This article (part 1 of 2) explores, from a Bahá'í perspective, the loss of a transcendent ethical basis as a central problem of modern social theory. It discusses religion as the source of society’s moral foundations and its organizing principles of order, law, and governance. Through an analysis of John Locke’s writings on religion and government, the foundations of the concept of civil society are traced to the idea of covenant as embedded in the natural law tradition. Civil society and theocracy are compared, and the implications of dissent and divisive conflict in a consent-based theory of religious toleration are discussed. The article concludes with the collapse, in modernity, of the religious foundations and the disintegration of the classical concept of civil society.
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