Bryan Turner. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Editor: Engin F Isin & Bryan S Turner. Sage Publication. 2002.
Weber, Sociology, and Citizenship
Religion and politics would appear to be different and antagonistic spheres of activity. In a variety of Romance languages that derive their etymological roots from classical Latin, religion or religio refers to those institutions that bind individuals together into communities. Religion is expressive of those practices that create and maintain community. Politics is the art or science of government, the core of which is the state as an instrument of collective force. Politics refers to the division of interests in a society and the management of conflict that results from such divisions. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the term ‘politic’ referred in the eighteenth century to somebody who was indifferent to religion. This contradiction between politics and religion has been a productive and creative force in society. Religious visions and utopian mentalities have produced powerful political ideologies of revolutionary change. In the Christian West, the vision of a ‘new Jerusalem’ has been a powerful political motivation. Millenarian ideologies of transformation and political change have driven social revolution in Buddhism, in so-called nativistic movements, in cargo cults and in fundamentalist Islam. The religious utopias of the oppressed have been the imaginative driving force of much political change (Lanternari, 1963). It was for these reasons that Karl Marx, following Ludwig Feuerbach, regarded religion as ‘the opium of the people’ and assumed that socialism would come eventually to replace religious fantasy as the driving force of a universal politics (Turner, 1991). Although these social movements are relevant to the sociological study of politics and religion, the question of this chapter is relatively specific, namely how has religion contributed to the growth of secular citizenship?
The relationship between religious traditions and the institutions of a citizenship is a large and complex issue. In order to provide this topic with some historical focus, my analysis is presented within the framework of the political sociology of Max Weber. Weber’s sociology is particularly pertinent to my project, given his keen understanding of the culturally creative tensions between religious and political modes of domination. Weber was the first sociologist to tackle the origins of modern citizenship directly. It is commonly recognised that the historical study of the relationship between the economic ethics of the world religions and the rise of rational capitalism provided the core of Weber’s sociology as a whole (Tenbruck, 1980; Turner, 1992). As a result, Weber’s political and historical sociology of citizenship has been somewhat neglected in Weber studies. The historical roots of citizenship were explored in his study of the city (Weber,  1958), economic history (Weber,  1981) and democratisation and its failures, such as the Russian revolutions (Weber,  1995).
Weber’s sociology of religious world-views and citizenship is based on a paradox that the greater the ascetic rejection of this world, the more religion has contributed to the rise of democratic citizenship. The unintended consequence of religious rejections of this world has been to create a sharp separation between the sacred and the profane that in turn created institutional means for the development of secular politics. As a result of his sociology of religion, Weber pointed towards an innovative theory of the origins of modern politics, that nevertheless remains implicit in his work. One might say that for Weber, if the unintended consequence of religious asceticism was the spirit of capitalism, then the unintended consequence of the rejection of the world was the spirit of liberal democracy. The argument is contentious, but it is also illuminating.
Weber’s analysis of power was grounded in a basic dichotomy between secular and spiritual domination. Weber defined the state as that institution that exercises a monopoly of violence within a given territory, but his conceptualisation of the state makes little sociological sense without the corresponding study of the Church. In Economy and Society (Weber,  1978: 50), the Church is defined as a compulsory hierocratic organisation that claims a monopolistic authority over spiritual services. It is a ‘system of spiritual domination over human beings’ ( 1978: 56). The Church involves the institutionalisation or routinisation of charismatic force in a set of ecclesiastical, specifically episcopal, offices. The Church hierarchy has a monopoly over institutionalised charisma through the means of grace such as baptism, marriage, eucharist and confession. The Christian Church, unlike the Islamic ulama (religious leaders) or the Buddhist sangha (community), requires a sacerdotal priesthood. Because the priesthood has a monopoly, it can in principle exercise domination over the laity. Religious leaders in Islam, Judaism and Buddhism were essentially teachers of religious knowledge and did not, in the technical sense, necessarily have a priestly role (Weber,  1966: 27-8). Sacramentalism in the Christian Church is important for understanding the sociological differentiation between religious and political powers.
Unlike the state, the Church had historically little interest in sovereignty over territory as such; its power was expressed through a monopoly of institutional means of grace. Society, for Weber, was thus structured around two forms of domination – the secular domination of the state and the spiritual domination of the Church. In principle, this division gave rise to two contrasted forms of citizenship. There existed a spiritual citizenship within the body of Christ and a profane citizenship within the political community. As a millenarian religion with a dramatic and comprehensive eschatology, Christianity regarded this world (the City of Man) and its powers as worthless and hence this world is merely a preparation for a future citizenship in the City of God. As Christianity adjusted to a post-millenarian environment, it came to elaborate a theory of good citizenship in this world. However, where these two patterns of citizenship remained separate and antagonistic, there was a social space within which social rights could evolve. Political and civil rights emerged as claims against the state, and hence civil society provides a set of intermediary institutions that limits the absorption of the citizen within the state.
In this account of citizenship, my Weberian argument is firstly that in the West the division between the City of God and the urban politics of the worldly city provided an important foundation for democratic citizenship. St Augustine’s political writings therefore promoted the possibility of citizenship through this critical division between a sphere of love (caritas) and a sphere of cupidity, or self-regarding actions (cupiditas). Secondly, modern citizenship has drawn considerable inspiration from the congregational polities that were products of the Reformation and its struggle with the state. Thirdly, secular citizenship in the modern polity was a product of the English Civil War and the American Revolution, the inspiration for which was a religious vision of society. Finally, world religions provide an important element of universalism, that one can detect behind the contemporary debate over cosmopolitan democracy. These arguments are clearly controversial, and raise critical problems about the legacy of the ancient world for democracy. Furthermore, Weber’s account of the city and citizenship has characteristic difficulties that are associated with the problem of Orientalism (Turner, 1978). It will be necessary to turn to these problems towards the conclusion of this argument.
Weber’s account of the historical roots of democracy and citizenship has created the dominant paradigm within which citizenship has been analysed by sociologists. Two aspects of Weber’s argument have remained influential. Firstly, in The City ( 1958) Weber regarded the medieval and renaissance city as an important location for Western democracy, because the independent guilds, the decline of slavery, the growth of independent legal institutions and the creation of an urban militia all favoured the growth of social rights. In the towns, merchant and artisan classes arose that were independent of feudal knights, and hence democracy has its origins in the plebs and the popolo. In particular Bürgerschaft does not follow the life-order of knights. Secondly, the
basis of democratization is everywhere purely military in character; it lies in the rise of disciplined infantry, the hoplites of antiquity, the guild army of the middle ages.… Military discipline meant the triumph of democracy, because the community wished and was compelled to secure the cooperation of the non-aristocratic masses and hence put arms, and along with the arms political power, into their hands’ (Weber,  1981: 324-5).
Changes in the technology of warfare that encouraged the routinisation of military activity, namely taking military prowess out of ‘the battle between heroes’ (Weber,  1981: 325), also promoted the growth of democratic institutions. The notion that the unintended consequence of the democratisation of military organisation has been to favour the general democratisation of society has been common to many accounts of citizenship from Richard Titmuss (1962) to Michael Mann (1986). Military democratisation produced the citizen-soldier as a key pillar of civil society (Turner, 2001).
Alongside this core theory of democratic citizenship, we can note Weber’s interest in the impact of religion, specifically Christianity, on the development of citizenship. First, he argued that the Christian notion of a community based on faith rather than blood had the effect of undermining ethnic and kinship conflicts within the city, and hence allowed the formation of urban associations that transcended blood as a principle of social alliance. Weber claimed that ‘the city Church, city saint, participation of the burghers in the Lord’s Supper and official Church celebrations by the city were all typical of the Occidental cities. Within them Christianity deprived the clan of its last ritualistic importance, for by its very nature the Christian community was a confessional association of believing individuals rather than a ritualistic association of clans’ (Weber,  1958: 102-3). The magical barriers between clans, tribes and people were set aside (Weber,  1981: 322-3). Secondly, Weber’s analysis of the relationship between secular and religious powers in Economy and Society was organised around a discussion of the limits of ‘Caesaro-papism,’ namely the subordination of priestly to earthly powers (Weber,  1978: 1161). Weber noted that the division between sacred and profane power was frequently compromised by Caesoro-papism as for example in the Carolingian empire, the Holy Roman Empire, in the Counter-Reformation, in Turkey and Persia. The Church as an independent hierocratic power required a priesthood, universal domination, dogma and rites, and a compulsory organisation. A fully developed ecclesiastical hierarchy with the backing of a systematic theology and priesthood cannot be easily uprooted and acts as a check on political power (Weber,  1978: 1175). Finally, Weber followed Ernst Troeltsch ( 1931) in recognising the democratic thrust of the church-sect typology, in which sectarian opposition to ecclesiastical powers created an opportunity for democratic debate. The sects insisted on direct democratic administration of the congregations, often treating clerical officials as merely servants of the congregation. Freedom of conscience in the interpretation of scriptures was also important in creating a democratic culture. Because the sect is a radical voluntary association, it insisted on the separation of Church and state, and hence rejected a sacerdotal priesthood in favour of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (Weber,  1978: 1208).
It is obviously the case that Christian theological understanding of the political was shaped by Greek views of the polis. This Greek legacy shaped early Christian theory of the relationship between politics and religion through the theology of writers like St Augustine, Eusebius and Theodosius. While we can trace these components of citizenship from the Greek polis and the early Church, citizenship is most appropriately regarded as a modern concept that first emerged with the creation of autonomous cities in medieval Europe, but came to fruition with the revolutions that created the modern world, namely the American and French Revolutions. In European culture, ‘citizen’ is made possible by the rise of ‘civil society’ (die bürgerliche Gesellschaft), and they are both dependent on the emergence of a bourgeois civilisation.
Weber’s insistence on the importance of religion in the rise of urban citizenship runs counter to the conventional view that religion has been hostile to the rise of democratic politics. The typical assumption is that the rise of secular citizenship requires, almost by definition, an erosion of the authority of institutional religion. This view of citizenship would further assume that the principal ideological themes of the French Revolution prepared the way for modern politics, in which religion has become a matter of private faith and ritual activity. The dramatic decline of institutional religion in the twentieth century also appears to support the view that the claims of modern citizenship require a process of secularisation. Indeed, the secularisation thesis has become an important component of a more general interpretation of the modernisation of society (Wilson, 1966). The contrast between the United States, where religion has continued to flourish, and the secularity of most European societies has as a result been a topic of considerable interest. In twentieth-century America, the consequence of postwar migration was to convert religious identity into a sign of American membership (Herberg, 1955), whereas in Europe religious affiliation was more persistently associated with class membership (Thompson, 1963). In Europe, religion had to become a matter of private devotion because its public manifestations produced civil conflict. This view has been the dominant historical interpretation of the effects of the Thirty Years War on the institutional division between the Church and the state, and the exclusion of religious controversy from the public domain.
This conventional view of the connection between the rise of citizenship and the impulse of secularisation, that has drawn its ideological inspiration from the French Revolution, often fails to make a further connection between the rise of nationalism and national citizenship. During the nineteenth century, citizenship functioned as a ‘civil religion’ that provided the social glue of industrial capitalism where social class divisions were increasingly important for politics and political identity. The historical tensions between religion and politics were submerged within a common national identity that used citizenship rituals and institutions as the conduit of national pride. With the decline of kingship and religion as principles of national unity, national citizenship and an imperial state developed as carriers of national consciousness. National rituals of political unity were religious in the sociological sense of creating collective representations of a national spirit, but monarchy and Christianity were either submerged in this development or employed to articulate a national mission (Durkheim,  1954). At the same time, the state acquired an identity around gender to articulate an imagined fraternity of common purpose (Nelson, 1998).
The main burden of my argument is to challenge this version of the secularisation thesis, namely the view that citizenship can only arise as a consequence of the decline of religion, or more specifically that citizenship requires the liberation of society from religious hegemony. In short, it is to question the simple proposition that citizenship is par excellence a product of secularism. There is a commonly held view that citizenship evolves with the Enlightenment, the spread of social contract theory, the triumph of science and the disenchantment of culture. The secularisation of the public sphere and the development of social rights prepare the groundwork for the triumphal emergence of the active citizen from the French and American revolutions. The secularisation thesis thus stands behind a theory of the modernisation of politics, wherein the creation of the citizen is an essential component. If one were to accept the claim that citizenship had its cultural origins in the Enlightenment and came to institutional maturity as a consequence of the political turmoil of the French Revolution, then citizenship and religion would appear to stand in a contradictory and corrosive relationship. If citizenship emerges with the growth of secular modernity, then the secularisation of culture is a necessary requirement for the development of an elaborate form of citizenship rights and institutions. This interpretation has considerable force, but it is incomplete.
The point of this chapter is to demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between religion and citizenship. The argument is that the tensions between religion and politics, between Church and state, and between Jerusalem and Athens (Strauss, 1995) have been productive of early or primitive versions of opposition to government that is important for active citizenship. Where citizenship is a product of political and social struggles, it assumes an active rather than passive form (Turner, 1993), but active citizens require a vision of politics that can transcend the everyday world of their existence. Religious objections to secular power (‘idolatry’ or ‘false gods’) have created the foundation of a utopian vision (Mannheim, 1936) against secular powers. On the basis of this structural principle (the separation of religion and politics), I attempt to trace the origins of western citizenship in the theological division between faith and politics, in Protestant congregationalism, in religious notions of equality (the priesthood of all believers), and in religious objections to arbitrary power. This argument about the theological strands in the history of citizenship, that regards St Augustine’s political theory as a pivotal event in this trajectory of European society, is consequently a reflection on Weber’s embryonic sociology of citizenship, as specifically outlined in his analysis of associations and city life (Weber,  1958).
Weber’s account of urban institutions has to be understood in the context of his sociology of religion. For example, the peculiar contribution of Christianity to the city was to create a basis for social solidarity that was based on faith rather than blood. In short, the medieval city could evolve without the divisive complication of ethnic identity. The militia and urban trading associations were essentially fraternal associations based on common belief rather than tribal loyalty. This aspect of Weber’s argument is well understood (Turner, 1998). We also need to read Weber’s view of politics through the lens of his sociology of religion, namely the distinction between this-worldly and otherworldly soteriological systems. Any religion that has a this-worldly soteriology, especially an ascetic salvational orientation, will create a dialectic between the sacred and the secular, between for example a religion of brotherly love and the mundane necessity for violence in political life. This tension, as we know, was the privotal argument of Weber’s account of the rise of rational capitalism (Weber,  1930). In this discussion of religion and citizenship, I argue that the religious dialectic between the two kingdoms (of love and violence) was a constitutive force in the rise of modern citizenship. The communal basis of the Church provided a model of human association as a non-coercive association that was influential in the development of early forms of secular citizenship. This theme was fundamental to both Augustinian political theory and Hannah Arendt’s vision of public space (Scott and Stark, 1996). This aspect of the argument has a clear dependence on the sociology of knowledge of Karl Mannheim (1936) in which the Christian vision of history forged a utopian notion of community as an alternative to the state and empire.
The World and the Sacred in the Abrahamic Tradition
There is an important tension between the sacred and politics within any religious culture that has an evangelical relationship to the world. As a result, the history of citizenship is closely connected with the institutionalised forms of charismatic and secular power in human societies. This conflict between religious values and worldly institutions is brought about by the presence of charisma in social relationships. ‘Charisma’ (kharisma or kharis) or ‘gift of grace’ is a theological notion that has been widely used in the social sciences to describe the basis of authority and leadership in society generally. Charismatic power is associated with the idea of the sacred as a disruptive and violent force in human affairs. In its religious context, it means a divinely conferred power (Weber,  1966).
The different ways in which societies manage the challenge of charismatic powers has an important relationship to the rise of citizenship, because institutional routinisation established the division between the charismatic authority of ecclesiastical institutions and the secular power of kings. In this discussion, I shall be primarily concerned with the division between Church and state, but similar arguments also apply to Judaism and Islam, and to a lesser extent to so-called Asiatic religions such as Buddhism. In Islam, the death of the Prophet in 661 CE created similar problems of succession, resulting in the split between Shi’ism and Sunni Islam with respect to the source of authority and leadership within the Islamic community. The evolution of Shi’ism into a separate but suppressed religious movement produced the doctrine of the Hidden Imamate in which the secular state had no ultimate authority over the community. This doctrine (the Occultation of the Hidden Imam) provided the radical seed of the Iranian revolution in which the modernising government of the Pahlavi Shah was condemned as heretical. The authority of the Ayatollah Khomeini provided a charismatic challenge to the secular institutions of the modern state. By contrast Sunnism accepted the caliphates of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties as a legitimate form of government. Fundamentalist Islam in the twentieth century challenged this traditional compromise between the private sphere of religious devotion and the public arena of social institutions, and between the religious leadership of the community (umma) and the secular authority of the state. Thus the routinisation of charisma in religious movements forces religious authorities to develop a compromise with secular power. When a messianic religion becomes domesticated, there is a parallel evolution of religious citizenship within the religious community and political citizenship within the state. Because the religious community was an institution of consent, it often happened that the participation of the laity within the church provided a primitive model of secular citizenship.
Weber’s contrast between priestly and prophetic authority was not a minor part of his sociology of religion, but an essential aspect of his understanding of modern politics, the state and political vocation. In the extended discussion of charisma in The Sociology of Religion (Weber,  1966; Ch. 4), he outlined the ideal typical contrasts between prophets, magicians and priests. Although the discussion is broad-ranging, his real focus was on the Judaic prophets of the classical period of the eighth century BC that formed much of the basis of the Old Testament. He distinguished between the prophet who, as a charismatic figure, has a personal call to prophesy, and the priest who has authority by virtue of his appointment to office and training in a sacred tradition. The prophets, who occasionally emerge from the ranks of the priesthood, are unremunerated, and depend on gifts from followers. Their calling to prophesy involves an involuntary acceptance of a divine commandment. Weber also distinguished two forms of prophesy as represented on the one hand by Buddha and on the other by Zoroaster, Jeremiah and Muhammad. The latter are involved in ‘ethical prophesy’ and are conceived as instruments of God. InAncient Judaism ( 1952) Weber argued that these prophets receive a commission from God to preach a revelation and demand obedience from their disciples as an ethical duty. By contrast exemplary prophets demonstrate to their followers a salvational path through the example provided by their own lives. Exemplary prophesy was, according to Weber, characteristic of Asia; ethical prophesy, of the Abrahamic religions of the Middle East. Weber’s analysis of charisma with respect to ethical prophesy in the Old Testament has been subject to considerable criticism (Zeitlin, 1984), but his conceptual framework continues to influence both sociology and anthropology (Lindholm, 1990).
Judaic prophesy was a function of the rise of ethical monotheism around the God Yahweh among an unstable tribal confederacy. The Jews became a chosen people as a result of a contractual relationship that involved rights and obligations with respect to this jealous, unseen and universal god who rejects fertility cults and local deities. He is a god of the collectivity and not the individual. In return for complete obedience, Yahweh formed a social contract with the Jewish tribes. This contract required the complete rejection of the false gods of nature, the elimination of polytheism, and eventually devotion to the Law. The prophetic tradition in Judaism was a product of this fundamental contract where the Old Testament prophets of the wilderness denounced the corruption of the earthly city in the name of Yahweh who had promised to deliver his People from this-wordly tyranny. The prophets are the champions of the poor and downtrodden against the pomp and pride of earthly rulers. While Weber accepted this view of the prophets as anti-royalists, he did not accept the Marxist interpretation of writers like Karl Kautsky of the prophets and early Christianity as working class movements against the rich (Turner, 1991). The real point of the Old Testament prophets was that they were alone and isolated voices in the desert.
Weber’s appreciation of the role of the prophets in the political imagination of Western philosophy was an important component in his analysis of Caesarism and Caesaro-papism. In Weber’s political sociology, Caesarism is a form of primitive democracy in which as a result of military conquest soldiers elect one of their leaders to be a ruler. Such authoritarian rule may often be supported by adopting the local gods who are associated with the local territory. This convergence of religious and political authority can provide a powerful form of despotic rule in which sacred and profound forces are united into Caesaro-papism. Weber argued that this pattern of rulership was to be found at various times in the late Moscovite empire, the Islamic caliphs, the Eastern Church and Catholicism. While Weber was critical of the historical legacy of religio-political leadership, he was attracted to Caesarism as a solution to the lack of leadership in post-Bismarckian Germany. The peculiarities of the late development of a centralised nation-state in Germany had produced a special path (Sonderweg) and required an unusual political intervention, and hence Weber advocated a limited democracy (plebiscitary democracy) and decisive leadership. In short, only a charismatic leader could break through the limitations of German democratic politics.
This discussion of charisma with respect to different social roles should be seen as part of a larger sociological debate about the forms of association that characterise the social organisation of religious belief and practice. Weber wanted to argue that any group that is subject to charismatic authority forms a charismatic community (Gemeinde) and that such a community is inherently unstable. With the death of the leader, the group either dissolves or charisma undergoes a process of routinisation. The disciples have no career, no formal hierarchy, no offices and no qualifications. The Church that provides the organisational context of the priesthood is very different. Ecclesiastical organisations require a hierarchical administration of the ‘charisma of office’ in which there are definite stages in clerical and administrative careers. It is clearly the case that Weber’s sociology of charisma should be understood as an application of the ‘church-sect typology’ (Troeltsch,  1931), in which there is a historical oscillation between the evangelical sects and the bureaucratic churches. Because Weber believed that in modern societies legal rational authority would become dominant, tradition and charisma were regarded as ‘pre-rationalistic’ and thus as characteristic of pre-modern societies. The notion that charismatic authority was not a resilient aspect of modern society was in turn a function of Weber’s pessimistic understanding of social change in terms of secular rationalism and the erosion of religious meaning.
What was the legacy of early and medieval Christianity for the rise of Western citizenship? As we have seen, Christian theology developed a very clear view of the political, namely that politics was a secular activity between competitive men who sought domination over their societies. Politics was essentially about coercion and conflict between sinful beings. The Church by contrast was, from the standpoint of normative theory, a non-coercive association of people in search of salvation. The Augustinian theory had established a perspective on the state as a necessary evil. The main justification for the state was its ability to create order, but such an order could never be just. The Church was a non-coercive community or a corporation, not of kinship, but of common ends. The Church was an institution based not on blood but on a shared belief and ritual. Religious values functioned as a check on this-worldly powers. The evolution of asylum and immunity are two examples of how the church checked the power of the state. These immunities evolved out of two episcopal duties, namely intercession of sins and the administration of penance. Lay people sought refuge within the Church on the assumption that they would repent their sins and request clemency (Rosenwein, 1999). The concept of immunity developed out of the Church’s historical role in human salvation. The Church had created a view of history as a linear history of salvation and so the Church was seen as a universal community of natural law.
Religion and Associational Democracy
While in European societies there is clear evidence of secularisation, American history appears to contradict a simple secularisation thesis. The American colonies were created as religious experiments whose leadership sought to escape both secular and religious tyranny. The separation of Church and state in the Constitution recognised denominationalism as a major platform of American democracy. The significance of American religious pluralism was further recognised by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) in Democracy in America (1968) that appeared in 1835 and 1840, and has remained axiomatic in the analysis of the connections between social capital, trust and participatory democracy. Independent congregations as illustrations of the basic principle of voluntary association are fundamental features of a vibrant civil society, because they protect individuals from mass opinion and the anomie of industrial capitalism. Talcott Parsons (1974) saw denominational pluralism as the final point of the processes of social differentiation that were necessary for the adaptive capacity of a modern social system. The Tocquevillian version of democracy as an associational politics of local participation has become central to any account of the relationship between civil society and modern citizenship. Churches as congregations of lay believers are voluntary associations and provide an experience of local democracy, lay leadership and participation that involves a process of schooling in democracy.
How then did the Protestant Reformation relate to the development of citizenship in Europe? I have already noted that ‘citizenship’ is a political status closely associated with the growth of independent cities in northern Europe. The argument that modern citizenship emerged from the independent associations and guilds of traders and artisans in medieval cities in the absence of effective patrimonial bureaucracy was the cornerstone of Weber’s urban sociology. In England, the boroughs were the public context of burgher independence and throughout Europe bourgeois culture was a precondition of citizenship. It is hardly surprising that there is a strong etymological connection between civil, civility and civilisation. Citizenship civilises capitalism. Weber’s historical viewpoint can be elaborated to argue that liberal democracy has flourished where the peasantry disappeared early in the development of capitalism and where the bourgeoisie was strong enough to block any reactionary alliance between aristocracy and peasantry in the context of the collapse of a feudal agrarian economy (Moore, 1967). The Protestant Reformation was a necessary condition of the emergence of a bourgeois culture as the cultural framework of bourgeois democracy. The Protestant sects contributed directly to the rise of the middle class and to its cultural outlook.
There is a conventional view that locates the origins of the modern public sphere in the formal doctrines of the French Enlightenment, but an alternative argument is that modern democratic discourse emerged in the religious debates of the Puritans. These religious debates were in turn dependent on the emerging printing industry in England prior to the Civil War (Zaret, 2000). The English Civil War provides ‘the model case’ of the growth of a public sphere and hence it is directly relevant to an understanding of the origins of modern civil society. It was practical innovations in communication that eventually prepared the way for the maturation of democratic theory towards the end of the seventeenth century in the work of writers such as John Locke.
These religious debates were facilitated by innovations in printing and had the consequence of undermining the conventional norms of secrecy and privilege that had hitherto dominated political decision-making. In Stuart England, the privilege of royal power ruled out any public discussion of government and supported ‘council’ (such as the Crown’s Privy Council or Parliament) as the only legitimate channel for debate. The religious authority of Calvin and Hooker was frequently invoked to justify the view that ‘private men’ had no right to discuss the public affairs of state. The point of discussion in council was to better advise the monarch on matters of government and to provide an opportunity for petition and redress of grievances. Council did not exist to create opinion as an end in itself and communication between monarch and people was typically undertaken through church rituals, preaching and public ceremonies such as coronations, royal marriages and funerals. Within Anglicanism, the Establishment saw the pulpit as a political resource for communicating the king’s pleasure.
The political effect of print presupposed important social changes, the most important being literacy, which was a consequence of the Puritan emphasis on individualism, the authority of the biblical text and the education of the laity. Public opinion was not simply the creation or the invention of print technology. Print culture was a contingent alliance between religious controversy and capitalist commerce that was brought about by the interests of authors and stationers. Political texts legitimated a legislative agenda, but they also thereby influenced the opinion of readers.
To what extent did the print revolution depend on Lutheran theology, which, through the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, created the ideological conditions for a reading public? Puritans came to provide the cultural acid for the erosion of priestly (and later monarchical) authority, despite their deeply conservative view of the importance of social order and distrust of vulgar opinion. Thus, public opinion was distrusted by the very social groups that had unleashed it. The masses were seen to be a many-headed monster and irrationality was inversely connected to social rank, such that reasonableness increased with status. But this was a characteristic unintended consequence of the political radicalism of Puritan political and social teaching. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers needed the iron discipline of the state to regulate sinful men, and therefore Lutheranism had a profoundly conservative message about the importance of the state. This ironic message is deeply Weberian, because the innerworldly asceticism that was the real foundation of Puritan activism created not only the spirit of capitalism but also the spirit of print. Both capitalism and print have stood in a cancerous relationship to the ethic of Protestantism.
Before the outbreak of the Civil War in seventeenth-century England, Puritanism had created a reading culture and a public space for (theological) debate. The Puritan leadership expected that children would receive adequate religious instruction within the household and this expectation further elevated the status of the head of the household over the clergy. In homes, but also in taverns and barns, religious debate through printed texts flourished. A nascent public sphere was evolving that brought with it the implication of a democratic debate that undercut the traditional authority of the conservative clergy. We could argue that this thesis is a specifically political interpretation of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber,  1930). Puritan individualism, combined with congregational independence, literacy, a linear view of history and a profound distrust of the state, proved to be an ideal breeding ground for the political culture of citizenship.
This discussion of the cultural impact of Protestant sects on the evolution of the working class introduces a more general question, namely the relationship between Christianity and socialism in the modern history of capitalist society. There has been a definite tradition of historical sociology that has noted that Protestantism was a ‘revolutionary ideology’ and detected a close parallel between Puritan moral criticism and the ascetic components of socialist doctrine (Walzer, 1964). In a peculiar fashion, Marx would have also agreed that Protestantism had an elective affinity with citizenship, primarily because he saw liberal democracy and individualism as a bourgeois legacy. In Capital volume one, Marx argued that, in a society based on the production of commodities, Christianity ‘with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, etc., is the most fitting form of religion’ (Marx, 1970,  vol. 1: 83). In the theory of alienation, Christianity expressed the isolation and estrangement of human beings, because, following Ludwig Feuerbach and David Strauss, Marx argued that religion inverted the real world by attributing causal powers to divine beings. Protestantism was an inverted truth about the abstract nature of social relations in capitalism (Turner, 1991: 66). The argument about the connections between Christianity and conservative politics has raged across political theory ever since.
For many political theorists, citizenship was historically a ‘ruling-class strategy’ the purpose of which was to incorporate the working class into nascent capitalism through the creation of social rights to welfare (Mann, 1987). Welfare capitalism achieved the pacification of the working class with relatively little concession to the fundamental issues of inequalities in wealth and political power. Citizenship left the class structure of capitalism intact, but avoided the revolutionary conflicts of the class system. This thesis can be criticised, because it fails to distinguish different forms of democratic citizenship, some of which are more radical than others. Citizenship that is grasped from below tends to be more active and radical than citizenship that is handed down by the ruling class through the state apparatus (Turner, 1990). The English Civil War and the American and French revolutionary experience produced an active form of citizenship. In fact the notion of ‘active citizenship’ is primarily a product of the public debates of the French Revolution. It was Rousseau who defined the object of morality and politics as the citizen not man. By contrast, the Glorious Revolution that brought English radicalism to a close promoted a passive and individualistic version of liberal citizenship. In England, Anglicanism for obvious reasons supported the establishment and provided the cultural ingredients of political gradualism. Anglicanism, which is essentially a political and theological compromise, provided the cultural glue of Britain and its empire within which the British citizenship was a subject of the monarch. The religious sects that opposed Anglicanism were often themselves quietist and thus the Arminian theological of the Wesleyan chapels was well suited to a benevolent and patronising attitude toward the disenchanted underclass.
Critical Evaluation of Weber’s Theory
Weber’s analysis of the European origins of civil society and citizenship raises some controversial issues with respect to the traditional problem of Orientalism (Turner, 2000a). A full analysis of this problem would require an extensive discussion of Weber’s writings, for example on religion in China and India as well as Judaism and Islam. Weber’s analysis of Islam has been supported by writers, like S.M. Lipset (1960 ) who have argued that the fusion of religion and politics in early Islam provided no source of legitimation outside the state. Hence, there was little social leverage to exert criticism of the state. The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs who created the golden age of Islam followed the leadership of the Prophet, within which religious and political power was combined. As Islamic empires became Caesaro-papist, loyalty to the state became a matter of religious conviction. One problem with this view of Islam is that it fails to recognise important differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam (Arjomand, 1984). Shi’ism broke with the Sunni traditions of leadership and came to assert the infallible authority of an Imam who is pure, perfect and knowledgeable. With the death of the Twelfth Imam, Shi’ites came to believe in the historical role of a Hidden Imam, whose very absence renders current regimes illegitimate. The development of a doctrine of the Imamate, the Occultation of the Imam and the celebration of martyrdom produced a radical doctrine of political activism and social equality (Richard, 1995). In the revolutionary struggles against the modernising regime of the Shah, Shi’ite radicalism produced the ideological framework for radical politics for figures as diverse as Khomeini and Ali Shari’ati.
Weber’s criticism of Islam and politics has been questioned by much contemporary scholarship. It is commonly argued that Weber’s characterisation of Islam is too general to be reliable, and that scholarship should concentrate on specific, clearly defined cases (Huff and Schluchter, 1999). In the twentieth century, Islam was specifically associated with radical political movements against Western capitalism and hence against Weber’s liberalism. It has been claimed that Islamic politics can support radical and progressive social movements. Radical fundamentalism provides political movements in the Third World with a revolutionary ideology that is anticapitalist and therefore specifically anti-American. Liberal politics in the West has assumed, particularly since the fall of communism, that social and political affairs are best managed through the neutral mechanism of the market. The role of politics is only to protect the free operation of exchange in the market place, where conflicts of interest can be resolved, if only temporarily, through the blind exchange of goods. A market place does not, according to this perspective, require social or moral connections. In fact, culture and religion are ‘noise’ that disturbs the flow of goods. Liberals have been particularly hostile to fundamentalism, which is regarded as an irrational response to modernity. These debates have, however, only served to make Weber’s question more urgent: what is the relationship between religion and modern politics? Weber’s basic criticism of Caesaro-papism can be supported on the grounds that the division between religion and politics offers a space for critical reflection on and opposition to repressive politics. Radical movements in Islam in the 1970s have themselves been hostile to the state monopolisation of religion through ministries of religious affairs that employed religious jurists to issue decrees in favour of state policies (Zartman, 2001).
Weber’s analysis of the city has also been criticised because it implies the absence of an urban civil society in Islam, namely the absence of a set of intermediary associations between the individual and the state. For Weber, the Islamic city was merely a military camp that could achieve no independence from a patrimonial ruler. In general, Weber’s argument that the social carrier of Islam was the warrior is defective, because it underestimates the importance of trade in the dissemination of the Islamic faith. Furthermore, it is difficult to argue that tribal loyalties were not questioned by Islam, since Muhammad’s teaching specifically promoted the idea of a single umma (community) over local loyalties (Levy, 2000: 273). More recent scholarship on Islamic civil society has argued that there was a rich density of civil associations in the Islamic city (Kamali, 1998). The Shi’ite opposition to western-style industrialisation has precisely the characteristics of a religiously motivated utopian vision against secular powers that Weber assumed were important in creating revolutionary politics.
Weber’s perspective on the origins of citizenship in the democratic institutions of early Greek society is also problematic. Clearly, the rise of literacy, the formulation of written laws and the institutionalisation of ostracism through a popular vote laid the foundations of Greek democracy. It is thus conventional to locate the origins of democracy in the classical Greek world, but the exclusion of women from public debate and the dependence on slave labour present serious problems for the modern search for the classical roots of democratic politics. Political theory has derived a view of democracy in terms of the political contest that shaped the public sphere in Athens, but the heroic legacy of Athenian military conflict produced a narrow and exclusive definition of the political community (Deneen, 2000; Saxonhouse, 1992). There is obviously a wealth of historical evidence to measure the rise of democracy and the decline of an aristocratic stratum of warriors in seventh-century BC Athens. These developments are often referred to in terms of the rise of citizenship (Bryant, 1996), but these are precocious foundations. Similar problems arise in general with the quest for the historical roots of citizenship in Roman antiquity (Turner and Hamilton, 1994). The historical research of Moses Finley (1991: 9) showed that Greek society in particular was dependent on a slave economy, that access to citizenship was severely limited and that women were excluded from participation in the public sphere. It was for this reason that the private or domestic sphere was an area of privation, and that both Greek and Roman society made a clear distinction between citizens who could vote and decide, and those who could not. There was a clear division between boni and optimi, and the rest (plebs, multitudo, and improbi). The full development of democratic citizenship presupposes the era of revolutionary politics that shaped modernity, and created a civil society that was open, at least in principle, to all social classes (Moore, 1967).
One further problem with Weber’s approach is that it does not clearly differentiate between types of citizenship. While the early development of citizenship is associated with the growth of the city, a fully elaborated vision of modern citizenship has been the product of the American and French Revolutions. It is possible to argue, however, that the inspiration for these two revolutions was very different. The idea that revolutions involve an assault on religion is a product of the conditions that produced the French Revolution, where there was a specific attempt to replace the rites and doctrines of Catholicism with a secular culture. By contrast, the American Revolution was in part dependent on the revolutionary doctrines of the English Puritans, and developed an ideology that had obvious religious dimensions.
The English Civil War was a complex social and political movement concerned with freedom from arbitrary rule and fickle taxation, and freedom of religious expression in opposition to Roman and Anglican notions of kingship. English revolutionary fervour owed much to the commentaries of writers like John Milton, who, in 1659 to 1660 in ‘ The Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth and the Excellence thereof compared with the Inconveniences and Dangers of Re-Admitting Kingship in this Nation,’ compared the monarchical principle to idolatry in the Old Testament. For Milton, royalty was ‘a gilded yoke’ (Milton,  1927: 179). The execution of the king was therefore not an act of folly or fury, but a just defence of English liberties and religion. In his Defence of the People of England in 1651, the protection of the commonwealth of men meant that love of country was not incompatible with either natural law or religion. While religious and earthly loyalties were separate, the legacy of the classical notion of respublica was not incompatible with Christian duty (Viroli, 1995).
The Puritans carried these sentiments to the American colonies where they sought to create a commonwealth free of an established Church and the burden of arbitrary taxation without representation. American political culture has been shaped by the settlement of the colonies by Puritans who had escaped from religious persecution and hence the separation of Church and state became a primary premise of the Constitution. The revolution had itself been understood in terms of the Old Testament as a struggle to establish a righteous community. The American civil war was a religious trial in which the new nation was tested (Bellah, 1967). In short, there are major differences between French republicanism and American liberalism, where revolutionary sentiment in France is by definition secular. Religious values by contrast have remained central to American notions of citizenship. These different models of revolution have produced very different forms of citizenship.
In broad terms, we might distinguish three separate traditions of citizenship. In the Anglo-American legacy, religion and politics are sharply differentiated and citizenship rights are essentially political rights of individual freedom from the state to hold opinions, to practise religion freely, and to pursue economic self-interest without hindrance from the state. Religious differences are matters of private belief that need not impinge on the free market. A second tradition from French republicanism has a more positive and elaborate view of the citizen, whose liberties should be fully protected and cultivated by the state. Republicanism is less concerned with individual difference and more committed to the achievement of equality through universal provision. French republican traditions of citizenship are hostile to religious differences in civil society because they corrode the unity of the citizenry. Wearing a veil can be interpreted as a hostile rebuff of secular universalism. Finally there is a German tradition of citizenship in which the principal aim of social rights and civil society is to develop the character and moral status of the citizen. Education of the citizen is an essential condition of a good society. State interference in society is necessary to protect the citizen and enhance the full moral development of personality. Citizenship and civility are components of a more general process of civilisation. This perspective was associated with the notion of Bildung and hence with the Bildungsbürgertum. This tradition can be hostile to capitalism because it is not a force of moral development, and hence there is a certain compatibility between the aims of the church and the state. Weber’s historical sketch of the origins and conditions of citizenship does not explicitly take into account these differences, but these three ideal types are nevertheless present in his work.
Finally, there is a further possible criticism of Weber’s political sociology, namely that it was based on an outdated set of assumptions about the permanence of the nation-state. Some sociologists (Giddens, 1990) have dismissed Weber because his sociology cannot grasp the importance of globalisation. The effects of globalisation are politically complex but it can be claimed that it has created new opportunities for the spread of democratisation through the creation of electronic communities. At the same time, the global media have created the conditions for traditional ‘world religions’ to become truly global religions. There is however a serious problem about how citizenship can function as a progressive form of social inclusion in a context of competition between religions. National citizenship involves a specific principle of exclusion on the basis of national identity and membership, and therefore there are problems about citizenship as a political framework in societies that are multicultural and in a context of global governance. Perhaps human rights offer a mode of legal inclusion that is not tied to the nation-state. Although religion has been deeply involved in ethnic violence for centuries, the world religions provide one source for the development of a vision of a common humanity, and universalistic religious assumptions about humanity have underpinned human rights discourse. Religion provides a metaphysical framework for the doctrine of human rights against relativism and secularity (Turner, 2000b, 2000c). It is possible that religious universalism could contribute to the emergence of a cosmopolitanism that would foster the development of global democracy and human rights.
Conclusion: The Market, Politics, and Religion
The argument of this chapter has followed the conventions of a liberal or Weberian interpretation of the religious origins of citizenship. Protestant institutions have contributed to the evolution of pluralism and free speech through an emphasis on individual responsibility. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has been a basis of egalitarianism, and religious congregationalism fostered communal autonomy, local involvement and individual development (Maddox, 1996: 200). The failure of the division between religion and politics resulted in a monopolistic authority, namely Caesaro-papism. A tension between Athens and Jerusalem, between reason and revelation, and between politics and religion has been a productive basis for the evolution of democratic cultures (Strauss, 1995).
Weber’s vision of politics and religion was liberal, although of a rather tough and demanding character. His vision of politics was far removed from that of Locke or Mill. His arguments about the relationship between the state and the Church, his sympathetic treatment of the German Protestant tradition, his hostility towards mass democracy and party machines, his opposition to the German Junkers and his endorsement of individualism were part of the legacy of German liberalism. Partly because Weber’s cultural and political sympathies were with liberal Protestantism, the cultural role of Roman Catholicism in the global history of economics and politics is missing from Weber’s macro-history. His nationalism and his support for the World War I were shared by political and religious liberals in the German high bourgeoisie. The notion that Germany had a special role to play in European history as a force against the standardisation of culture by a technological civilisation was a perspective that Weber shared with writers like Thomas Mann (1987). Weber did not embrace a positive or full-blooded theory of democracy. He was committed to plebiscitary democracy that was a method of selecting a leader rather than a theory of radical political participation through parliamentary means.
While Weber admired the democracies of America and Britain, he recognised that the political difficulties of German society required determined leadership. It was not clear that such a leadership could come from a mass democracy grounded in universal citizenship. What was required was ‘leadership-democracy,’ not Anglo-American parliamentary politics. One specific problem for Germany was to manage the political vacuum that had been caused by the departure of Bismarck. Weber’s sociology has been said to have anticipated the rise of fascism, because Hitler’s national socialism was an example of leadership-democracy that offered a response to the threat of communism and the growth of Anglo-American global dominance. There are therefore certain similarities between Weber’s view of charismatic politics, politics as a vocation and the concept of the political in the work of Carl Schmitt (1996). If the historical struggle and tension between the religious and the political has been essential to the development of Western politics, then the rise of a secular liberalism and universal citizenship does suggest paradoxically the end of the political. Liberal notions of freedom are under attack, because the logical conclusion of liberal individualism is a society that is held together only by the market place, where isolated individuals exchange commodities. Liberalism ironically dilutes notions of civil society and active citizens involved in political struggles to maintain public space within which civic virtues can be exercised.
This conclusion is compatible with Weber’s pessimistic analysis of the iron cage of capitalism, but it is not a conclusion we are compelled to accept (Habermas, 1989). Schmitt’s attack on liberalism treats the political as the necessary conflict between friend and foe. It suggests that liberal compromise within civil society is also a compromise of virtue because it destroys the creative tension of politics, thereby making a moral life impossible. Schmitt and Weber are similar in treating politics as a domain of violent conflict. The notion of citizenship is seen to be part of this liberal legacy in which compromise within civil society is necessary to permit the free exchange of commodities. These contemporary interpretations of Schmitt and Weber emphasise conflict (the presence of a foe) but they have little to say about social solidarity (the presence of a friend). In response to (authoritarian) critics of liberal citizenship, we might argue that citizenship is essential to building up friendship, and that without the affective ties of solidarity civility could not exist. In this respect, T.H. Marshall was correct to argue that citizenship establishes the basic framework for a civilised life within society. Citizenship is the expression of a commonwealth and that without love of this commonwealth society cannot flourish. This vision of a commonwealth has, often paradoxically, drawn its inspiration from the religious vision of a heavenly commonwealth within which cupidity, hatred and violence have been replaced by charity.