Ralph Hancock

Dr. Ralph Hancock is Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University. He is the author of such works as Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics and The Responsibility of Reason, as well as numerous others arguing for philosophy’s openness to religious and moral insight.

Religious Freedom Can Now Mean Only: Freedom for Religion

Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay does an excellent job of bringing to light ambiguities and tensions that have always been present in the notion of religious freedom. He is certainly right that there is no Pure Theory of Religious Freedom, which, if only we can grasp it and make it universally accepted, would resolve all the controversies regarding the relations between religion and politics. Certainly there is no such pure theory somehow to be uncovered in the original meaning of the Constitution or in the unified mind of The Founders. Still, this skepticism regarding a Pure and Original Theory of Religious…

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Religious Liberty After John Locke

The central point of Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay is that contemporary disputes about religious liberty should not come as a surprise, since they are the result of three contrary, though sometimes overlapping, understandings of religious liberty that have been found in the body politic in differing degrees since the American Founding. He classifies these…

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The Paradox of Jefferson’s “Establishment of Religious Liberty” and the Problem of the Administrative State

Michael Zuckert’s Liberty Forum essay is a great introduction to religious liberty as it is discussed in America today, and provides a useful analytical framework to understand the tensions and controversies we face with regard to religious liberty, and perhaps liberty more generally. He strikes me as on the mark in his conclusion that religious…

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Michael Zuckert Responds to His Critics

The first two responses to my Liberty Forum essay illustrate well that political theory is (still) not an exact science. Francis Beckwith finds my “religious liberty taxonomy” to be “largely correct . . . as an account of the history of America’s church/state jurisprudence,” but he doubts that my classification is as adequate for understanding…

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Freedom and the Amorphous Individual

Elements of Mind

A year ago, Donald Devine offered readers of Law and Liberty an expert summary and a warm endorsement of the political philosopher Larry Siedentop’s latest book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. Siedentop traces the modern, “secular,” and liberal ideas of moral equality and equal liberty to the Christian overturning of “the aristocratic assumption upon which all ancient thinking was based, that of natural inequality,” and he finds in this intellectual genealogy an argument for a contemporary alliance of secular liberals and Christians in affirmation of individual rights.

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Marilynne Robinson and the Mystery of Progressive Democracy

Old abandoned white wooden chapel on prairie at sunset with cloudy sky.

My favorite novelist is also Barack Obama’s. That shouldn’t be a problem, you might say—two people of widely different political opinions can love the same beautiful things. As Paul Seaton has observed on this site, studying Marilynne Robinson’s nonfiction, marked as it is by her very conventional academic-liberal political opinions, is not very conducive to appreciating the exquisite subtlety of her fiction.[1]

The New York Review of Books late last year published an extensive conversation between the President and the novelist (which Joe Knippenberg commented on here). Obama and the author of Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), and Home (2008) come to an immediate meeting of minds, or rather hearts, on their faith in “democracy,” which, the ostensibly Calvinist Robinson posits, is based on “the willingness to assume well about other people.”

Asked by the President to explain the convergence between her Christianity and her “concerns about democracy,” Robinson offers the simplest possible explanation: she believes “people are images of God” and that “democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level.” To the President’s and the novelist’s joint chagrin, though, the “loudest voices” for Christianity in American politics don’t really take their Christianity seriously; supposedly they fail to follow Christ’s injunction to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Robinson has gone so far as to describe Christian America as “associating the precious Lord with ignorance, intolerance, and belligerent nationalism.”

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The Unworldliness of John Calvin: Ralph Hancock responds to “The Political Philosophy of John Calvin”

I thank the Law and Liberty site, and Dr. Bruce in particular, for their respectful attention to my book, in a new edition by St. Augustine’s Press, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics.

Dr. Bruce nicely frames the question of Calvin’s theology in relation to modernity, and there is surely some validity in what he says about the limitations of my enterprise as a comprehensive guide to Calvin’s political teaching.   It is certain that I focus almost exclusively on the Institutes, and it may be that I sometimes concede too much to venerable authors like Emil Doumergue.  (Still, does Bruce mean to deny, against Doumergue and myself, that there is a pronounced antimonarchic element in Calvin’s teaching, one that emerges, unsurprisingly, when he is discussing biblical passages that tend that way?)

I’m afraid, though, that Dr. Bruce misses my point when he characterizes my approach as a kind of middle way “between the two extremes” of secular and religious interpretations of modernity, and, likewise, when he gives me credit for a “modest judgment of [my] own work.” 

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Prospects for the Democratic Nation-State: What State Are We In?

EU Headquarters

The modern nation-state is so familiar to us as a political form that it seems an obvious way of organizing individuals into larger societies.  We take it to be, if not the only form conceivable, at least the clear default solution to the problem, inherent in the human condition, of reconciling the necessity of order and authority with some scope of freedom for individuals and for non-coercive associations.   And so it comes as a surprise, even a bewildering surprise to us to recognize the internal contradictions that beset, or even the downright mystery that surrounds, the modern political form par…

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From the Nation State to the New Church

Mankind is not easily rid of theology once it gets the bug. The nation-state tried to erase the distinction between earthly power and absolute right, but the attempt failed, with the result that the modern nation-state, its professed secularism notwithstanding, is once more coming under the tutelage of a clerisy. Almost since its beginning the nation-state…

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Loving the Democratic State Moderately

Ralph Hancock begins his interesting essay[i] be reminding us that, despite its internal contradictions and failures, the modern state has become the only conceivable political form in our post-modern world. This should be puzzling since the record is far from being a convincing successful story. At its best, the modern state has allowed us to…

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