Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Secularism is a religion

Ignatius Insight: You contrast the liberal attempt to essentially deify man with the belief that man is a limited creature who is in need of transcendence and who is hungry for truth. What are some ways in which liberalism seeks the deification of man?

James Kalb: To a large extent liberalism deifies man by default. If there are no transcendent truths and standards then human thought and desire take the place of the mind and will of God. They become ultimate standards.

One result is that man thinks of himself more and more as self-created. We aren't part of an order of being, we make our own order. Our essence is to create our own essence.

That belief has any number of ramifications. It means, for example, that the distinction between the sexes has to go because it's not something we create ourselves. It also means that subverting traditional standards is a worthy activity simply as such. They're oppressive, so to subvert them is to strike a blow for freedom and human dignity.

Ignatius Insight: Where do you think that project is headed?

James Kalb: When I think of self-deification I think of the Tower of Babel. Men tried to build a tower and storm the heavens. They wanted to abolish transcendence technologically. What happened was that they became unable to speak to each other and scattered. The whole project fell apart.

The problem is that in order to understand each other we have to see ourselves and others as part of a common order of meaning and being that we don't create but just accept. Otherwise when we say things they lack objective content other people should recognize. They're just attempts to maneuver or push our way to what we want.

Once that situation is recognized language loses all meaning. You end up more and more in the world of Samuel Beckett, in which words are just noises that no longer refer to anything and are produced only by habit. I think that's where we're headed, at least in our public life.
Ignatius Insight: What can be done, first, to better recognize the effects and goals of liberalism, and, secondly, to live a life as free as possible from the poisons of liberalism?

James Kalb: The basic point is that freedom and equality aren't ultimate goals. When they're presented that way something's being hidden.

Freedom is freedom to do something, and equality is equality with regard to some concern. If people wanted freedom simply as such they'd go crazy, because freedoms conflict and they wouldn't know which to choose. Freedom to marry requires constraints that define marriage and give it its significance and function. Without them, you can't be free to marry.

The same applies to equality. If you want people to be equal in some way, some people must decide and enforce what that requires. Those people won't be equal to the rest of us.


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