Monday, November 30, 2015
It's a few years old, but worth re-reading. Here's Remi Brague's First Things essay, "The Impossibility of Secular Society." A bit:
. . . Our intuitive sense of the outer boundaries of living memory and concern finds expression in the field of law. One hundred years, what is known as the tempus memoratum, constitutes the longest possible duration for a contract. For example, the longest possible land lease holds good for ninety-nine years. Beyond that, one enters the field of the “immemorial,” rights held not by natural persons but by legal entities such as monasteries, universities, civic organizations, and of course the state itself. In a certain brocard, or common saying of ancient French law, “He who has eaten of the king’s goose gives back a feather a hundred years later,” which means that for crimes against the state there is no temporal limit. The king remembers forever.
What does all this have to do with the idea of a “secular” society? A great deal. The French language possesses two different adjectives meaning “secular”: on the one hand séculier, on the other séculaire. Séculaire means what lasts for more than one century—say, a tree, or a custom. Séculier originally designated a “secular,” a cleric who, as we have seen, doesn’t live according to the rule of a monastic or religious order but instead pursues his vocation in the world as a diocesan functionary. In the modern era, as Mill recognized and imported into English, it acquired the added meaning of an outlook, a person, or a body of people that renounces the transcendent. . . .