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Syndication

Patrick Deneen on democracy and liberalism

In Democratic Faith (Princeton University Press, 2005), political theorist Patrick Deneen examined what he saw as a state of crisis and a sense of quiet desperation underlying much of contemporary democratic theory. At the end of this month, St. Augustine’s Press will publish a collection of Deneen’s essays entitled Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents. In those essays, Deneen advances the case that our discontent, anxieties, and uncertainties are due to problems in the basic liberal principles embedded in the American Constitutional order.

In a lecture given in 2010 examining the relationship between community, culture, and liberalism, Deneen offered this summary of the origins and nature of classical liberalism.

Liberalism begins with the political philosophy of Hobbes, with refinement by John Locke, with the idea that humans by nature are naturally free and equal. These thinkers sought to describe the natural human condition to be one of autonomous and whole individuals who have no past, no culture, no history, no relationships, no memory. They are like Athena, sprung from the head of Zeus.

Deneen went on to describe the effects of this understanding of human persons on their sense of membership in communities or cultures. Before liberalism, persons were members of a whole and understood their identity in light of that membership. They were not — in Michael Sandel’s term — unencumbered selves. Liberalism, said Deneen, aims to liberate individuals from the claims and duties of membership

The autonomous individual at the heart of liberal theory cannot in fact come into being in reality without first liberating him or her from the inheritances of cult and culture. Liberal theory thus redefines all human relations in its wake. . . . Whether one’s religion, one’s community, one’s nation, even one’s family, all human relations are redefined by liberalism’s logic.

In this interview, Patrick Deneen talks with MARS HILL AUDIO's Ken Myers about the relationship between democracy and liberalism.

For more information, about the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. visit our website at marshillaudio.org.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_021.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:15pm EDT

Kenneth Craycraft, Jr., on religious liberty

Attorney Kenneth Craycraft, Jr. is the author of The American Myth of Religious Freedom (Spence Publishers, 1999). In that book, Craycraft argued that the protection for religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution is not as vigorous as many believers may hope. The underlying assumptions in 18th-century Anglo-American thought about the nature of freedom, of political authority, and of religion itself were even then predisposed to favor the interests of the state over religious claims if they came into conflict.

Craycraft observes that the liberal understanding of religious liberty is the freedom of individuals to choose from among a profusion of faiths. Religious liberty is thus just one expression of the fundamental fact of human nature and dignity as understood by liberalism: that we are beings with the capacity to make choices. Some religions, however, hold to the conviction that the most fundamental fact about us is that we are creatures made to glorify God and to live in accordance with the truth. Truth is prior to freedom. A choice is not authentically free if it is not in accord with what is true and good. By contrast, the assumption in the liberal idea of freedom as assumed by the Constitution and defended by the state is that freedom is prior to truth.

One of the consequences of Craycraft’s argument — which is similar to arguments made by many other constitutional lawyers, philosophers, and theologians — is that the actions of the government in recent years that are perceived as an erosion of religious freedom are in fact the fulfillment of latent assumptions underlying our Constitutional order.

In this fifth feature of our series on political theology, Kenneth Craycraft, Jr. contrasts the assumptions about religious liberty held by Locke, Jefferson, and others with a view maintained by many Christian theologians and philosophers.

This feature is hosted by Ken Myers, producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. For more information, visit our website at marshillaudio.org.

 

Direct download: MHA_Audition_020.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:11pm EDT

Michael Hanby on technological politics

In an article entitled “A More Perfect Absolutism” published in the October, 2016 issue of First Things, philosopher Michael Hanby observed that: “It is part of the absurdity of American life that we decide questions of truth under the guise of settling contests of rights. Which means that we decide questions of truth without thinking deeply or even very honestly about them.” One reason this deciding process is a particularly American convention is that Americans “have no common faith, history, or culture outside the decision to found the nation on eighteenth-century philosophical principles, we have always looked to politics and the law to perform the work of faith, culture, and tradition in giving us an identity as a people.” But what happens when politics that are all we know fails us?

Unfortunately, those eighteenth-century philosophical principles (i.e. political liberalism) are deeply committed to certain metaphysical assumptions about nature. These assumptions treat nature as merely material stuff, significant to us only insofar as we can act upon it and manipulate it to our advantage. In his article, Hanby argues that this is a deeply technological way of viewing the world that ultimately offers little guidance for political order.

In this fourth feature of our series on political theology, Michael Hanby discusses what he means when he says that liberalism is fundamentally technological in its assumptions.

This feature is hosted by Ken Myers, producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. For more information, visit our website at marshillaudio.org.

 

Direct download: MHA_Audition_019.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:18pm EDT

Michael Sandel & Scott Moore on liberalism

“Our public life is rife with discontent.” So claims political philosopher Michael Sandel, in his 1996 book Democracy’s Discontent: American in Search of a Public Philosophy. Sandel identifies two prominent symptoms of that discontent. “One is the fear that, individually and collectively, we are losing control of the forces that govern our lives. The other is the sense that, from family to neighborhood to nation, the moral fabric of community is unraveling around us.”

Sandel’s book examines the ideas of liberty that have spawned what he calls “unencumbered selves,” atomistic individuals with no abiding sense of responsibility, duty, or binding attachments. The political mechanism that encourages this care-free sensibility is what Sandel calls the “procedural republic,” the product of a view of the state that envisions government as a guarantor of rights and fairness, scrupulously indifferent to questions of truth or goodness. This issue of Audition includes excerpts from a 1996 interview with Sandel in which he outlines a public philosophy committed to promoting civic virtue.

Also featured here is a 2009 interview with philosopher Scott Moore, author of The Limits of Liberal Democracy: Politics and Religion at the End of Modernity. In his book, Moore argues that the Enlightenment views of reason and human autonomy are unsustainable, and that much of our contemporary confusion about political, social, and cultural matters is a symptom of the unraveling of those views. He says that the invention of our democratic institutions was motivated by a desire to accommodate and encourage “the autonomy of the individual and the expansion of personal liberty,” and he asks whether such institutions and their founding assumptions haven’t subtly captured the highest allegiances of many Christians, transforming what we believe about what counts as happiness and success. He asserts that “in a world with fewer and fewer Christians, democratic faith makes ever more exclusive demands.”

To follow up that 2009 interview, Ken Myers phoned Moore to ask him about his views on the political moment that has resulted in the 2016 presidential campaign, and the kinds of questions about political responsibility that aren’t being asked very loudly right now.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_18.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:53pm EDT

Peter J. Leithart on the 2016 election

In the second of a MARS HILL AUDIO series of special interviews examining politics and theology, theologian Peter J. Leithart (Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective) discusses some of the issues raised explicitly during the current presidential campaign and the failure of many voters and observers to ask how the explosive mood of the present moment reveals deep problems in American political culture.

In a recent on-line commentary, Leithart observed that “contemporary political culture is the product of a convergence of two strains of liberalism: a leftist cultural libertarianism that took off during the 1960s and 1970s, and a rightwing free-market liberalism that reached its apogee with the Reagan-Thatcher alliance.”

Leithart continued: “Though they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both strains of liberalism are founded on a concept of freedom as the emancipation of individual choice.”

Leithart suggested that the sense of dismay many currently have about our political possibilities offers Christians “a rare opportunity to take stock and ask some basic questions about our polity.” He proceeds to list a dozen or so questions we should be asking far beyond who to vote for in November: “Are gay marriage and legalized abortion deviations from American values, or expressions of them? Can we disentangle the two strains of liberalism? Can we defend free markets without endorsing free love? What does ‘freedom’ mean? . . . Can politics be humane without recognizing that human beings are souls? Are campaigning and voting the be-all and end-all of Christian political action, or are we better off diverting some of those dollars and hours to less flashy projects that have the potential to leaven political culture over the long haul?”

This feature is hosted by Ken Myers, producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. For more information, visit our website at marshillaudio.org.

 

Direct download: MHA_Audition_017.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:48am EDT

Oliver O'Donovan on political theology

The campaign leading up to the presidential election of 2016 has been an unsettling season for many Americans. Against the disturbing backdrop of social and cultural fragmentation, the two principal candidates for the office seem to be equally divisive, so that whoever wins in November, we are certain to be living through a time of further discord and discontent.

Is what we’re living through a sign of the failure of our political structures, or is it the logical outcome of a system with critical design flaws? Does a more hopeful future require the radical revision of some basic beliefs about the public life: about the relationship between state and society, about the purposes of government, and about how the ordering of temporal affairs accounts for the full reality of what we are as human persons? These and other relevant questions are finally theological questions, even if they aren’t always acknowledged as such.

In the first of a MARS HILL AUDIO series of special interviews that discuss politics and theology, moral philosopher Oliver O’Donovan (The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology) discusses the Church’s historic belief that governments are an expression of God’s rule, that the reality of the kingdom of God is a necessary point of reference if we are to understand politics correctly.

This feature is hosted by Ken Myers, producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. For more information, visit our website at marshillaudio.org.

Direct download: MHA_Audition_016.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:55pm EDT