… is from page 329 of William Leggett ’s December 3rd, 1836, Plaindealer essay, “Thanksgiving Day,” as this essay is reprinted and titled in Democratick Editorials , Lawrence H. White, ed. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984) (original emphasis):
No one can pay the most cursory attention to the state of religion in the United States, without being satisfied that its true interests have been greatly promoted by divorcing it from all connexion with political affairs…. In this city alone [New York] the number of churches is one hundred and fifty, and their aggregate capacity is nearly equal to the accommodation of the whole number of inhabitants. It is impossible to conjecture, from any data within our reach, the amount of the sum annually paid by the American people, of their own free will, for the support of the ministry, and the various expenses of their religious institutions: but it will readily be admitted that it must be enormous. These, then, are the auspicious results of perfect free trade in religion – of leaving it to manage its own concerns, in its own way, without government protection, regulation, or interference, of any kind or degree whatever.
DBx: While I am not religious, I celebrate America’s complete separation of church and state no less than I would were I deeply devoted to a faith that is despised by a majority of Americans. Not only is the resulting individual freedom good in and of itself, the resulting absence of political disputes over religious doctrine, practice, funding, membership, organizational structure, organizational leadership, architecture, and on and on and on is a blessing.
If government played a role in religion akin to the role that governments in the U.S. today play, say, in K-12 schooling, we’d have “church boards” the members of which are elected by votes cast by people of all religious faiths and of no faith. Taxpayers who do not subscribe to the faith(s) supported by taxpayer funding would nevertheless be compelled to support notions that they do not believe, or that they perhaps actively oppose.
To list other dysfunctions is easy, but here unnecessary: can anyone today doubt the truth of Leggett’s observation that religion’s divorce in America “from all connexion with political affairs” results in religious institutions and beliefs that are about as diverse, robust, thriving, competitive, and effective as is humanly possible in today’s United States? (If I understand David Hume’s argument correctly, he – Hume – supported state involvement in religion precisely because he understood that such involvement would reduce the effectiveness of religion. Being no friend of religious belief, Hume wished to see such belief weaken and wither, and he correctly understood that having the state involved in religion is an ideal means toward his end.)
I’m quite sure that what’s true for the relationship between church and state is true for the relationship not only between school and state, but also on a broader scale – namely, between economy and state. The recent fervor on the political left and right for industrial policy would, to the extent to which such policy is pursued, artificially favor some particular productive (and, hence, some particular consumption) activities while artificially disfavoring others. The economy would weaken and shrink.
The healthy and peaceful rivalry in markets, in which each individual spends his or her own money and time as that person chooses – spends his or her own money and time as investor, producer, and consumer – would be replaced by decisions made politically. Individuals whose comparative advantage lies in winning political elections would direct the use of resources. Yet who this side of sanity seriously supposes that the likes of Marco Rubio or Elizabeth Warren have both the miraculous ability to divine the economic future and the spine to resist the pleas of special interest groups for state power to be used in their favor? The answer to this rhetorical question does not change by noting that the likes of Rubio or Warren would choose for their advisors arrogant ‘men of system’ such as Oren Cass or some successful business tycoon or some Ivy-League economists who’ve written in the pages of top-ranked academic journals lovely equations that are advertised as describing how industrial policy can ‘succeed.’
Those who support the strict separation of church and state should, to be consistent, support also the separation of economy and state – or, at the very least, support a policy of unilateral free trade that rejects the use of all tariffs, subsidies, and other interventions aimed at redirecting the flow of productive energy and resources away from well-lit paths that emerge in free markets and into dark tunnels constructed by those made unusually ignorant by their unusual arrogance.