The Plight of the Secular Paradigm

60 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2011

Date Written: August 17, 2011


For many it has been axiomatic that liberal democratic governments and the laws they impose must be “secular”; this assumption pervades both constitutional law and much political theory. But there are indications that this secular “paradigm of legitimacy” is losing its grip; thus, while urging a rehabilitation of secularism, Rajeev Bhargava suggests that “[o]nly someone with blinkered vision would deny the crisis of secularism.” This essay considers that crisis.

Part I of the essay discusses the nature of a “paradigm of legitimacy.” Part II outlines the strategies of assimilation and marginalization that historically have supported such paradigms and considers the paradigm shifts that can occur when these strategies prove ineffective. Part III illustrates these observations by reviewing the process by which, beginning in the fourth century, a Christian paradigm replaced an earlier Roman one and then in turn declined in favor of a more secular view. Part IV, the longest in the essay, discusses the rise of the secular paradigm, the strategies that have supported it, and the increasing futility of those strategies that have led to the present distress.

Keywords: religion, authority, secularism, constitutional law, legal history

JEL Classification: K10, K39

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, The Plight of the Secular Paradigm (August 17, 2011). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 11-062, Available at SSRN:

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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