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The Pretenses of Loyalty Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology by John Perry

The Pretenses of Loyalty Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology


The Pretenses of Loyalty Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology by John Perry

In the face of ongoing religious conflicts and unending culture wars, what are we to make of liberalism's promise that it alone can arbitrate between church and state? In this wide-ranging study, John Perry examines the roots of our thinking on religion and politics, placing the early-modern founders of liberalism in conversation with today's theologians and political philosophers. From the story of Antigone to debates about homosexuality and bans on religious attire, it is clear that liberalism's promise to solve all theo-political conflict is a false hope. The philosophy connecting John Locke to John Rawls seeks a world free of tragic dilemmas, where there can be no Antigones. Perry rejects this as an illusion. Disputes like the culture wars cannot be adequately comprehended as border encroachments presided over by an impartial judge. Instead, theo-political conflict must be considered a contest of loyalties within each citizen and believer. Drawing on critics of Rawls ranging from Michael Sandel to Stanley Hauerwas, Perry identifies what he calls a 'turn to loyalty' by those who recognize the inadequacy of our usual thinking on the public place of religion. The Pretenses of Loyalty offers groundbreaking analysis of the overlooked early work of Locke, where liberalism's founder himself opposed toleration. Perry discovers that Locke made a turn to loyalty analogous to that of today's communitarian critics. Liberal toleration is thus more sophisticated, more theologically subtle, and ultimately more problematic than has been supposed. It demands not only governmental neutrality (as Rawls believed) but also a reworked political theology. Yet this must remain under suspicion for Christians because it places religion in the service of the state. Perry concludes by suggesting where we might turn next, looking beyond our usual boundaries to possibilities obscured by the liberalism we have inherited.


Have you ever wondered whether it's possible for a liberal democratic state to accommodate all the diverse loyalties of its citizens, especially all their diverse religious loyalties? If so, then this is the book for you. In a fresh reading of the entirety of John Locke's writings on toleration, Perry shows how Locke moved from an anti-toleration position to the view that almost all religious loyalties should be tolerated and can be tolerated if we establish 'just bounds
between religion and a government. Skillfully negotiating the vast literature on this topic, Perry argues that no liberal theorist has ever succeeded in formulating these just bounds, and that it

's a mistake to think in terms of a boundary between a neutral state and the loyalties of the citizens. He concludes by asking, 'What then?'
Altogether an illuminating, thoroughly informed, compelling and bracing argument

. * Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University * John Perry's study offers a fresh and rigorous exploration of the Lockean inheritance of contemporary politics, focusing particularly on the US political experience * Journal of SJT * This elegant and tightly-reasoned tract offers a striking new reading of John Locke's theories of church and state, religion and politics, conscience and command. Though Locke is often seen solely as a secular prophet of modern liberalism, Perry shows that he is also a subtle political theologian who saw the need to harmonize our spiritual and temporal loyalties in public and private life. If Perry is right on Locke, our conventional constitutional histories and political theories will need ample revision, and Perry shows us the way. * John Witte, Jr., Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University * a perspicacious diagnosis of a most pressing problem. In short, it is a clear provocation that challenges many of the neat theopolitical categories we have come to assume, and as such, it discomfits and disabuses most excellently. * Paul Martens, Journal of Church and State *

About the Author

McDonald Post-Doctoral Fellow for Christian Ethics and Public Life, Christ Church, Oxford

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Book Info

Publication date

28th July 2011


John Perry

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Oxford University Press Inc


288 pages


Liberalism & centre democratic ideologies



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