Thursday, December 21, 2017
National Review has published the text of a recent lecture given by George Weigel on Dignitatis Humanae and the question whether it is best seen as a "fundamental change or [a] development." As he puts it, "[d]id DH mark a rupture in the Catholic tradition’s thinking about the relationship between religious and political authority in society and in the state? Or was DH a genuine, which is to say organic, development of Catholic church-state theory?" Along the way, he provides some helpful reminders about Westphalia and all that (e.g., "the Westphalian formula, cuius regio eius religio — the prince’s religion is the religion of the state and must be the religion of the people — can and should be considered the modern West’s first experiment in the totalitarian coercion of conscience by state power.") Here's a bit:
So Dignitatis Humanae was not a surrender document in which the Church finally raised the white flag to political modernity; it was a retrieval and development of the Church’s own tradition. Moreover, it was also a genuine contribution to modern secular political theory. For to define religious freedom as a basic human right that a just state must acknowledge is to say that there are certain spheres of life into which state power must not intrude — and that is to help create the social space for a vibrant civil society. The modern state comes in many forms and flavors, but all of them seem to have a built-in tendency to occupy more and more social “space.” Religious freedom, embodied in constitutional and positive law and warranted by widely held cultural norms, is a crucial barrier to that “occupation,” for it declares part of the “space” of society off-limits to state-power. Thus religious freedom is a crucial buttress to genuine social pluralism as well as a barrier to the totalitarian temptation that infects all forms of political modernity.