“Does Liberalism Need Modernity?”: A Critical Analysis of Early Modern Political Theology

Student Author(s)

Chikara Saito

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Mark Husbands; Dr. Jeffery Polet

Document Type


Event Date



The shifts in political thought in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century are widely regarded as the historical stage for the rise of modern liberal political order. Further, the names of those from Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes are seen as the conceptual architects for modern political liberalism. Within this history, it is assumed that political liberalism and modernity are inextricably linked concepts. This symbiotic relationship between modern metaphysical presuppositions and the liberal state has, among other consequences, turned the notion of the separation of Church and State into a political maxim. If one is to enter into the public square and debate public policies, this set of reasoning loudly suggests, one must leave all theological concerns behind the veil of personal preference. This maxim and general consensus, however, rests on several flawed premises that this research has labored to charitably show and set a respectful disagreement. Upon investigating the nature of political liberalism, this study begins by outlining a means of evaluating the nature of a political system to see how one’s metaphysical presuppositions interact with the concrete expression of governance. Since a legitimate political system is founded on its claim to being the rightful arbiter of justice, the nature and interplay of law and natural rights define the extent and content of the nature of a political system. This analytical standard is applied to a hermeneutical analysis of the works of the modern political giants of Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin. The study concludes on the note that while modernity and political liberalism can be congruently held, as is evident in these thinkers’ major works, it is far from clear that one can establish that political liberalism, as a political disposition, is contingent on modernity’s metaphysical claims. In turn, this argument hopes to articulate why explicit theological discourse is necessary in the public square.

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