The End of the Liberal Tradition?

At the First Things site today, I have an essay about a remarkable new paper from political scientists Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk on the growing opposition to liberal democracy among American Millennials–especially wealthy Millennials. For example, the authors write, surveys reveal that 35% of wealthy young Americans think it would be a good thing for the military to take over the government!

In my essay, I argue that the surveys reveal the decline of yet another American tradition: liberalism itself:

Liberalism is often understood as propositional, as a series of abstract principles. This understanding has led scholars like Fukuyama to think that liberalism can be easily exported to other cultures; it has formed the basis for much American foreign policy, especially in recent decades. In important ways, this understanding is correct. Liberalism does justify itself largely on the basis of ideas. The Framers of the American Constitution, for example, were strongly influenced by Enlightenment concepts of reason and rational government.

In a deeper sense, though, liberalism generally, and American liberalism specifically, is a tradition, the organic working-out of precedent, over time, in a particular political culture. The American Framers were figures of the Enlightenment, true, but they also thought they were restoring the traditional rights of Englishmen, rights that could be traced back to Magna Carta and beyond. The American conception of religious liberty, for example, is deeply influenced by the historical experience of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, and also by the particular understanding of religion that took hold in a colonial, frontier society. This explains why it differs so much from its cousin on the European continent, the French doctrine of laïcité.

But American culture is changing. Our traditions are not so popular nowadays, including our political traditions; and when we discard our traditions, we can fall for many things, including, apparently, authoritarianism. That, it seems to me, is the upshot of this important paper. The authors identify authoritarianism in our politics with Donald Trump, and it’s easy to recognize Trump’s authoritarian appeal (“I alone can fix it”). But there is authoritarianism on the left, as well, which the authors ignore. American college students increasingly oppose free speech, at least with respect to certain viewpoints, and insist on shutting down speakers with whom they disagree, often with the approval of administrators and faculty who should know better. Not to mention the left’s continuing assaults on religious liberty, including attempts to get nuns to cover contraceptives for their employees and threats to remove the tax-exempt status of religious schools that disapprove of same-sex marriage.

My essay is available here.

Menchik, “Islam and Democracy in Indonesia”

In November, Cambridge University Press will release “Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism” by Jeremy Menchik (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:

Indonesia’s Islamic organizations sustain the country’s thriving civil society, democracy, and reputation for tolerance amid diversity. Yet scholars poorly understand how these organizations envision the accommodation of religious difference. What does tolerance mean to the world’s largest Islamic organizations? What are the implications for democracy in Indonesia and the broader Muslim world? Jeremy Menchik argues that answering these questions requires decoupling tolerance from liberalism and investigating the historical and political conditions that engender democratic values. Drawing on archival documents, ethnographic observation, comparative political theory, and an original survey, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia demonstrates that Indonesia’s Muslim leaders favor a democracy in which individual rights and group-differentiated rights converge within a system of legal pluralism, a vision at odds with American-style secular government but common in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

“Rawls’s Political Liberalism” (Brooks & Nussbaum, eds.)

This May, Columbia University Press will release “Rawls’s Political Liberalism” edited by Thom Brooks (Durham University), and Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Rawls's Political LiberalismWidely hailed as one of the most significant works in modern political philosophy, John Rawls’s Political Liberalism (1993) defended a powerful vision of society that respects reasonable ways of life, both religious and secular. These core values have never been more critical as anxiety grows over political and religious difference and new restrictions are placed on peaceful protest and individual expression.

This anthology of original essays suggests new, groundbreaking applications of Rawls’s work in multiple disciplines and contexts. Thom Brooks, Martha Nussbaum, Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge), Paul Weithman (University of Notre Dame), Jeremy Waldron (New York University), and Frank Michelman (Harvard University) explore political liberalism’s relevance to the challenges of multiculturalism, the relationship between the state and religion, the struggle for political legitimacy, and the capabilities approach. Extending Rawls’s progressive thought to the fields of law, economics, and public reason, this book helps advance the project of a free society that thrives despite disagreements over religious and moral views.

Kittelstrom, “The Religion of Democracy”

This April, Penguin Press will release “The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition” by Amy Kittelstrom (Sonoma State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Religion of DemocracyToday we associate liberal thought and politics with secularism. When we argue over whether the nation’s founders meant to keep religion out of politics, the godless side is said to be liberal. But the role of religion in American politics has always been far more nuanced and complex than today’s debates would suggest and closer to the heart of American intellectual life than is commonly understood. American democracy was intended by its creators to be more than just a political system, and in The Religion of Democracy, historian Amy Kittelstrom shows how religion and democracy have worked together as universal ideals in American culture—and as guides to moral action and the social practice of treating one another as equals who deserve to be free.

The first people in the world to call themselves “liberals” were New England Christians in the early republic, for whom being liberal meant being receptive to a range of beliefs and values. The story begins in the mid-eighteenth century, when the first Boston liberals brought the Enlightenment into Reformation Christianity, tying equality and liberty to the human soul at the same moment these root concepts were being tied to democracy. The nineteenth century saw the development of a robust liberal intellectual culture in America, built on open-minded pursuit of truth and acceptance of human diversity. By the twentieth century, what had begun in Boston as a narrow, patrician democracy transformed into a religion of democracy in which the new liberals of modern America believed that where different viewpoints overlap, common truth is revealed. The core American principles of liberty and equality were never free from religion but full of religion.

The Religion of Democracy re-creates the liberal conversation from the eighteenth century to the twentieth by tracing the lived connections among seven thinkers through whom they knew, what they read and wrote, where they went, and how they expressed their opinions—from John Adams to William James to Jane Addams; from Boston to Chicago to Berkeley. Sweeping and ambitious, The Religion of Democracy is a lively narrative of quintessentially American ideas as they were forged, debated, and remade across our history.

Joppke, “The Secular State Under Siege”

This April, Wiley Publishing will release “The Secular State Under Siege: Religion and Politics in Europe and America” by Christian Joppke (University of Bern).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Secular State Under SiegeThroughout human history, religion and politics have entertained the most intimate of connections as systems of authority regulating individuals and society. While the two have come apart through the process of secularization, secularism is challenged today by the return of public religion. This cogent analysis unravels the nature of the connection, disconnection, and attempted reconnection between religion and politics in the West.

In a comparison of Western Europe and North America, Christianity and Islam, Joppke advances far-reaching theoretical, historical, and comparative-political arguments. With respect to theory, it is argued that only a “substantive” concept of religion, as pertaining to the existence of supra-human powers, opens up the possibility of a historical-comparative perspective on religion. At the level of history, secularization is shown to be the distinct outcome of Latin Christianity itself. And at the level of comparative politics, the Christian Right in America which has attacked the “wall of separation” between religion and state and Islam in Europe with the controversial insistence on sharia law and other “illiberal” claims from some quarters are taken to be counterpart incarnations of public religion and challenges to the secular state.

This clearly argued, sweeping book will provide an invaluable framework for approaching an array of critical issues at the intersection of religion, law and politics for advanced students and researchers across the social sciences and legal studies, as well as for the interested public.

Massad, “Islam in Liberalism”

This January, University of Chicago Press will release “Islam in Liberalism” by Joseph A. Massad (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in LiberalismIn the popular imagination, Islam is often associated with words like oppression, totalitarianism, intolerance, cruelty, misogyny, and homophobia, while its presumed antonyms are Christianity, the West, liberalism, individualism, freedom, citizenship, and democracy. In the most alarmist views, the West’s most cherished values—freedom, equality, and tolerance—are said to be endangered by Islam worldwide.

Joseph Massad’s Islam in Liberalism explores what Islam has become in today’s world, with full attention to the multiplication of its meanings and interpretations. He seeks to understand how anxieties about tyranny, intolerance, misogyny, and homophobia, seen in the politics of the Middle East, are projected onto Islam itself. Massad shows that through this projection, Europe emerges as democratic and tolerant, feminist, and pro-LGBT rights—or, in short, Islam-free. Massad documents the Christian and liberal idea that we should missionize democracy, women’s rights, sexual rights, tolerance, equality, and even therapies to cure Muslims of their un-European, un-Christian, and illiberal ways. Along the way he sheds light on a variety of controversial topics, including the meanings of democracy—and the ideological assumption that Islam is not compatible with it while Christianity is—women in Islam, sexuality and sexual freedom, and the idea of Abrahamic religions valorizing an interfaith agenda. Islam in Liberalism is an unflinching critique of Western assumptions and of the liberalism that Europe and Euro-America blindly present as a type of salvation to an assumingly unenlightened Islam.

“Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law” (available for pre-order)

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal LawI am pleased to announce that Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, edited by Markus D. Dubber, is now available for pre-order. I’ve listed the description of the volume below. As Markus explains in his introduction, the aim of the volume is to provide a set of comments (and in some cases, an introduction) to criminal texts that are canonical for the modern liberal state, but also that grew out of the modern liberal state. The collection begins with Hobbes and ends with the contemporary German theorist, Günther Jakobs. I was delighted to contribute the chapter on J.F. Stephen. The primary texts themselves can be accessed here.

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law presents essays in which scholars from various countries and legal systems engage critically with formative texts in criminal legal thought since Hobbes. It examines the emergence of a transnational canon of criminal law by documenting its intellectual and disciplinary history and provides a snapshot of contemporary work on criminal law within that historical and comparative context.

Criminal law discourse has become, and will continue to become, more international and comparative, and in this sense global: the long-standing parochialism of criminal law scholarship and doctrine is giving way to a broad exploration of the foundations of modern criminal law. The present book advances this promising scholarly and doctrinal project by making available key texts, including several not previously available in English translation, from the common law and civil law traditions, accompanied by contributions from leading representatives of both systems.

Harding, “Charity Law and the Liberal State”

This October, Cambridge University Press will release “Charity Law and the Liberal State” by Matthew Harding (University of Melbourne).  The publisher’s description follows:

Charity Law and the Liberal StateCharity Law and the Liberal State considers questions relating to state action and public discourse that are raised by the law of charity. Informed by liberal philosophical commitments and of interest to both charity lawyers and political philosophers, it addresses themes and topics such as: the justifiability of the state’s non-neutral promotion of charitable purposes; the role of altruism in charity law; charity law, the tax system and the demands of distributive justice; the proper treatment of religious and political purposes in charity law; and the appropriate response of the liberal state to discrimination in the pursuit of charitable purposes.

Bilgrami, “Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment”

Next month, Harvard will publish Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment, by 9780674052048Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows.

Bringing clarity to a subject clouded by polemic, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment is a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as concepts in different parts of the modern world. At a time when secularist and religious worldviews appear irreconcilable, Akeel Bilgrami strikes out on a path distinctly his own, criticizing secularist proponents and detractors, liberal universalists and multicultural relativists alike.

Those who ground secularism in arguments that aspire to universal reach, Bilgrami argues, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics. To those, by contrast, who regard secularism as a mere outgrowth of colonial domination, he offers the possibility of a more conceptually vernacular ground for political secularism. Focusing on the response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bilgrami asks why Islamic identity has so often been a mobilizing force against liberalism, and he answers the question with diagnostic sympathy, providing a philosophical framework within which the Islamic tradition might overcome the resentments prompted by its colonized past and present.

Turning to Gandhi’s political and religious thought, Bilgrami ponders whether the increasing appeal of religion in many parts of the world reflects a growing disillusionment not with science but with an outlook of detachment around the rise of modern science and capitalism. He elaborates a notion of enchantment along metaphysical, ethical, and political lines with a view to finding in secular modernity a locus of meaning and value, while addressing squarely the anxiety that all such notions hark back nostalgically to a time that has past.

Conservative or Liberal? Take This Test

I greatly admire Jonathan Haidt’s work on moral psychology, particular his recent book, The Righteous Mind, on the differing moral intuitions of conservatives and liberals. So I was intrigued by a recent test Haidt published in Time–a series of questions that, Haidt says, predict where one falls on the political spectrum. The questions don’t relate to politics directly. They relate more to values (“Should kids be taught to respect authority?”, “Is self-control or self-expression more important?”) and lifestyle (“Do you like fusion cuisine?”)–what we might think of as culture. None of the questions relates to religion as such, though, to my mind, there are obvious overlaps. Also, none of the questions relates to economics; Haidt’s point, which seems right to me, is that politics remains largely a matter of moral intuition.

Anyway, I don’t want to say too much about the test and ruin it. Go ahead and answer the questions. For what it’s worth, they predicted my political leanings quite well. (H/T: Rod Dreher).

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