Weigel takes to the pages of First Things and informs us that the United States has arrived at its sorry state because we have paid insufficient heed to Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde:
For Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde diagnosed a primary cause of our current distress over half a century ago.
Böckenförde was a German constitutional law scholar whose “dictum” is familiar to, if often ignored by, political scientists: “The liberal secularized state lives on conditions that it cannot guarantee itself.” Put another way, the liberal institutions of a modern democracy—free speech, a free press, freedom of association, universal adult suffrage, majority rule and protection of minority rights, religious freedom, and so forth—rely for their credibility, and their tensile strength under pressure, on cultural foundations those liberal institutions cannot, by themselves, create or defend. Thus American democracy is not, and can never be, a machine that runs by itself. The cultural and moral lubricants of the machinery—indeed, the very rationale for this kind of machinery rather than some other kind—must come from somewhere else.
For over two centuries in the United States, that “somewhere else” was a public moral culture formed by biblical religion and natural law philosophy. Biblical religion taught Americans the built-in dignity and value of every human person as a person, irrespective of condition. The philosophy of the natural law taught Americans that there are moral truths inscribed in the world and in us, that we can know those truths by reason, and that knowing them teaches us our duties.
I would go further. It is not just that we have failed to remember that our polity is built on a foundation of religion and natural law philosophy. The problem is far worse than that. The nation’s intellectual elite have actively hammered away at that foundation for over 50 years and attempted (and failed) to replace the foundation with theories rooted in metaphysical materialism. Is it any wonder the foundation appears to be crumbling?