Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness--namely, to treat various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engraven upon it.
--Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimumi
Secularism is not an aberration, but the working out of founding principles in which the Deist with his clockmaker God, the Puritan with his transcendent God, and the unbeliever with no God agreed to "articles of peace," creating a social order open to God for those who wished, but with a government defined by a claimed religious neutrality.
In the essay “Statesmanship, Leadership, and Civil Society in the Age of Mass Democracy,” Lee Trepanier portrays and analyzes three distinct political strategies for effectively negotiating and mitigating the evils of the “age of mass democracy,” that is, the historical rise in the West of the federalized, then centralized, bureaucratic, managerial nation-state, including its contemporary globalizing transformations. He argues that although Tocqueville keenly observed the dangers of equalitarianism, majoritarianism, and individualism that were inherent in early American political culture, his prescriptive antidotes of robust family and religious life, and the citizenry’s political engagement in “civil society” could not sufficiently counteract the anti-political and massifying tendencies of the early republic’s Cartesianism, materialism, and pragmatism. As Trepanier notes in his presentation of the views of Max Weber, by the late nineteenth century, civil society had become virtually absorbed into the “federal bureaucratic state,” with genuinely moral values rendered sub-political and irrational due to the public triumph of instrumental reason and its authoritative agents, the bureaucrat and expert. For Weber, the “charismatic” professional politician became the sole “moral agent” in the newly bureaucratized political sphere, because only he could effectively counteract the amoralism and technocracy of the “rational-legal legitimatization of politics.” Being authorized by “plebiscitary democracy,” as opposed to mere bureaucratic expediency, he served as a balancing force preventing the total technocratization of politics. However, as Trepanier notes, according to Weber, the “moral” values imposed by the professional politician are, nevertheless, arbitrary and thus ultimately subordinated to rational-legal, that is, amoral criteria. The third strategy, which is the one favored by Trepanier, is “statesmanship,” informed by an Aristotelian notion of prudence that is flexible, morally charged, and capable of strengthening the genuinely political institutions that most effectively preserve tradition, place, and the divine. Most importantly, the statesman is to do this good political work in the very midst of the “federal bureaucratic state,” which Trepanier claims is an inexorable and permanent feature of modern politics.
While I am sympathetic to Trepanier’s statesmanship strategy, what is missing in Trepanier’s analysis is sufficient attention to the precise reasons that family, religion, and civil society failed as counters to the anti-political and anti-social features of early American culture, and why the bureaucratized, centralized state, informed by instrumental reason and predicated on what Alasdair MacIntyre identified in After Virtue as emotivism, triumphed as it did. Moreover, as MacIntyre has persuasively argued, it is doubtful that true statesmanship is possible in any political order in which the nation-state is the main locus of authority and community. In short, if Trepanier is correct that the modern state is here to stay (and here he is in accord with MacIntyre), I do not see how anything but its careful dismantling through secession, or its withering away by pure incoherence and implosion, a la the Soviet Union, could prevent it from growing ever more global, tyrannical, dehumanizing, and destructive of tradition, place, and the divine. In other words, I shall argue that the prudential statesman has no home in the contemporary, secular, liberal state, and before we can build him a home, the landscape must be cleared and rendered livable.