Secularization in England

by Caleb Roberts

Modern social theory, like modern political theory, develops only when society is given a naturalistic instead of a religious explanation, and a capital fact which presides at the birth of both is a change in the conception held of the nature and functions of a Church.  The crucial period is the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The most important arena (apart from Holland) is England, because it is in England, with its new geographical position as the entrepôt between Europe and America, its achievement of internal economic unity two centuries before France and two and a half centuries before Germany, its constitutional revolution, and its powerful bourgeoisie of bankers, shipowners, and merchants, that the transformation of the structure of society is earliest, swiftest, and most complete.  Its essence is the secularization of social and economic philosophy.  The synthesis is resolved into its elements — politics, business, and spiritual exercises; each assumes a separate and independent vitality and obeys the laws of its own being.  The social functions matured within the Church, and long identified with it, are transferred to the State, which in turn is idolized as the dispenser of prosperity and the guardian of civilization.  The theory of a hierarchy of values, embracing all human interests and activities in a system of which the apex is religion, is replaced by the conception of separate and parallel compartments, between which a due balance should be maintained, but which have no vital connection with each other. (8)

R.H. Tawney | Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

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