Two 17th Century Century Concepts of Liberty and their Legacy

Lectures in Intellectual History show

Summary: Over the quarter of a millennium from the later seventeenth century to the Great War, the phrase ‘civil and religious liberty’ was a pervasive feature of English political language. ‘Civil and religious liberty’ was a condition which the nation was allegedly being denied, or alternatively which it was said to have achieved or to be achieving. How and why had the phrase come into being? In 1600 it would have been unintelligible. There was then no conception of religious liberty to partner or complement a conception of civil liberty. Religious liberty meant the emancipation of the soul from sin, a blessing which, as John Calvin had said, ‘may very well agree with civil bondage’. The alliance of religious with civil liberty became possible only when religious liberty acquired a new meaning and became something like a human right. The phrase ‘civil and religious liberty’ evolved during the Puritan Revolution of 1640 to 1660, and was one of its major intellectual consequences. Its emergence has two claims on our attention. It betokened a new conception of the relationship between God and society. And it demonstrates the capacity of political events, and of pressures of political power, to shape developments in intellectual history.