Modern revolutionaries such as the French Jacobins and the Russian Bolsheviks detested traditional religion, but their conviction that the crimes and follies of the past could be left behind in an all-encompassing transformation of human life was a secular reincarnation of early Christian beliefs. These modern revolutionaries were radical exponents of Enlightenment thinking, which aimed to replace religion with a scientific view of the world. Yet the radical Enlightenment belief that there can be a sudden break in history, after which the flaws of human society will be for ever abolished, is a by-product of Christianity.
A hint of the idea of progress may be found in the Book of Revelation, and the early Christians believed they embodied something better than anything that existed in the ancient pagan and Jewish worlds. A belief in moral progress has always been part of Christianity, but it remained dormant until the Reformation. Puritans served as a vehicle for the idea – often called post-millennialism – that human effort could hasten the arrival of a perfect new world.
As [Margaret Thatcher] thrust market forces into every corner of British life with the aim of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, the state grew ever stronger. Just as constructing the free market in early Victorian England required a large-scale exercise of state power, so did restoring a partial version of it towards the end of the twentieth century. Victorian laissez-faire was engineered by a series of parliamentary acts that enclosed what had up to that time been common land, creating private property where none had existed before – a process that involved mass coercion. It was a change that could only be brought about by highly centralized government, and the same was true of Thatcher’s programme. The unavoidable result of attempting to reinvent the free market was a highly invasive state.
The proposition that ‘western liberal democracy’ is ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’ is a confession of eschatological faith.
Human affairs are too complicated and difficult for any one kind of government to be universally practicable or desirable.
Current understandings of human rights developed along with the modern nation-state. It was the nation-state that emancipated individuals from the communal ties of medieval times and created freedom as it has come to be known in the modern world. This was not done without enormous conflict and severe costs. Large-scale violence was an integral feature of the process.
Liberal orthodoxy takes for granted that self-governing nation-states are freer than empires, but empires have often been friendlier to minorities
Myths are not true or false in the way scientific theories are true or false, but they can be more or less truthful in reflecting the enduring realities of human life.