Cavanaugh’s Aversion to the Modern State, a Response
This article examines Catholic theologian W.T. Cavanaugh’s influential 1995 article, “A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House.” Here Cavanaugh asserts that the modern democratic, liberal state – in which the Church is largely privatized – is, at its basis, rooted in a rejection of Christian values. This rejection, Cavanaugh argues, legitimizes itself through a fraudulent historical argument: that political liberalism, with the “state as Savior,” was necessary to bring peace between the warring factions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries “Wars of Religion.” This article disagrees both with Cavanaugh’s history and his political theology. Instead, it roots modern political liberalism in Christian history. The tragedy is that this political liberalism has loosed itself from its roots and forgotten its debt to the Church. Nevertheless, contrary to Cavanaugh, the article argues both for the legitimacy of the modern state and for the necessity of Christian participation in it.