The book was recently featured by the journal Political Theology.
“This elegant and tightly-reasoned tract offers a striking new reading of John Locke’s theories of church and state, religion and politics, conscience and command. Though Locke is often seen solely as a secular prophet of modern liberalism, Perry shows that he is also a subtle political theologian who saw the need to harmonize our spiritual and temporal loyalties in public and private life. If Perry is right on Locke, our conventional constitutional histories and political theories will need ample revision, and Perry shows us the way.”—John Witte, Center for the Study of Law & Religion, Emory University
“Have you ever wondered whether it’s possible for a liberal democratic state to accommodate all the diverse loyalties of its citizens, especially all their diverse religious loyalties? If so, then this is the book for you. In a fresh reading of the entirety of John Locke’s writings on toleration, Perry shows how Locke moved from an anti-toleration position to the view that almost all religious loyalties should be tolerated and can be tolerated if we establish ‘just bounds’ between religion and a government. Skillfully negotiating the vast literature on this topic, Perry argues that no liberal theorist has ever succeeded in formulating these just bounds, and that it’s a mistake to think in terms of a boundary between a neutral state and the loyalties of the citizens. He concludes by asking, ‘What then?’ Altogether an illuminating, thoroughly informed, compelling and bracing argument.”—Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University
From the story of Antigone to debates about homosexuality and bans on religious attire, it is clear that liberalism’s promise to solve all theo-political conflict is a false hope. The philosophy connecting John Locke to John Rawls seeks a world free of tragic dilemmas, where there can be no Antigones. Perry rejects this as an illusion. Disputes like the culture wars cannot be adequately comprehended as border encroachments presided over by an impartial judge. Instead, theo-political conflict must be considered a contest of loyalties within each citizen and believer. Drawing on critics of Rawls ranging from Michael Sandel to Stanley Hauerwas, Perry identifies what he calls a ‘turn to loyalty’ by those who recognize the inadequacy of our usual thinking on the public place of religion. The Pretenses of Loyalty offers groundbreaking analysis of the overlooked early work of Locke, where liberalism’s founder himself opposed toleration.
Perry discovers the problems we face were not unknown to our early-modern ancestors founders. Liberal toleration is thus more sophisticated, more theologically subtle, and ultimately more problematic than has been supposed. It demands not only governmental neutrality (as Rawls believed) but also a reworked political theology. Yet this must remain under suspicion for Christians because it places religion in the service of the state. Perry concludes by suggesting where we might turn next, looking beyond our usual boundaries to possibilities obscured by the liberalism we have inherited.