Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The New Social Contract

IN HIS BOOK, NATURAL LAW IN JUDAISM, David Novak, a Jewish scholar and ordained Rabbi who teaches at the University of Toronto, addresses the issue of the "democratic conversation" that must occur in the "secular space" of the "secular polity." Such a "secular polity" is the only manner in which a country of such plural religious traditions as ours can function. With such lack of religious homogeneity, there are some decided advantages that come with such a secular polity, which "brackets all cosmic questions" in the area of social relations, and, in Christ's words, renders to Caesar those things that are Caesar's and to God those things that are God's. (Matthew 22:21.)

However, Novak distinguishes a secular polity from a secularist polity, which is where the United States appears to find itself currently. A secularist polity is one based upon secularism. Secularism is an ideology that arrogates to itself ultimate meaning, (e.g., National Socialism) or attempts to repress it altogether (e.g., Communism). When secularism captures the "secular space," the secular society is thus absolutized, is made the "primary locus of one's association." (In religious terms, the secular society is idolized.)

The believer--whether he be Jew, Muslim, or Christian--does not, indeed, cannot, absolutize the secular polity. He does not see in the secular polity any absolute value. He will view it under the auspices of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis). For this reason the homo religiosus, the religious man, places greater significance in the association he has with his specific religious community, the source of the traditions which give his life meaning and join him to God. In a secularist polity, however, where the civil life is absolutized and God is removed from the public square, the "democratic conversation" becomes one from which religious communities are barred unless a member "speak[s] as if he or she were an atheist." For a member of a traditional religious community, this is simply too high a price to pay. (Using religious terms, it would be to lose his soul.) This is essentially where religious believers find themselves today in the secularist politics in the United States.

In Novak's view, the exclusion of believers from the "democratic conversation" arises from a "questionable assumption." That "questionable assumption" is that "democracy itself must be both one's society and one's community." The exclusion of religious believers from the "democractic conversation" also is based upon an "erroneous notion" that "democracy must create its own culture," rather than draw from the wisdom of more fundamental or "primary" cultures, of which the communities that rely on revealed truth are significant. The secularist effort at creating a culture has not been successful; the culture it promotes is (in Clifford Geertz's words which Novak uses) "thin." Modern culture is insipid, banal, lukewarm, vapid; a "mass culture" with no depth, conducive only to mediocrity. It is also highly impoverishing, and ultimately undignifying, since by definition it excludes any notion of a personal God and any notion of an eternal destiny for man. Ortega y Gasset, Gabriel Marcel, Georges Bernanos, T. S. Eliot, are just some of many who have addressed the problem with a secularist world without God.

Novak insists that room must be made for the religious believer in the "democratic conversation." This conversation must include the notion of the "natural law," even though that natural law may be based upon a religious predicate, i.e., the existence of God the Creator and his Revelation. It is patent that the "elaborate fiction" of the social contract, and of "human rights" without any basis in God are based upon "circular" arguments, ultimately falsehoods. One cannot ground human social relations upon a "fiction." Men never have come out from a "state of nature" or "original position" one by one--without history, without homes, without culture--and entered into a social contract. To build a civil polity upon such base has been folly.

A social contract, however, can be envisioned between communities. Although society may not be formed by a social contract between individuals, it may plausibly be "founded when members of various communities have come together in order to live in justice and peace." But that secular polity ought to be limited, finite. As Novak explains:
That society is best worked out when demands for totality are not placed upon it, but when the members of the respective communities can affirm the finite value of the social arrangement they have contracted, and are always allowed to affirm the homeland from which they come and to which they must ever return.
(p. 23)

The limited scope of the "secular space" allows the believer to "postpone discussions of their ontological/theistic/cosmic concerns when dealing with moral issues that arise in secular space." He can do so without denial of his God. But this concession demands a similar limitation on the part of the secularist:
[A]dherents of traditions thought to be nonreligious [must] postpone discussion of their non-ontological/atheistic/acosmic concerns here too. . . . For many liberals, this will mean that they can no longer insist that these cosmic concerns, which turn out to be the concerns of most natural law advocates, most of whom are religious, be denied ab initio as the price of admission to the democratic conversation. They will have to admit that these concerns could be valid. They will have to admit that these concerns are not insane illusions. And they will have to admit that these concerns are probably better satisifed by historical religions of revelation rather than by modern ideologies that construct for themselves historical metanarratives. And that would be the case whether or not any liberal cares to recognize such concerns in his or her own life, and whether or not he or she attempts to satisfy them through these religions accordingly. Moreover, they will have to be aware of the fact that all too often, when these concerns are repressed, various modern ideologies, which despise both revelation and reason, rush in to violently fill the aching vacuum.

In terms of political disccusion, liberal adherents of human rights in the modern world will have to admit the possibility at least that these cosmic concerns of those who are usually thought to be conservatives, the most immediate being the concern with natural law, could intend an external relaity and not just be hypothetical. Liberalism will, then, have to admit the possibility that human rights might lead into natural law. And since natural law thinking today is almost always being done by adherents of religions of revelation, that will include admission of the possibility of the religious background of natural law as well. But none of these requirements, I think, should be regarded by liberals as excessive, let alone outrageous, inasmuch as none of them is a requirement for conversion of any kind.
(p. 24-25)

These sorts of concessions would open up the public life to authentic human values, and would redound to the common good. It would be like opening up a window to let in air into a political process which very obviously suffocates believers. It calls for an aggiornamento by the secularist state to the values of religion and tradition. True, it might mean that the State would have less to do with re-casting marriage to satisfy the claims of an unreasonable constiuency. It might mean that the State will have less of a role, and the parents and Churches more of a role, in educating children. It may mean that the State will have less to do with funding Art. It may mean that the State would have to leave off its promotion of contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research. It may mean that that other "legal fiction," that supposed constitutional "wall of separation" between Church and State, will, like the Berlin wall, have to be torn down. It may mean that the Federal Government will have to begin dismantling its prodigious bureaucracy, and start implementing the principal of subsidiarity. It may mean that the believer will be freed from his secularist government's soft chains of tyranny. It may mean that religious life will flourish, and that we will become more virtuous, and less addicted to vice.

I won't hold my breath for liberals to make these kinds of concessions any time soon.

1 comment:

  1. Starry-eyed liberals looking up to the Altar of Social Contracts, can only be jostled back to reality, like the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the evil soldiers who didn't look away, were torn apart by the Ark spirits.

    We have such an Ark at our disposal. We have only but to use it.

    A doable strategy to woo (or if necessary, compel) concessions would be Teddy Roosevelt's, plus mine: speak softly (speak to their hearts with Beautiful Liturgy Music), but carry a Big Stick (Fraternal Correction, list their sins in public, until they atone).