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The Birth of the Secular State


Click here to read a paper by Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama, two economists at George Mason University, which attempts to explain the secularization of Western state institutions.  You can read Chris Colvin’s review of their paper here.  My main critique of the paper is that Johnson and Koyama greatly underplay the persecution of the Huguenots before and after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  Fewer Huguenots were killed than Cathars because the former were able to emigrate all around the world, and c.400,000 did so.   

Here is the paper’s abstract:
This paper investigates the relationship between the historical process of legal centralization and increased religious toleration by the state. We develop a model in which legal centralization leads to the criminalization of the religious beliefs of a large proportion of the population. This process initially leads to increased persecution, but, because these persecutions are costly, it eventually causes the state to broaden the standards of orthodox belief and move toward religious toleration. We compare the results of the model with historical evidence drawn from two important cases in which religious diversity and state centralization collided in France: the Albigensian crusades of the thirteenth century and the rise of Protestant belief in the sixteenth century. Both instances support our central claim that the secularization of western European state institutions during the early-modern period was driven by the costs of imposing a common set of legal standards on religiously diverse populations.

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