Thursday, June 14, 2007

More on Politics

As I mentioned in my last post, I was intrigued by the abscence of any consideration of the problem of government coercion from a lively discussion about liberalism. What undergird the actual conversation was the problem of pluralism- how can we accomodate within a political society divergent viewpoints? The chorus of voices crying "Theocracy! Theocracy!" claims that in order to accomodate, the particular truth claims of various communities within society must be confined to the private, non-political world- in other words, the public square must be naked, denuded of discourse that is inaccessible to any part of society, in Richard John Neuhaus' famous phrase. Some secularist liberals would go so far as to say that any policy favoured on account of private religious or ethical beliefs is illegitimate.

Broad-minded liberals like Neuhaus himself argue that such restrictions queer the pitch of political discourse, inevitably favouring secularists, since their mode of discourse, but not their opponents is permitted in the political realm. Instead, Neuhaus proposes an equal access to the public square- where any viewpoint may be argued and supported, regardless of the form or presuppositions it rests upon. There is no official basis on which the political order rests or is sustained.

Such pursuit of neutrality is unnecessary. One can have a firm and principled basis for a political order that allows for pluralism and co-existence so long as that foundation itself permits sufficient flexibility in policy and political engagement to allow other communities to operate politically without undue restriction. The Christian idea of government provides precisely that- while it recognizes the essential underpinnings of society, it also recognizes the inherent dignity of all people, irrespective of their religious commitment. As such, it accords everyone the right to participate in the political order of society, and allows for the accomodation of differing communities. At the same time, there is expressed an understanding of the moral foundations of politics. Even where minority communities disagree with the Christian foundations of the political realm, they will usually find more in common than with the secular order which denudes the political realm of any underlying principles. Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish communities all have more in common with a Christian understanding of the public realm and the public good than with secularist orders. Even for non-religious people, the moral foundation of society expressed in Christianity is an easier structure in which to engage than the relativism that underlies secularism.


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