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Strehle, Stephen. The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism.

STREHLE, Stephen. The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2014. xviii + 383 pp. Cloth, $59.95--This impressive book argues that the principle and practice of church-state separation, as it has mostly been seen in the modern world, has been used by prominent political ideologies and movements operating from marked hostility to Christianity and Judaism to expand the power of the secular state. It identifies the perspective that emerged from the French Enlightenment and the philosophes and later the French Revolution as the paradigm for what it calls the "darker spirit" of church-state separation. This spirit manifested itself in an extreme and outright intolerant and oppressive fashion in that revolution and in communism and Nazism, and in a more moderate--but not fundamentally different--way in Jefferson's thought and the separationist doctrine of American constitutional law. It is also seen in the liberal theology and schools of biblical criticism of the last 200 years within Christian scholarship itself.

The book is divided into three parts--"France and the Modern Etat," "Nazi Germany," and "International Communism"--and a postscript. The first part identifies Voltaire as the main figure in forging the new church-state perspective of early modernity. Strehle says he was influenced by English deism. To be sure, the religious and political conflicts ignited by the Reformation spawned the new thinking as a way to promote toleration and civil peace. What is striking, however, is that the vitriol in Voltaire's writing--heavily quoted by Strehle--directed at Jews and Christians exhibits anything but civility. Voltaire was not alone. Strehle produces many similar quotations from leading philosophes. He traces the heightening antireligious sentiment during the French Revolution, interestingly noting how clerical figures, such as Abbe Sieyes, contributed to it. He states that Robespierre, despite being on a perverse sort of religious and moral mission, really sought to make religion subservient to the state and its purposes. In a certain sense, he was a "moderate" force in the midst of an aggressive de-Christianization effort. Strehle also traces the profound secularization of the European Jewish community as a result of the new Weltanschauung forged by the French Revolution.

The second part of the book traces the shaping of Hitler's hatred of the Jews, anti-Christian views, and disdain generally for religion. He discusses such sources of these--and more broadly, the Nazis'--views as the Wagner Circle, Alfred Rosenberg, and Henry Ford. The more distant background, in line with the whole thrust of Strehle's argument, was in the Enlightenment. It was nurtured, before Hitler, by a German philosophical climate--voluntaristic in character--forged by the likes of Leibniz, Schopenhauer, and of course Nietzsche, and then deepened during Hitler's time by Heidegger. Like the clergy who helped spawn the French Revolution, Strehle says that the liberal theology and biblical criticism that swept over Germany in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries ultimately helped pave the way for Nazism by undermining the Judeo-Christian basis of Western civilization and stimulating the spirit of German Volksgeist (that is, exultation of an extreme, twisted nationalism and sense of ethno-national supremacy).

The third part of the book examines communism's treatment of religion, particularly Christianity and Judaism, during the different periods of its development from the time of Marx and Engels to Karl Kautsky--the leading Marxist ideologist after Engels's death--to the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet era. Strehle says that the most decisive influence on Marx was Hegel, who he says aimed for nothing less than the destruction of the Judeo-Christian tradition. "French materialism"--that is, the French Enlightenment--stood behind their thought, and so spawned socialism and communism. Much of Strehle's discussion of communism concerns more broadly the character and shaping of that ideology, which obviously has no place for God. He does discuss the relationship at different times between the Soviet Communist party and the Russian Orthodox Church and explains, interestingly, how the authoritarian spirit of that church provided an intellectual and practical framework that facilitated the implantation of state authoritarianism in the Soviet period as it did in earlier tsarist times.

The short postscript talks mostly about Jefferson's alleged extreme notion of church-state separationism that was enshrined into American constitutional law by the Supreme Court in the twentieth century. Strehle should have devoted more attention to examining Jefferson's thought. Perhaps he comes too quickly and sweepingly to a conclusion about Jefferson, who, after all, was also the one who said that no nation ever was, or could be, governed without religion.

The great service Strehle does with his impressive research, massive documentation, and convincing, insightful quotes from original sources is to establish clearly that the predominant contemporary perspective about church-state separation, far from its claimed purpose of pushing aside intolerance and allowing reason to flourish, actually was based in almost visceral antipathy to Christianity and Judaism. He exposes how in this area the Enlightenment and its legacy really was an "endarkenment." I wish he would have brought his analysis up right to our time to consider the "dark side" of our current arch-secular Western culture's treatment of religion.--Stephen M. Krason, Franciscan University of Steubenville
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Author:Krason, Stephen M.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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