About February 2019
Today’s westerners are likely to be highly tolerant of other religions, but this was not always the case. Indeed, repression was the norm in many European societies during the early modern era. So what changed?
The standard story holds that after the Reformation, Europe simply fought itself to exhaustion. Whole nations were decimated in religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Eventually, rulers and common people alike began to look for a way to stop the bleeding, and from this necessity, toleration emerged.
This month’s lead essayists beg to differ. Mark Koyama and Noel D. Johnson argue that stronger states had less need of religious unity, because stronger states could rely on contracts and the rule of law to establish interpersonal trust and national solidarity. As a result, they didn’t need the type of solidarity that comes from religious unity. Liberalism was therefore a luxury they could afford.
This is bound to be a controversial idea, though Koyama and Johnson stress its origins in classical liberal historiography. Joining them to discuss religious freedom, liberalism, and how we can further religious toleration in the modern world, we have invited Prof. James A. Robinson of Harvard University, Dalibor Rohac of the American Enterprise Institute, and Dr. Hans Eicholz of Liberty Fund. We also welcome readers’ comments through the end of the month.