The Mighty Work of Making Nations Happy: A Response to James Davison Hunter

19 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2012 Last revised: 3 Sep 2012

Date Written: August 1, 2012


This article is an invited response to James Davison Hunter’s much-discussed book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010). Hunter, a sociologist at UVA and a believing Protestant, claims that law’s capacity to contribute to social change is “mostly illusory” and that Christians, therefore, should practice “faithful presence” in the public square rather than seek to influence law directly. My response is that it is, in fact, law’s stunning ability to alter and limit available choices that makes it an object of deservedly fierce contest. The wild protest over the recent enactment of a “Christianized” constitution in Hungary is illustrative. Hunter worries that law is too much just about power. I agree with Hunter’s argument that for law to represent more than power, it must be linked to a realm that is not reducible to politics. Hunter indefensibly downplays, however, the role of the natural law and of the Church in establishing such an apolitical realm. Hunter’s thesis provides an opportunity to reconsider the modern orthodoxy according to which the ideal is for the state to be “separate” from the Church. The conscience of a free people is not all the spiritual authority there is – and more is needed.

Keywords: law, authority, power, constitutional law, natural law, culture, tradition, Christianity, Hungary

Suggested Citation

Brennan, Patrick McKinley, The Mighty Work of Making Nations Happy: A Response to James Davison Hunter (August 1, 2012). Pepperdine Law Review, Forthcoming, Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2013-3002, Available at SSRN:

Patrick McKinley Brennan (Contact Author)

Villanova University School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics