Mandeville, LA – A centrally important, paradoxical characteristic of modern liberalism is that it does not prescribe what citizens should believe, how they should live, or what they should care about, but it nonetheless depends for the social cohesion and political vitality of the regimes it informs on the voluntary acceptance of widely shared beliefs, values, and priorities that motivate people’s actions. Otherwise liberal states have to become more legalistic and coercive in order to insure stability and security. In the West, many of those basic beliefs, values, and priorities—including self-discipline, self-denial, self-sacrifice, ethical responsibility for others, duty to one’s community, commitment to one’s spouse and children—derive most influentially in the modern Western world from Christianity and were shared across confessional lines in early modern Europe. Advanced secularization, precipitated partly by the capitalism and consumerism encouraged by liberal states, has considerably eroded them in the past several decades and thus placed increasing pressures on public life through the social fragmentation and political apathy of increasing numbers of citizens who exercise their rights to live for themselves and to ignore politics.
This is one way in which modernity’s failure is under way, a symptom of which is the constant stream of (thus far, ineffectual) proposals about how to reinvigorate democracy, restore public civility, get citizens to care about politics, and so forth. More abstractly but important in different ways, the ideological secularism of the public sphere and the naturalist metaphysical assumptions of academic life, combined with the state of philosophy and the explanatory successes of the natural sciences, prevent the articulation of any intellectually persuasive warrant for believing in the realities presupposed by liberal political discourse and the institutional arrangements of modernity: that there are such things as persons, and that they have such things as rights. Secularization and scientism are thus subverting modernity’s most fundamental assumptions from within, developments that are facilitated by the same institutional arrangements of liberalism that solved early modern Europe’s problem of religious coexistence. – Brad S. Gregory, The Unitended Reformation