Friday, May 18, 2018
I had the privilege, a few days ago, of drafting a discussion paper for the Dulles Colloquium, hosted by Rusty Reno and the Institute on Religion and Public Life, addressing the question, "Can a Liberal Society Favor One Religion Over the Others." The discussion was lively and definitely not monochronic or monotonal. Here's just a bit from the paper, and I'd welcome reactions:
. . . And, what makes a political authority, regime, or state “liberal”? I pass over here the fascinating “genealogical” work of Patrick Deneen, Brad S. Gregory, and others who have proposed accounts of how contemporary liberalism was made and the mechanisms, reactions, and dynamics that have given it its shape (or shapes). For present purposes, I have in mind William Galston’s recent statement of “the core idea of liberalism,” namely, “recognizing and protecting a sphere beyond the rightful reach of government in which individuals” – I would add natural and other associations and societies – “can enjoy independence and privacy.” Galston supplements this “core idea” with three others – the “republican principle” or popular sovereignty, i.e., the idea that “the people” are the source of (this-world) political legitimacy; “democracy,” which involves both formal political and civil equality and constrained majoritarianism; and “constitutionalism,” which “denotes a basic, enduring structure of formal institutional power,” a structure in which political power is granted, distributed, and constrained by entrenched and enforceable rights as well as other mechanisms. All this, taken together, makes up, in Galston’s account, “liberal democracy,” which is – while, again, not the only possible moral regime – the regime I think we are asking about.
Such a regime need not be (indeed, it should not be) Jacobin, comprehensive, redemptive, sacramental, eschatological, crusading, thick, ambitious, or even particular optimistic. It cannot be entirely neutral but it can be (indeed, I think it should be) cautious, historically aware, chastened, and humble. It can and should be clear-eyed, Schumpeterian, and MacIntyrian about its vulnerability and contradictions, about its tendency to self-undermine, about its dependence on virtues, practices, and traditions that it cannot, by itself, create or maintain. It is pluralistic – both in the sense that it tolerates different views about the good life and respects the exercise of the authority that rightfully belongs to non-state actors and societies. It is not jealous of society’s little platoons and is comfortably resigned to the persistence of humanity’s crooked timber. . . .