Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism

Christopher Oleson reviews Thaddeus Kozinski, The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can't Solve It

To the typical inhabitant of a modern liberal democracy, the title of Thaddeus Kozinski's intriguing new book will probably sound a little puzzling, inasmuch as, within contemporary democractic culture, religious pluralism is not generally understood to be a "political problem." On the contrary, for the democratic soul, religious pluralism seems to be more a positive good, something to be protected and celebrated, rather than "solved" or overcome. One's religious commitments would have to be "extreme" and thus "anti-democratic" to take issue with liberalism's positive affirmation of religious diversity, for it is one of democratic modernity's greatest achievements to have crafted institutional arrangements that allow for the easy co-existence of various religious groups both with one another and with the overarching liberal political order.

* * * * * * *
Secular democratic modernity can only claim not to have a religious pluralism problem because it has already implicitly solved this problem by subtly emasculating traditional religious identity

* * * * * * *

One of the many insights of Thaddeus Kozinski's valuable contribution to the on-going conversation about the relationship between Faith and politics is to articulate with precision how secular democratic modernity can only claim not to have a religious pluralism problem because it has already implicitly solved this problem by subtly emasculating traditional religious identity and establishing, under the false veil of political neutrality, institutional arrangements charged with theological and metaphysical significance.

Thus, only by becoming enculturated to re-interpret religious belief in such a way that it can have no substantive implications for the social and political order, and correspondingly, by becoming miseducated to not notice the tacit establishment of a quite partisan sense of the good, freedom, and selfhood, do the citizens of secular democracies think that they have a neutral social order that need not view religious pluralism as politically problematic. For those whose religious creed is not merely an emotional accoutrement, this situation is obviously deeply troublesome, for the logic of secular liberalism, as Kozinski makes clear, would force the believer to treat his Faith commitments as merely therapeutic preferences of an autonomous self.

Clarifying this situation and working towards articulating a solution to it which is at once both honest about its principles, coherent in working them out, and politically expressive of the truth and ultimate happiness of man is the task that Kozinski sets himself in his book. He does this by successively engaging the thought of three influential and progressively illuminating political philosophers. John Rawls, Jacques Maritain, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Rawls serves as the quintessential philosophical voice of secular democratic liberalism, Maritain as the exponent of a Catholic hybridization of Thomistic political philosophy and modern democratic ideals, and MacIntyre as the most penetrating philosophical critic of liberal modernity and advocate of a local Thomistic politics of the common good against the bureaucratic nation-state.

Of the three, Kozinski is by far the most sympathetic to MacIntyre. Nevertheless, even his proposal falls short in Kozinski's eyes, for MacIntyre's vision of small communities of virtue does not quite attain to the level of truly political existence, remaining as it does, Kozinski claims, too local in its aspirations. More importantly for Kozinski, MacIntyre's thought problematically remains at the level of mere philosophy. Studiously avoiding the role of theologian, MacIntyre deprives himself of the resources of political theology, and thereby fails to affirm the necessity of a public recognition of divine revelation and Magisterial teaching as the most propitious conditions for a stable and morally healthy political state. As Kozinski's subtitle indicates, philosophy as such can offer little or no light on how to move a community of seriously diverse worldviews to a unified political order of virtue and human happiness. Only the eventual achievement of a confessionally Catholic state, Kozinski concludes, can overcome the limitations of political philosophy in general, and liberal modernity in particular.