Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Another reason for Alberta to secede from Canada

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this suggestion, which would provide for governmentally-sponsored religious self-regulation in Canada. The author advances it as "help[ing] the general cause of religious freedom by introducing a code of moral practice for religions," but either he’s joking or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. To make agreement with a "professional" consensus the prerequisite for being a "religious practitioner" (heh) is a prescription for totalitarianism and a license for the persecution of those who insist on being different, i.e., at odds with modernity.

Multiple hat tips to Gideon Strauss (the permalink isn’t working again), David Koyzis, James M. Kushiner, and Lydia McGrew.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Sure, as described, the idea doesn’t seem well thought through. At the same time, tolerance cannot be absolute. The question of the limits of tolerance is a hard one, and I write this while (apparently) the police have surrounded a mosque in East London. Too quick recourse to the vocabulary of "totalitarianism" and "persecution" risks oversimplifying the problems. The greatest threat to our liberal democracies today comes from those "at odds with modernity," but more than willing to use modernity’s tools against it (the Internet, etc.) Perhaps freedom has already been sacrificed too much to deal with this threat, or perhaps not. Myself I think that a better balance could be struck in freedom’s favor--I worry about excesses like indefinite detention. But we cannot resolve the dilemma of a free society fighting this kind of enemy through recourse to slogans.

It seems to me that we can fight Islamic terrorists (and let me hasten to note that they likely comprise but a small, albeit lethal, portion of the Muslim community worldwide) without compelling the Roman Catholic church (or any other church) to ordain women, embrace therapeutic cloning, or approve of abortion and homosexuality. Religious freedom surely extends through beliefs to some deeds, and reasonable people can disagree about where to draw the line in the latter case. No one I know argues that there’s a First Amendment or natural right to jihad.

Actually, I am not sure that we can effectively fight Islamic terrorism without confidence in the values of modernity--indeed, the essential goodness of modernity. For one thing, I am persuaded that political and social empowerment of women in the Islamic world is a key step in countering the worldview that generates jihad. And such empowerment is quintessentially a project of modernity (one at odds with the orthodox Roman Catholic dogmas to which you allude).
More importantly, it is exactly the "line drawing" with respect to tolerance that is the interesting thing. Of course, we know that if the line is drawn at a place too far, we will have persecution and maybe even totalitarianism. But take the ban on (most kinds of) religious clothing in French public schools. There are powerful arguments on both sides, which I hear from French friends, all of whom would consider themselves liberal in the American sense of the word. Does the ban liberate Muslim girls from the oppression of the family and the religious community, or does it impose a new oppression? I’m inclined to he latter view myself, but those who take the secularist approach have pointed me to powerful evidence supporting their view, including what Muslim girls and women have themselves been saying about the whole affair. (They too are deeply divided) A different issue, which has arisen in Canada, is the place of religious courts in a multicultural society. Ontario has been moving toward the recognition of an Islamic tribunal, whose judgments in private law (largely family law) matters would be enforceable, with little possibility of substantive review by the secular courts. (I’m not sure what exacty has happened on this in the last few months) True the judgments are only enforceable on other members of the same religious community, but nevertheless they have the coercive power of the state behind them and affect the interests of third parties (most obviously, in family law matters, children). One option that some have flagged is to recognize such courts but only to the extent that their judgments are consistent with liberal interpretations of Islam that overlap with broader shared values of Canadian society. That’s a bit like the idea you criticized in your original post (if I understood that idea correctly). Like you I think we have to allow religious communities some real scope to regulate their own affairs. But once one considers all the interests and principles involved, drawing the right line can become awfully hard. I’m coming to believe that there is a large role here for highly decentralized solutions, which are very sensitive to the sociological facts on the ground. Compromises that address themselves to particular neighborhoods, schools, etc. There has been some success with that in London--but it is always threatened by the extremists. At any rate, everything I know about these questions suggests to me that little can be resolved at the level of grand constitutional principle, the level on which all too many protagonists try to settle them.

I doubt this has much to do with a Canadian attempt to control the Islamic religion. The federal Liberals prefer to use more delicate ways to control the ethnic minorities who vote for them.

No, this has more to do with Christian, including Evangelical and Roman Catholic, resistence to same-sex marriage.

I wonder if Gibbon would revise his conclusion about possibility of another decline of the dominant civilization? Concluding Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon wrote that barbarians could never conquer modern civilizations because conquering them would require science, techology, and the social skills required to develop and use them (meaning the barbarians would be modern, and not at odds with modern society). I think Gibbon underestimated how "easy" it would be to control modern science. It seems all a group needs is a couple of smart guys, and then then can get drones to push buttons, etc. It is not very hard to push a button, nor does it require the mental and emotional attributes normally associated with scientists.

Very interesting. Exactly his mistake--in hindsight--was to assume that the anti-modernity of the anti-moderns would place them at a disadvantage in mastering the tools or weapons that modern technology offers. I first noticed this with the late Pope--a conservative nay reactionary who knew how to use the techniques of modern celebrity and pop mobilization, the mass rallies rock-concert-style etc. to preach his message. With great effect.

But perhaps short term effect. I’m less pessimistic than you for the long term. With democratization and economic reform the places in the world where it is possible to mount an EFFECTIVE resistance to liberal modernity declne, albeit not so fast. And the resistance certainly goes out with a bang not a whimper, which makes it sometimes look they are on the ascendency. The religious revival in places like Russia is short term; once politics and the economy straighten themselves out the professional, secular, consumerist middle class will set the tone. In the meantime the enemies of modernity will use up their firecrackers, literal and rhetorical, and then they will have nothing to fight with--since they lost the weapons of reason with the French Revolution (having read Gibbon, perhaps you have also read M. Kojeve?)

Professor Howse, I think I disagree with your assessment. Modernization theory assumed that "primordial solidarities" like religion, language and kinship would fade in importance before rapid economic and political change and complexity. It’s definitely true that we’ve seen erosion in "preindustrial" social institutions, but it is not at all clear to me that "modernity" is sustainable (and I don’t mean in terms of the environment). Europe is slowly going extinct because marriage is passe and childbearing is becoming the exception rather than the rule. Economic growth under "enlightened" socialism is anemic at best, and our ethical problems only multiply as our religious certainties fade.

Don’t get me wrong. It scares me to think that "modernity" might fail. Nonetheless, it seems to me that homo sapiens needs the rootedness that modernity hasn’t been able to provide. Perhaps we will reach a point where "churn" won’t characterize the "modern project," but I don’t see it.

I have not read Kojeve, but I have read about him. I believe he is a Hegalian, and as such (like Fukuyama) believes that History will progress towards some democratic, place where people are equal and happy. I suppose this theory of social systems seperates the optimists (assuming equality, etc. is good) from the pessimists. Since I am pessimestic I must disagree with Hegal, even though the short term evidence weighs against me. I tend to agree with Plato’s theory about the matter as he explains it towards the end of the Republic. Social systems move in circles, and certain democrats become dissatisified with being equal, and then become tyrants, which are replaced with Kings, then replaced by Aristocrats, and then finally democrats. Also, it seems that people have a need to rule others (tell people what to do), and to be ruled. It is pleasurable to make others do what one thinks they should do, and somewhat unpleasurable to be responsible for one’s own actions (a heavy burden to know one has failed because he is stupid, evil, etc. and not as a result of the "system"). I suspect that individual freedom and equality will become so great that the unequals will seek to rule, and will find many people willing to obey them so they might have the pleasure of ruling and not being responsible for the evil (though perhaps pleasurable) actions they commit under orders from their rulers. I think the desire to rule others and commit evil actions without being "responsible" explains much about the Nazis and the Japanese of the WWII era.

I have a feeling that China will one day eclipse America, and that tyranny will be around for a long while, and the cycle should continue, assuming that American (India as well?) and China do not fight a huge war (destroying most human life), which seems very unlikely because most Americans have lost the taste for fighting and the like, unless directly attacked, but if China is smart they will use diplomacy, etc., so America ought to humbly submit to becoming second class, much like Europe and Canada has done.

If China becomes like America, then I will discard Plato and pick up Hegal. Unfornuately, I believe his world spirit was a fever of romanticism (it is most amusing how the Germans are the heros of his Philosophy of History).

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