The Pretenses of Loyalty Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 07/06/2011
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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In the face of ongoing religious conflicts and unending culture wars, what are we to make of liberalism's promise that it alone can arbitrate between church and state? In this wide-ranging study, John Perry examines the roots of our thinking on religion and politics, placing the early-modern founders of liberalism in conversation with today's theologians and political philosophers. From the story of Antigone to debates about homosexuality and bans on religious attire, it is clear that liberalism's promise to solve all theo-political conflict is a false hope. The philosophy that can be traced from John Locke to John Rawls seeks to create a world free of tragic dilemmas, where there can be no Antigones. Perry rejects this ''Johannine'' solution as an illusion. Disputes such as the culture wars cannot be adequately comprehended as border encroachments presided over by an impartial judge. Instead, theo-political conflict must be considered a contest of loyalties within each citizen and believer. Drawing on critics of Rawls such as Michael Sandel and William Galston, Perry discerns what he calls a 'turn to loyalty' by those who recognize the inadequacy of our usual thinking on the place of religion in the liberal state. Perry examines the overlooked early work of Locke, where liberalism's founder himself opposed to toleration. Perry discovers that Locke made a turn to loyalty, analogous to that of today's communitarian critics. Liberal toleration is thus more sophisticated, more theologically subtle, and ultimately more problematic than has been supposed. It demands not just governmental neutrality (as Rawls supposed) but also a reworked political theology. Yet this must remain under suspicion for Christians because it places religion in the service of the state. Perry ends by suggesting where we might turn next, looking beyond our usual Johannine liberal boundaries to possibilities obscured by the liberalism we have inherited.

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