The Cube and the Cathedral: Book Review

Most Americans have separated political and religious ideas so completely that it seems unnatural to think about how religion might affect democracy. However, in his book The Cube and the Cathedral, theologian George Weigel argues that this is a question that anyone concerned with the future of democracy must seriously consider.

Weigel is concerned by Europe’s increasing separation from her Christian heritage and believes that this separation will ultimately result in the collapse of European democracy. This diagnosis is based on Weigel’s understanding of the relationship between Christianity and democracy. Throughout the Christian history of Europe, the Church has always maintained that its authority transcends any human political authority. Although this has not always been the case in practice, it has still had an important effect on the mores of the European people. This authority outside of the realm of the state trained Europeans to view that state as having an inherently limited role. There were some aspects of life that not even kings had the right to control. Weigel argues that this helped develop the modern democratic state,

“the state had to acknowledge that there were some things it couldn’t do because it was simply incompetent to do them--and that acknowledgment of limited competence created the social and cultural conditions for the possibility of what a later generation of constitutionalist and democrats called the limited state” (Weigel 101).

Without the cultural conditions created by the existence of the Church, there is little reason to believe that European democracy would have developed as it did. Furthermore, Weigel argues that European democracy will not be able to sustain itself without a renewed commitment to Christianity. Without Christianity, Europe has lost any distinct sense of identity and cannot make value judgments regarding moral questions. A civilization without an identity does not know where it is going, or even where it wants to go. This uncertainty can paralyze a society and leave it vulnerable to those who seek to change or destroy it.

Weigel is not without hope for Europe’s future. He believes that a restoration of European Christianity, especially Catholic social teaching, could rebuild Europe’s commitment to democracy and liberalism. Without this restoration, however, Europe is doomed to fail as it no longer has a reason for existence.