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Charles Taylor: The Future of the Secular

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alfredote Avatar
Posted: 08.23.11, 11:26 PM
Dr Taylor –pretty much like anybody nowadays– doesn’t see a solution to the hard case of abortion posited by the 3rd questioner (00h52m52s), and concludes that philosophy doesn’t have one (56m00s), i.e., that there isn’t one. In other words, “if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” Ooops. For there is a solution –and it does come from a branch of philosophy. It’s just that you can only expect to find it ‘outside the box.’ You automatically think outside the box the moment you start describing ‘the box.’ And this has actually been done already, in the way economics has represented the polity, in terms of social choice: the key but tacit assumption of democracy, indeed, has been laid out in Amartya Sen’s theorem on the “Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal”. ‘Unrestricted domain’ means that the collectivity (or ‘aggregate of collective preferences,’ to put in formal terms) has a say on, say, whether I sleep belly-up or belly-down. The problem of irreducible cutural and political conflict, in other words, can be cleanly solved by clarifying proper jurisdiction . It is an institutional before it is a "policy" problem. To be sure, no ‘system’ —whether institutional or conceptual— exists that exhausts all the possibilities of social reality, as he appropriately reminds us earlier in his lecture. But today’s mess has frankly attained such proportions —for it is indeed built into the very core of modern institutions (see the problem in another context here )—, that today's problems (including most of those that emerged in Quebec), cannot be solved without a "radical" clarification of the formal and practical characteristics of "public" and "private" jurisdiction. We do not live in democracy, but in a legal system designed by and inherited from people long dead: what we would have to call a "thanatocracy". That's why people who are busy redefining policy are unable to effectively address not only our cultural, but also our economic and environmental problems: for the source of most of our difficulties, and what they should instead be redefining, is not policy but its institutional framework —yes, you've got it: the box. The problem, when you see how pervasive misallocations of jurisdiction are, is that clearly it is not the correction of a myriad distortions that will do the trick, but a small set of clear and wide-scope re-organizing principles. After all, there is only one way to undo a Gordian knot. So we'd better get ourselves a new rope to hold things together. Before we can even begin to weave this, we need to clear our thinking, and this begins by cleaning up our language. A society that respects individual or particular ways is a ‘democracy’ only metaphorically —if the word is used, like a plastic concept, to designate pretty much any "nonauthoritarian" society, in which power emerges from the people, including, say, "primitive" communities in which decisions emerged consensually ...but in which not even the word democracy exists. From a formal and practical viewpoint, however, ensuring a place for the harmonious plenitude of individual or particular differences is most definitely NOT achieved thanks to democracy: on the contrary, the jurisdiction of majority rule ends precisely where ‘private property’ begins —that other key institution. Modern society is indeed an unresolved and increasingly dislocating tension between these two ‘ frères enemis ,’ as Immanuel Wallerstein referred to them while calling for a fundamental redefinition of the balance. For nowadays, collective decisions are unwittingly but routinely made about individual circumstances just as routinely as individual or sectoral interests and values take over the collective sphere. But nobody even seems to have noticed, so everybody just keeps arguing about, say, the proper ...collective decisions that should be taken about individual circumstances. An attribution of jurisdiction according to the formal principle that decisions revert to the people they affect directly, solves a lot of these problems. And this involves a strong reinforcement of private rights or jurisdictions in some respects, and of public rights or jurisdictions in others. Of course, unless you "reformat" our spontaneous thinking reflexes (by seeing a thousand concrete cases that accustom us to recognize impact-delimited jurisdiction), the abstract principle can only totally confound the modern ideologies of Left and Right, that only see problems in terms of more or less "state", so they have only the faintest idea about what state makes for an enlivening interaction of difference. But what did you expect, after all, when historically spreading social disarray keeps suggesting that the solution is outside the box !? Only ‘structurally decentralized’ societies will be able to reconcile diversity in unity. More on that ...blowing elsewhere in the wind…
Mike O'Malley Avatar
Mike O'Malley
Posted: 05.06.10, 09:26 AM
Hello bozzie61: Yes, Dr. Taylor not only ignores the English Reformation’s contribution to modern democratic secularism, he ignores the contribution of the First Great Awakening, the Catholic Humanists of the Renaissance, such as Erasmus, the Dominicans, Thomas Aquinas, the Gregory Popes etc. Perhaps he does so because his audience will not hear of such a thing . BTW: those aren’t French terms. They are Roman Catholic terms referring to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and sacred space. They included both sacred times and ordinary time (secular time) and sacred ground and ordinary ground (secular). It seems ominous that modern secularists willfully ignore the origins of Western democracy it the gathering of serfs in the backs of Catholic churches throughout Western Europe, year after year, century after century. Those churches were the only places were serfs could legitimately gather to decide as a community how to deal with the over bearing demands of feudal overlord and state. Western democracy was born in Roman Catholic sacred space . I also think Dr. Taylor gives too much credit to the French Revolution. The reiterative sacrificial motif, beginning at the Bastille, of beheading officers of the peace (the old peace) and the obvious violent betrayal fraternity (Christian or otherwise) the rapid violent establishment of oppressive new hierarchies and the most violent denial of equality suggest to some that the French Revolution was in substance a reactionary effort to return to the unity and peace Archaic sacrificial ritual, the Old Religion.
Mike O'Malley Avatar
Mike O'Malley
Posted: 05.06.10, 07:28 AM
During the lecture Charles Taylor proposed India as an alternative democratic model to that of France and America. India’s example seems far more problematic than Mr. Taylor would seem to admit. In fact, democratic tolerance in the India foundered upon the very problem for which he cites it as an alternative to his examples from France and Germany. A sufficient number of Muslims in India refused to live under Hindi majority governance. The resulting partition of India and ensuing ethnic cleansing and mass murder was the direct result of an organized campaign by the Muslim League to institutionalize Islamic dominance in India. Since then democratic “tolerance” in secular India has not been without problems under both secularist Congress Party and Hindu Nationalist governance. Nonetheless the rump state, the Republic of India, has emerged as a democratic success, yet it is a success which continues to be existentially threatened by Islamofascism as the 2008 Mumbai terror attack demonstrates. Secularist Israel suffers similar problems. These are the very emerging multicultural problems with which French and German Secularism seem unable to grapple as so it seems is Charles Taylor. . I am otherwise unacquainted with Charles Taylor, but On first hearing I'm left with the impression that he is ultimately incoherent. Taylor’s views seem without a stated anchor other than multicultural tolerance. I also worry thatt Taylor’s “secular democracy” is not be sustainable. On first hearing I came away with the impression that Christopher Lasch had more profound insight. . Two younger women on the left side of the stage brought much to the table (in question segments 3 and 4). But Taylor's response to the questions about abortion, beginning with that of an elderly gentlemen on the right side of the stage, in a way tipped Taylor’s hand. And it seems to me that we find that Taylor has stacked the deck in the favor of his own positions. Taylor and his interlocutors presume that the Pro-Life position is solely religious. It is not. Classical Liberal agnostics such as liberal Nat Hentoff on occasion are Pro-Life. But also because Taylor and his interlocutors dismiss the Pro-Life position as anti-democratic and fanatical. What seems telling is the example given of the religious believer who believes that abortion is "murder", wants to “take over” the government, and prohibit abortion. Let’s leave aside the question of how: engaging in democratic discourse, successfully persuading one’s fellow citizens to the end of enacting legislation, is an anti-democratic “take over” of the government. One seems compelled to conclude the Charles Taylor believes that one can not and should not outlaw “murder” of the unborn in a democratic society. Instead one should be free to decline an abortion for one’s self but that other persons should not be restrained from having an abortion, not withstanding Pro-Life activist’s determination and indeed the presumed majority’s determination that abortion is murder. . Let’s alter the given examples facts just a tad. Can one doubt that Charles Taylor would not argue that an activist could not similarly persuade a democratic majority that killing an infant, a women, a “defective” or a racial minority, or a convicted murderer, is murder and then duly outlaw the practice? If not would not Taylor be arguing that a democratic majority could not outlaw murder if the “executioner” was persuaded that such an “killing” was a personal act of conscience? So does it not seem as though Charles Taylor has “stacked the deck” in favor of his Secularist view about abortion?
nightlight Avatar
Posted: 10.21.09, 10:26 PM
In my opinion the origins of secularism, though interesting, is irrelevant. The Websters Dictionary describes secularism as : “Indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious consideration”. The term “freedom of religion” is attempting to set the parameters of the discussion as to what freedom is within the framework of religious doctrine. First, we must understand the the church, being catholic or protestant or whatever, has NEVER been a institution in the pursuit of truth or liberty but a institution for the sole purpose of controlling peoples minds for power and/or wealth through the church dogma of ever lasting life, hell, excommunication, eternal damnation and so on by proclaiming to be the representative of god here on earth and thus free to act on behalf of god in what ever way they saw fit. In fact the church, meaning the christian institutions, have been at the forefront of repressing the truth and the evidence of it because it was not in compliance with church doctrine. Father Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Copernicus to name but a few who had ideas contrary to that of the church and were subject to it's wrath could attest to. Then there was Martin Luther, who's 95 Theses help bring about the protestant church. The protestant church, born of intolerance was just as intolerant it's self and soon found themselves ostracized and so some moved to the new world where they could live in peace in a world of intolerance of their own making. Of course, they soon found themselves in need of some help, namely for survival, which they received from the local folk. Of course it wasn't long, when they weren't condemning each, they were condemning the very people that had saved them because they were not right with god. Of course, the locals were wise to them by now and started condemning them and so they found themselves, once again on the wrong end of the stick of religious intolerance. This, I'm right, your wrong because the bible say so theology is still prevalent today in the form of the relentless attacks against the public schools, mostly by the religious right because of not having prayer in school and the teaching of evolution. Scientific principles not withstanding, it's us verses them and god is on our side. And so it goes, but we have advanced a bit, at least were not burning people at the stake or stoning them, at least not yet. As if it's not bad enough that societal advancement has to deal with the religious here we now have to deal with the maniacal and radical Muslims in the Mideast who are still cutting off heads and stoning people to death, but that's a story of the religious right aligning themselves with the radical right and the capitalist, by means of their vote, in which their insatiable greed got us into. I have nothing against the capitalist in general but, in my opinion, enjoy far too much influence in our government. The point being, in my opinion, a society can not be free of religious intolerance but by a secular government. This does not mean the people will not find other reasons to be intolerant, apparently it is in out nature, but at least it wouldn't be in the name of the supernatural.
Samael Avatar
Posted: 06.17.09, 07:46 PM
@Bozzie61: It ignores them because they do not exist in a factual sense. you say you would argue a certain point, but do not provide any such argument: Why liberal *christian* traditions? methinks the "liberal" part of that has more to do with it than the "christian" part. they are not mutually dependent in any way, consider what happens whenever christians "go back to the core values". The liberalism is born of pragmatism and not a product of the religious influence, the later is more a barnacle with a very strong foot and too many cousins hitching a ride...
bozzie61 Avatar
Posted: 06.13.09, 03:19 PM
My problem with this good lecture is that it ignores the Christian origins of secularism. Christian denominations, like those coming out of the English non-comformist traditions or the radical reformation, have historically been in favour of a non-religous government. Indeed, one of the first arguments for non-religious test in schools within Britian was a Congregational minister and a Baptist minister continually went to jail for the similar views. In the United States, Roger Williams founded Rhode Island when Massachusetts congregational church offical rejected his notions of religious freedom. The Quaker William Penn did something the same thing. For me, there is no such thing as a secular society but there are secualr governments. A secular government accepts that there should be a 'free market' of religious and philosophical belief. I would argue that can only happen in societies with strong liberal Christian traditions. Or at least, an acceptance of John Sturat Mill's essay On Liberty. Both the religious right and fundamental atheists (like Richard Dawkins) are the greatest threat to this secular tradition. I think we need a book on the history of secular. I am greatful to Charles Taylor for familarising me with the french term and it origins.
Vrasidas Avatar
Posted: 05.29.09, 03:19 PM
Charles Taylor at his best again: talking about commonplaces and trivialities and presenting them as revelations!!! One of these confused thinkers who never addresses the core of the issues he is discussing and stays in their periphery talking about side effects and minor applications instead of their central point...

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