaking of university presidents and other cultural gatekeepers, Minogue contended that they failed to protect their institutions because they were not equipped to understand insidious ideological challenges which were already winning the hearts and minds of friends and family members.

Cocooned as prosperous Westerners so often are from the immediate consequences of folly, and increasingly detached from any profound understanding of the culture that had produced them, the trustees of our civilization have indulged in the most exquisite forms of self-abnegation... Hardly a week could pass without some piece of politically correct absurdity surfacing and being laughed over and forgotten by the men who had now lost both the will and the capacity to resist.[47]

The real challenge during the plague years into which we have been thrust may be to mediate two visions – Rieff’s second and third worlds – or, at the very least, prevent a political purge of those who refuse to be swept away by the group scapegoating into which identity politics is degenerating.[48] Are we not already embracing as political ideals the sort of moral hazards that Homer, Plato, and John Bunyan had the vision, first, to identify – lotos-eaters, the Cave, Vanity Fair – and then reject as dehumanizing, enslaving, and treacherous? The challenge we face takes many forms: political gaslighting, Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, the Chinese social credit system, among others. In the face of a highly coercive consensus politics which demands acquiescence, as illustrated by the compliance of Vaclav Havel’s greengrocer in The Power of the Powerless,[49] the price exacted by the defense of political, religious, and intellectual liberty and integrity may rise much higher.



[1]See, e.g., E. C. Wines, The Hebrew Republic (Uxbridge, MA: American Presbyterian Press, [1853]), along with the work of Daniel Elazar, Donald Lutz, and others associated with the Center for the Study of Federalism.

[2]See Steven Alan Samson, Crossed Swords: Entanglements Between Church and State in America (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oregon, 1984), pp. iv-v. Much of the article is a reworking of the Introduction.

[3]See Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority *Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006). p. 4.

[4]Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 241.

[5]Pitirim A. Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age: The Social and Cultural Outlook (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1941).

[6]Some popular books on American campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s include Colin Wilson, The Outsider (New York: Dell, 1956); Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counterculture (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1969); and Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970).

[7]Rieff, op. cit., p. 5.           

[8]Ibid., p. 6.          

[9]Carl R, Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), p. 392.

[10]See Samuel L. Blumenfeld, Is Public Education Necessary? (Old Greenwich, CT: Devin-Adair, 1981).

[11]See Steven Alan Samson, “A Strategy of Subversion,” The Market for Ideas, 22 (Mar.-Apr. 2020).

[12]New Deal programs have been protected by the reorganized administrative apparatus that has governed the United States since 1940. See Sidney M. Milkis, The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System Since the New Deal (Oxford University Press, 1993) 146.

[13]This is not an unprecedented situation, although it represents a departure from the American ideal of a “free church in a free state.” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy contends that the gentry based in the English House of Commons inherited responsibility for the established church after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 and 1539. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (New York: William Morrow, 1938), pp. 272-74.

[14]Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, vol. 1: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966), pp. 168-75, relates the cult of divine kingship to the rise of the “megamachine,” or what Karl Wittfogel called “hydraulic civilization.”

[15]See William D. P. Bliss, Encyclopedia of Social Reform, 2nd ed. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls,1898).


[17]Steven Alan Samson, The Methodical Conquest: Perceptions of the Impact of Modern Technology on Society (M.A. thesis, University of Colorado, 1974).

[18]See James Willard Hurst, Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956); Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (New York: Basic 2000).

[19]See Philip Hamburger, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2014); John Marini, Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Encounter, 2019).

[20]See Trueman, op. cit.

[21]John W. Burgess, The Reconciliation of Government with Liberty (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1915), p. 372, notes that “the last will of the sovereign is law and displaces everything preceding in conflict with it.” This principle may be compared with another expressed by Rosenstock-Huessy, Revolution, pp. 5-6: “a great new event . . . rewrites history, it simplifies history, it changes the past because it initiates a new future.” These statements raise a hermeneutical question of the first magnitude: whether history or law are governed by and properly interpreted in light of their origins or their ends, the past or the present, precedent or innovation. Is the “sovereign” singular and self-identical? Or is it protean in character?

[22]See Michael Novak, ed. Democracy and Mediating Structures: A Theological Inquiry (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1980).

[23]See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, Second Book, chapters 5-7.

[24]The old adage – one man’s meat is another man’s poison – applies here. The pandemic and the (lockdown have presented an opportunity to some globalists to imagine a Great Reset. See Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret, Covid-19: The Great Reset (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2020).

[25]Compare Nicolas Berdyaev, The Origin of Russian Communism (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1960), pp. 174-75; Rosenstock-Huessy, op. cit., p. 269ff.

[26]On some of the paradoxes of Supreme Court jurisprudence concerning the First Amendment religion clauses, see James Hitchcock, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 148-63.

[27]Rieff, op. cit., p. 1.

[28]Daniel J. Mahoney, The Idols of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity (New York: Encounter, 2018), p. xiii.

[29]See “Faustian Bargains: Entanglements between Church and State in America,” The Western Australian Jurist (Murdoch University, Perth), 2 (2011): 61-92.

[30]Rosenstock-Huessy, op. cit., p. 489.

[31]Ibid., p. 489.

[32]Ibid., p. 487-88.

[33]Rémi Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002), p. 109.

[34]Kenneth Minogue, “How Civilizations Fall,” The New Criterion (April 2001)

[35]Rosenstock-Huessy, op. cit., p. 495.

[36]Ibid., p. 496.

[37]Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, [1935]), p. 278.

[38]Ibid., p. 296.

[39]Ibid., p. 296.

[40]Paul Valéry, “The European,” The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 10: History and Politics (New York: Bollingen, 1962), p. 314.

[41]Niall Ferguson, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Ecoomies Die (New York: Penguin, 2013), p. 88.

[42]For a discussion of nationalism and the political geography of population, see Norman J. G. Pounds, Political Geography (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963), pp. 116-43. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, for example, it was the national policy of Sweden to deport non-Lutherans. Roland Huntford, The New Totalitarians, revised ed. (New York: Stein and Day, 1980), pp. 20-23.

[43]Rieff, op. cit., p. 1.

[44]Rosenstock-Huessy, op. cit., p. 272ff.

[45]See, e.g., Vladimir Bukovsky, Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity (Ninth of November Press, 2019).

[46]Kenneth Minogue, “How Civilizations Fall,” The New Criterion (April 2001).; see Jacob Neusner and Noam M.M. Neusner, The Price of Excellence: Universities in Conflict During the Cold War (New York: Continuum, 1995).


[48]See Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (Nw York: Encounter, 2020), p 129.

[49]Václav Havel, Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), pp. 132-34.



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