Competing Enlightenment approaches to religion and toleration : Hobbes, Locke, Tocqueville and Rawls
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I present a critical analysis and comparison of the early modern critiques of Christianity and of the institutional strategies for achieving religious toleration through an examination of the thought of Rawls Hobbes, Locke, and Tocqueville. I argue that the contemporary dialogue over religion is limited by its uncritical acceptance of the American experience with the constitutional regime of religious freedom, which takes its bearings from the scheme of religious disestablishment that Locke articulated in the Letter Concerning Toleration. The aim of my dissertation is to correct this distortion of the history and theory of liberalism, to restore the original theological and practical flexibility of liberal politics, and to articulate competing constitutional arrangements for theocratic reform and transition that are not exhausted by “neutrality.” Instead of presenting a monolithic argument in favor of disestablishment, the early modern liberal thinkers favored a combination of different institutional and educational strategies, tailored to national and local conditions, for reforming the Church and for advancing popular enlightenment. I turn to Hobbes and Hume to recover this case for religious establishment, and contrast and compare their arguments to those of Locke and Smith. In revealing the peculiar strengths and weakness of both church establishment and free exercise, early modern rationalists presented a set of flexible institutional and practical guidelines that could inform political statesmanship in its pursuit of the agenda of popular religious reform. Through an analysis of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and the Old Regime, I show that the uncritical focus on Locke’s regime of disestablishment captures only one side of the complex and multifaceted historical experience of liberalism with religion in Europe and America, and does not do justice to the rich theoretical and political debate that shaped liberalism. Not just Hobbes and Hume, but even Locke himself, in his early Two Tracts and even in the Letter, presented strong practical arguments for and theoretical justifications of limited but real state religious establishments as institutional engines of theological reform. The recovery of this debate is meant to contribute to the capacity of liberal theory to engage in a critical dialogue with non-liberal religion, and to its capacity to articulate competing constitutional and institutional structures that , while unfamiliar to us, may be more suited for theocratic transitions in non-Western and non-Christian societies than the regime of neutrality.