Now you see it now you don’t?

A few years ago then-Cardinal Ratzinger took part in a public dialogue, later expanded into a book, with neo-Frankfurt School hot dog Juergen Habermas. In the course of the discussion Habermas was asked “how should believing and unbelieving citizens treat one another?” His answer was quite interesting in its way:

The understanding of tolerance in pluralistic societies with a liberal constitution demands that in their dealings with unbelievers and those of different faiths, believers should grasp that they must reasonably expect that the dissent they encounter with go on existing; at the same time, however, a liberal political culture expects that unbelievers, too, will grasp the same point in their dealings with believers…. The expectation that there will be continuing disagreement between faith and knowledge deserves to be called “rational” only when secular knowledge, too, grants that religious convictions that have an epistemological status that is not purely and simply irrational. And this is why, in the public political arena, naturalistic world views, which owe their genesis to a speculative assimilation of scientific information and are relevant to the ethical understanding of the citizens, do not in the least enjoy a prima facie advantage over competing world views or religious understandings.

So Habermas says that pluralistic society should actually be pluralistic and accept the equal legitimacy of religious views and naturalistic views (which, as he points out, involve a speculative and ethical extension of actual science and thus their own form of faith).

In present-day terms, that makes him squishy soft on theocracy, since “theocracy” is now held to include any substantive religious influence on public life. It’s good that he feels that way, at least from my point of view, but hard to see how such views can have much to do with reality. Their realization would require a social order and conventions of public discussion not based on any view whatever as to the nature of man, ethical obligation or the world. How can that be, though, when modern governments raise children, take on comprehensive responsibility for human relations and human welfare, and simply as governments must decide matters of life and death and demand loyalty sufficient to override personal interests and ideals?

I can’t help but think that statements like Habermas’s will function as part of a giant bait-and-switch. As usual in advanced liberalism there will turn out to be some minimal set of principles required for the system to work at all, the implications of which—as the implications of the sole view recognized as authoritative for all—will, in an age in which government gets involved in everything, eventually crowd out all other views.

3 thoughts on “Now you see it now you don’t?”

  1. Habermas
    Is not Habermas describing the Grand Bargain of classic liberalism, binding not only between believers and unbelievers but also between Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists, etc.

    Hence, the US Constitution has a non-establishment clause and a free exercise clause.

    Habermas’ comments move the debate forward to suggest that a believer’s participation is public life may be “irrational,” and the Grand Bargain must be updated to current conditions. I suppose he is alluding to the understanding that naturalistic assumptions are “rational,” and thereby deserving of participation, while the naturalists must be reminded that dissenters from this default position deserve a place on the table. Naturalists will agree to this proposition, so long as their power is not challenged; if challenged, the proposition is jettisoned. They don’t really believe it.

    I agree with your “bait and switch” comment, and I think a large portion of the electorate does also. They simply don’t believe nor trust liberals any longer, and I don’t think liberals can rehabilitate themselves.

    • Varieties of liberal dodges
      Yes, it does seem to be the classic liberal grand bargain. I suppose the issue between JH and say John Rawls is whether the “reasonable” views that are to be allowed legitimacy in public life are to include substantively religious views or only those views that use religious language as poetical support for goals that make equal sense to a secular liberal. JH seems to say that the former should also be included but I don’t think that can possibly work in the comprehensively managed society he seems to want.

      Others have commented on Edwards and his bloggers and as you suggest it’s no fun to talk about such people. One good question that’s been raised is where this puts current efforts to pump up the Religious Left. The most shocking thing about the situation to my mind is the response (reported deadpan in the NYT and visible in the comments in the discussion I just linked) is that the outrage is just something made up by conservative activists.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

  2. Edwards
    Of course, Habermas’ comment relates directly to John Edwards and his hiring of two bloggers with a history of anti-Catholic outbursts, and the subsequent support they received from “liberals.”

    I was expecting that you would post on that, but perhaps the facts are too distasteful to dwell on.


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