Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Hang onto your hats, Damon Linker is....

A Rawlsian advocate of public reason! In response to some commentary by Ross Douthat, he elaborates here:

I prefer to call this the "liberal bargain" whereby every citizen of a liberal order is given the freedom to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference, in return for giving up the ambition to political rule in the NAME OF HIS OR HER FAITH -- that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with his or her inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions. As I said in TNR, short of universal conversion to a single faith community, such attempts will always end up being the imposition of one part of a highly differentiated community onto its other parts.


Neuhaus is the leader of an ideology that actively encourages religious believers to refuse the liberal bargain, which is, once again, profoundly unwise. But even if he merely tried to make room for orthodox religious believers AS RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS, AS OPPOSED TO AS CITIZENS, at the table, I’d still consider it a mistake. Why? Consider the case, which Ross raises, of MLK. King’s version of the civil rights movement might have been largely motivated by religious convictions, but it employed the rhetoric of citizenship and appealed to a non-sectarian understanding of equality and the Constitution. One did not need to be a Christian or a believer to be moved by his words and deeds. One needed only to be a human being. (And of course King also inspired and impressed people, Christian and non-Christian, all over the world.) This was thus a pretty good example of religious faith being translated into public reason.

I don’t see how he can answer
Alan Jacobs’s response, which points out that MLK did precisely the kind of thing Linker accuses RJN of attempting. I can’t help but think that the difference between MLK’s relative success (there were a few people who disagreed, on secular as well as religious grounds) and the contestability of RJN’s positions has more to do with the degradation of public discourse and the relative success of the anti-rational celebration of self-definition and self-assertion. If Linker wants to argue that the mere popularity of this kind of self-definition renders any effort to restore even a minimal substantive moral order suspect, then he’s become in effect an historicist, with no real capacity to resist whatever history brings on. He also, by the way, comes perilously close to "privileging" this position over against its natural law alternative.

Neither his "historicism" nor his (rather weak) "nihilism" strikes me as compelling.

Discussions - 7 Comments

I think he has to privilege this position. "I prefer to call this the "liberal bargain" whereby every citizen of a liberal order is given the freedom to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference, in return for giving up the ambition to political rule in the NAME OF HIS OR HER FAITH -- that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with his or her inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions."

I have never heard of this Damon Linker person, but I have reached the same conclusions.

But this "liberal bargain" is the classical liberal bargain, it is the bargain of John Stuart Mill in on Liberty and it applies to a lot more than simply seperation of church and state. It is seperation of belief and action. Althought seperation of belief and action would be a nightmare on an individual action level, essentially it would proscribe that A and B cannot get together and tax C for the purpose of helping D (a la William Sumner). In other words it is a restriction upon the collective instruments of coercion.

The answer to Alan Jacobs is John Stuart Mill.

Names, dates, and quotations, please, in which Neuhaus calls for the repeal of the first amendment so that one church and one set of doctrines will become the official one. Names, dates, and quotations, please, in which ANY American Christian Conservative with ANY sort of public prominence in the LAST FIFTY YEARS has called for the repeal of the first amendment. Anything short of that, ladies and gentlemen, and we are talking about a few Christians hoping that a vague notion of “Christianity” or “Judeo-Christian heritage” becomes approved of by free popular opinion in unofficial ways as a central part of our culture, i.e. a return to a public consensus that existed at least until the 1920s, and more likely, until the 1960s, and a much larger group that simply do not want the likes of Linker or the Supreme Court ruling their opinions as verboten for public discourse or law-making. The existence of American theocrats, by any coherent definition of the term, is a myth. The only “liberal bargain” with regards to religion that counts is the Constitution. Period.

Alan Jacobs just doesn’t get it.

"Neuhaus does not simply ask that orthodox religious believers be given room at the table. He encourages them to seek to rule the table." How is this different from what anyone else at liberalism’s table wants? Doesn’t everyone want his or her arguments to win the day, to get unanimous support?"

I can’t speak for Damon Linker, but in the end I don’t want any arguments to win the day. Especially if winning the day entails more regulations special provisions restrictions or government spending in general. If your arguments win the day...then so be it, but let us hope that they do not in so doing undermine the prerequisites for the argumentation in general. Essentially Liberalism is: As I would not be a slave so I would not be a master. A leash is a rope with a nose at both ends.

John Stuart Mill didn’t just oppose the excesses of democracy because the majority of the polity of his time was poor and not liberally educated, he opposed it on principle because of the cooling effect it would have on liberty and by extension prosperity due to a stagnation of ideas.

Essentially it is a prudential and a moral consideration. In other words I object to the very conception of a table, where arguments determine who gets what piece of the pie. Because, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. Such a round table could never be a repository for justice but at best a table on which to split the loot.

Now how is this different from what liberals want?

It probably isn’t different, at least formally (and that is a problem).

While an intellectual like Dr. Knippenburg can easily parse out numerous distinctions and replies the underlying truth is that the conception of a table is the repudiation of liberalism in favor of a brute numbers democracy.

The essential truth of the table mentallity is best captured by the post of Anonymous (4:13 PM)

If democracy means anything, it means that all the citizens are able to formulate their political program on any basis they wish, so long as they respect the procedural rules of the game. I’m not sure I would agree that they even need to "accept the tenets of the US Constitution" if this means accept that they are wise or just, as opposed to accept that they are the rules that must be followed until changed."

The questions are: Democracy good or bad? Does democracy mean that all the citizens are able to formulate their political programs on any basis they wish, so long as they respect the rules of the game?

More and more echoes of anonymous ring out...and in the end if Linker agrees with me, then he argues that this is a bad thing, and that citizens qua citizens must of necessity recognize the need to limit, restrict, and delimit the formulations of political programs so that we are not overrun by majority whim.

Rev. King once said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." The Founders believed that religion and morality were inseperable--and absolubtly necessary for republican self-government. But even if one doesn’t agree with that, this is indeed a "moral universe".

Every law ever written is based on someone’s moral code, however derived. And "forces" someone’s "morality" on someone else. Even the decision to have laws in the first place is a moral decision. And even if we chose anarchy, that too would be a moral decision, forcing the Law of the Jungle on others.

This is a tired old ploy by the Left meant to silence and discredit religious conservatives and read them out of a place the public square.

I wish I could read a lot more than just religious conservatives out of a place in the public square.

I can’t see how you can put two and two together and not get four. If this public square is nothing more than a scheming riotous mob of competing moral encoders, what is to differentiate it from Anarchy?

The idea of a "liberal bargain" or something like that is the only defense against Anarchy, we need to agree on something more than just legal procedures...we need to agree to limit the scope and reach of the public square itself.

Answer me this: What is it that makes an Islamic Republic illiberal by nature? Wouldn’t a Christian Republic also be illiberal by nature?

A Christian Republic?

Do you mean a republic founded on Christian principles?

You can argue that America is close to being such a creature.

Interesting, at least in part, that then Pastor Neuhaus was marching alongside MLK.

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