Habermas and Taylor, Part 2: The Modern Moral Order

This is part of my blogathon for SSA Week. Donate, and suggest topics for me, here!

In a previous post, I briefly detailed Jurgen Habermas’ arguments against political theology and his view that a “postsecular” stance is required in order to formulate a society that is truly secular, where religion is incorporated but given no primacy. In this post, I will examine Charles Taylor’s response to Habermas.

Taylor objects to Habermas in many respects, most importantly for my purposes in that he views the latter man’s conception of a state that incorporates religion as “treating religion as a special case.” It’s a symptom of secular society as we have known it; he cites the US and France, though very different cases, as examples of how churches, in this case Christianity, have always managed to maintain an apartness from secular government, and are allowed by said government to essentially play by their own rules; take for example tax-exempt status.

This happens, Taylor contends, due to the need of citizens to have common points to rally around, what Taylor calls “collective agency,” or that with which people of the same nationality identify with as expressing their freedom and cultural expression, in most cases both. In the democratic era, such notions are not set in stone, and so the legitimacy of the state might seem to be under greater question; that is, unless, the modern secular democracy has a very strong collective identity, which, Taylor believes, is much greater than that expressed by a dictatorship, as democracy requires “much more solidarity and much more commitment to one another in our joint political project” (“Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism”). This task can never be completed, as the project is not unilateral; as such a problem always exists, and can never truly have the same answer, but the fundamental goods remain the same: liberte, egalite, fraternite.

In this sense, Taylor argues that governments labeled “secularist” must be ones that are not primarily aimed as being “bulwarks against religion,” but those that best satisfy the needs of an increasingly diverse world; by attempting to maximize the goals of liberty and equality amongst vastly different viewpoints, Taylor believes that the current issue that we atheists so often angst about, having to balance out respect for people’s self-determination while not letting their beliefs that we believe to be harmful slide, could be solved, and as a result, the state could truly accept everyone and treat all groups equally.

Later, I will finish this series with my own thoughts.

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