Tag Archives: French Revolution

Religion Without God (bien avant Dworkin)

I am in Evanston for a conference and thought to pay a visit to a favorite old usedBookman's Alley bookstore that I had enjoyed several years ago, “Bookman’s Alley.” The store is truly a treasure, full of surprises, and complete with a wonderfully surly owner. I took a shot of the old storefront (which is tucked away down the alley) and here’s a shot of part of a lovely collection of the complete works of Thackeray–some thirty odd volumes of his writing, all in disorder.

To my great regret, I discovered upon entering that Bookman’s is closing down Thackerayafter more than three decades. I see from this story last year that plans for Bookman’s closing have been in the works for some time. But it seemed from the melancholy mood of the store (and from the 70% discount) that the end is nigh.

I wanted to honor the store by buying a few things, even though I never relish the thought of carrying back books on a plane (with difficulty I resisted the Thackeray feast). Instead, I found a few smaller things, including an old edition of Carl Becker’s skeptical classic, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers, delivered as the Storrs Lecture in 1931 and still remarkable in several respects (one of which, I think, is the informality and easiness of the writing).

Becker’s short tract is a masterpiece of critical commentary on what we would Beckertoday call the relationship of “secularism” and “civil religion.” Here’s something from the fourth and final lecture, “The Uses of Posterity,” which will perhaps be of interest to those who are now reading Ronald Dworkin’s recently published, posthumous volume, “Religion Without God”:

Nearly a century ago De Tocqueville noted the fact that the French Revolution was a “political revolution which functioned in the manner and which took on in some sense the aspect of a religious revolution.” Like Islamism or the Protestant revolt, it overflowed the frontiers of countries and nations and was extended by “preaching and propaganda.” It functioned,

in relation to this world, in precisely the same manner that religious revolutions function in respect to the other: it considered the citizen in an abstract fashion, apart from particular societies, in the same way that religions consider man in general, independently of time and place. It sought not merely the particular rights of French citizens, but the general political rights and duties of all men. [Accordingly] since it appeared to be more concerned with the regeneration of the human race than with the reformation of France, it generated a passion which, until then, the most violent political revolutions had never exhibited. It inspired proselytism and gave birth to propaganda. It could therefore assume that appearance of a religious revolution which so astonished contemporaries; or rather it became itself a kind of new religion, an imperfect religion it is true, a religion without God, without a form of worship, and without a future life, but one which nevertheless, like Islamism, inundated the earth with soldiers, apostles, and martyrs.

L’ancien régime et la Révolution, Bk I, ch.3 [emphasis mine]. De Tocqueville’s contemporaries were too much preoccupied with political issues and the validity of traditional religious doctrines to grasp the significance of his pregnant observations. Not until our own time have historians been sufficiently detached from religions to understand that the Revolution, in its later stages especially, took on the character of a crusade. But it is now well understood…not only that the Revolution attempted to substitute the eighteenth-century religion of humanity for the traditional faiths, but also that, contrary to the belief of De Tocqueville, the new religion was not without God, forms of worship, or a future life. On the contrary, the new religion had its dogmas, the sacred principles of the Revolution–Liberté et sainte égalité. It had its form of worship, an adaptation of Catholic ceremonial, which was elaborated in connection with its civic fêtes. It had its saints, the heroes and martyrs of liberty. It was sustained by an emotional impulse, a mystical faith in humanity, in the ultimate regeneration of the human race.

Strehle, “The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism”

Next month, Transaction will publish The Dark Side of Church/State 8725Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism, by theologian Stephen Strehle (Christopher Newport University). The publisher’s description follows.

The Dark Side of Church/State Separation analyzes the Enlightenment’s attack upon the Judeo-Christian tradition and its impact upon the development of secular regimes in France, Germany, and Russia. Such regimes followed the anti-Semitic/anti-Christian agenda of the French Enlightenment in blaming the Judeo-Christian tradition for all the ills of European society and believing that human beings can develop their own set of values and purposes through rational means, apart from any revelation from God or Scripture.

Stephen Strehle’s analysis extends our understanding of church/state relations and its history. He confirms the spiritual roots of modern anti-Semitism within the ideology of the Enlightenment and recognizes the intimate relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity. Strehle questions the absolute doctrine of church/state separation, given its background in the bigotries of the philosophes. He notes the nefarious motives of subsequent regimes, which used the French doctrine to replace the religious community with the state and its secular ideology.

This detailed historical analysis of original sources and secondary literature is woven together with special appreciation for the philosophical and theological ideas that contributed to the emergence of political institutions. Readers will gain an understanding of the most influential ideas shaping the modern world and present-day culture.

Jeffery J. Langan, “The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI”

Layout 1This February, St. Augustine Press will publish The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI translated by Jeffery J. Langan (Holy Cross College). The publisher’s description follows.

The writings of Pope Pius VI, head of the Catholic Church during the most destructive period of the French Revolution, were compiled in two volumes by M.N.S. Guillon and published in 1798 and 1800. But during the Revolution, the reign of Napoleon, and the various revolutionary movements of the 19th century, there were extraordinary efforts to destroy writings that critiqued the revolutionary ideology. Many books and treatises, if they survived the revolution or the sacking from Napoleon’s armies. To this day, no public copy of Guillon’s work exists in Paris.

Now, for the first time in English, these works comprising the letters, briefs, and other writings of Pius VI on the French Revolution are available. Volume I treats the first shock of the Revolution and the efforts of the Pope in 1790 and 1791 to oppose the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (which famous revolutionary and shrewd diplomat Talleyrand referred to as “the greatest fault of the National Assembly”). Volume II will be published later, and deals with the aftermath of the Civil Constitution through Pius’s death in exile). Editor and translator Jeffrey Langan presents the materials leading up to and directly connected with these decrees, in which the National Assembly attempted to set up a Catholic Church that would be completely submissive to the demands of the Assembly. Volume I also covers Pius’s efforts to deal with the immediate aftermath of the Constitution after the National Assembly implemented it, including his encyclical, Quod Aliquantum.

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