The Church in the Twilight

58 Pages Posted: 25 May 2022 Last revised: 31 May 2022

Date Written: March 31, 2022

Abstract

Writing in the 1970s, Robert Nisbet observed that we can observe in history “twilight periods”– the late Roman Republic, the late Roman Empire, the late Middle Ages– in which one form of civilization was collapsing and another form was emerging; and Nisbet believed that the West is currently in such a period. In recent years similar assessments have proliferated, coming from various points on the political spectrum. Such assessments are inherently speculative; nonetheless, they might naturally influence our political and cultural decisions: choices that might make sense when a society is growing and vibrant might make less sense in a period of decadence or collapse. In the area of religious freedom, more specifically, institutional religious freedom has in American history been secondary to or derivative of a dominant emphasis on individual religious freedom; and these priorities have been consistent with the individualism that has been a central and celebrated feature of Western civilization. But there is reason to think that this individualism now underlies some of society’s serious ailments. In this situation, it may be that institutional religious freedom– freedom of the church– should be the priority.

Keywords: religious freedom, religious liberty, history, collapse, cultural history, individualism

JEL Classification: K10, K19, Z12, Z18

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, The Church in the Twilight (March 31, 2022). Liberty & Law Center Research Paper No. 22-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4119686 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4119686

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
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