You are here

Isn't something odd about this picture?

During the Middle Ages Europe was loosely organized politically—there was no conception of state sovereignty—and it recognized a universal Church that in principle was superior to political authorities and in practice could sometimes influence and so limit them. In early modern times Europe moved from that state of affairs to one in which the state was supreme. Each state had its own church, a Protestant church with the prince as governor or a branch of the Catholic church the prince could dominate under the terms of a concordat.

A lot of blood was shed during the transition in wars among states and through state enforcement of the prince’s choices in religion. Academics and experts dependent on the state blame the bloodshed on religion. They call the Thirty Years War, which pitted Catholic France and various Protestant powers against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, and which ended with a decisive proclamation of the principle of state sovereignty, a war of religion. The consensus of certified authority today is that the history of such conflicts proves that religion must be driven completely out of public life, and the state or more likely some transnational governmental arrangement made absolute as the ultimate social authority. Liberalism must be the supreme political principle. Otherwise there will be unending violence.

For some reason it’s not thought relevant that by their nature all states and transnational authorities coerce and kill. Since they need a reason for doing so, they are based of necessity on particular beliefs about man and the world that are thought sufficient to justify coercion and bloodshed. Not everyone shares such beliefs any more than everyone shares religious beliefs. State sovereignty means that each state has to choose and define such beliefs for itself rather than accepting the traditional beliefs of its people and civilization. World government would require the decision to be made for the world as a whole.

From the French Revolution onward the beliefs chosen by the state, in their secular form, have been enforced by persecutions and tyrannies far bloodier and more thoroughgoing than any blamed on religion. In Europe today, where laws on the whole are extraordinarily mild, men are prosecuted in the name of tolerance for what amounts to blasphemy or heresy—for denying the moral principles of the current public order or the historicity and significance of its founding events. Here in America the Supreme Court’s about to rule on whether it’s legal to pay public honor to the Ten Commandments. The view against is considered enlightened.

The question nonetheless remains: why is Martin Luther King so much better than the Ten Commandments? A political society needs to honor something as a point of public reference. What’s so bad about the things the people are actually attached to and the country and the civilization of which it is part have actually been built upon? Why do freedom, justice, equality and public peace require such things to be taken from us and something else forced on us instead?

Share/Save