One more from Jacques Barzun's 2000 From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present:
These latter-day holy writs were political, not religious, which raises the question why governments in nations formerly permeated by liberal and scientific thought came to adopt a method once justified more plausibly by a supernatural religion. Extreme diversity of opinion makes certain individuals uncomfortable; it affronts their own opinions. Then this discontent brings together a group that opposes pluralism in the name of some absolute such as moral or national unity. This opposition to freedom of thought must, according to that very thought, be tolerated, thus creating a general lack of direction that a dictator will supply.
What is curious about 20C dictatorships is that with their powerful means of repression they fear the slightest murmur of dissent. A careless word, a mistimed joke is enough to suggest heresy. This remains true under present-day "political correctness," but so far the penalties have been mild -- opprobrium, loss of employment, and virtual exclusion from the profession. Any form of persecution implies an amazing belief in the power of ideas, indeed of mere words casually spoken.
How this consorts with the Marxist dogma that the only true causes of events are material is not clear. The Catholic Inquisition had a better estimate of what was harmful and why. At any rate, governments in all parts of the world today keep killing and exiling for the sake of uniformity. The collective zeal that helped monarchs to forge the ultimately pluralist nation-state seems dormant in the nearly 200 new nations born of anti-colonial emancipation.
Tags: Barzun, Dawn to Decadence, Faith