Christianity, not religion in general, has been important for American democracy. With this bold thesis, Hugh Heclo offers a panoramic view of how Christianity and democracy have shaped each other.
Heclo shows that amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant colonial society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, religious liberty. By the mid-twentieth century, American democracy and Christianity appeared locked in a mutual embrace. But it was a problematic union vulnerable to fundamental challenge in the Sixties. Despite the subsequent rise of the religious right and glib talk of a conservative Republican theocracy, Heclo sees a longer-term, reciprocal estrangement between Christianity and American democracy.
Responding to his challenging argument, Mary Jo Bane, Michael Kazin, and Alan Wolfe criticize, qualify, and amend it. Heclo’s rejoinder suggests why both secularists and Christians should worry about a coming rupture between the Christian and democratic faiths. The result is a lively debate about a momentous tension in American public life.
In this compelling volume, Hugh Heclo is exceedingly precise on what he takes Christianity and democracy to mean; on what Alexis de Tocqueville thought about the two; and on why he feels the successful American confluence of Christianity and democracy has been under grave threat since the 1960s. The admirable precision of Heclo's argument elicits, in turn, admirably precise rejoinders from three distinguished scholars. The result is a very fine book on a very important subject.
Heclo makes a strong case for the importance of Christianity in the shaping of American democracy.
Hugh Heclo offers an elegant and thoughtful essay in Christianity and American Democracy, together with responses by two political scientists and a historian… Heclo argues that not only does American democracy have a Christianity problem, but Christianity has a democracy problem. There is an inherent tension between religious commitment and political allegiance…and reconciling them is always a fudge of some kind. Heclo rehearses, lucidly and economically, the history of America's different modes of fudging the issue. He documents the input of Christian ideas into the development of the democratic concept of the individual… Hugh Heclo's book shows clearly that America's culture wars are just a specific case of the general problem of religion in democratic pluralist polities.
Let me say it straight out: Hugh Heclo's Christianity and American Democracy is one of the most suggestive books on religion and the public square to have appeared in some years.
[A] deeply engaging book… Heclo's book performs a valuable service.
- 312 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
- Foreword by Theda Skocpol
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