The Immanent Counter-Enlightenment: Christianity and Morality1
McGill University and NorthWestern University
(translator) University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Humboldt University E-mail: email@example.com Abstract In this translation of Charles Taylor's paper, ‘Die Immanente Gegenaufklärung: Christentum und Moral’, the author discusses the relationship between Christianity and morality, in the light of developments in the West over the past five centuries. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between morality and the development of unbelief, the rejection of God, and atheism. I
I would like, under this somewhat enigmatic heading, to say something about the relationship between Christianity and morality. In doing so, I will set out a rough overview of the progress of this relationship over the past five centuries, sketching in particular the relationship between morality and the development of unbelief, of the rejection of God, and atheism in the West. It will undoubtedly be a very concise overview, but will nevertheless allow us to examine certain questions. We are dealing, in a certain sense, with a triangular relationship involving Christianity, morality, and unbelief, in which the two outer conceptions oppose each other, and conduct their dispute through the middle one. Our understanding of this triangular relationship will depend greatly on how we see the genesis of unbelief in the modern period. These two questions will be very closely related in the discussion that follows. The first point that needs to be made is a negative one. It strikes me that there is a widely-accepted view of how unbelief has developed in the West, which is, interestingly enough, held not only amongst believers. This view takes the rise of unbelief to coincide with the decline of belief. In other words, according to this picture, the first thing that happened was the loss of faith: at a particular time, and for various reasons, whether scientific or moral, whether owing to the progress of science, or to considerations of theodicy, people began to reject religion and Christianity, to criticise, to give up their faith, and so, to a certain extent, to explode the horizons of Christianity. As a
1 This paper was first written in French under the title, “Les anti-Lumières immanentes: Christianisme et morale”. A German translation, ‘Die Immanente Gegenaufklärung: Christentum und Moral’ was published in the book by Ludwig Nagl (ed.), Religion nach der Religionskritik, Akademie Verlag: Berlin, 2003. The English version published here was translated from the German version, with the permission of the author. Grateful thanks to Ruth Abbey for her very helpful comments on the translation.
An immanent morality without connection to transcendence – whether one understands this in the Platonic. such a humanism was unimaginable in Western Christendom. Five hundred years ago. That which expressed itself as purely immanent morality was latent. but it had nothing of the activist spirit and universal ethic that mark modern humanism. What is most surprising is that it is not only the unbelievers who adhere to the story of subtraction. only the horizon of religion guarantees community. My view is very different. This I call the ‘subtraction story’: unbelief came after the loss of faith. various forms of unbelief came to occupy the now empty space. given the extent to which unbelievers are prisoners of a subtraction story that trivialises atheist humanism by reducing it to a complex of truisms which had previously been kept in the shadows by an oppressive and distorting religion. As an example. its metaphysical-theological exterior had to be ruptured and its Christian superstructure removed. The disappearance of the formerly Christian horizon made the way clear for a possibility that had always been there. Afr. It is no small irony that it is often easier for believers to recognise the true value of this remarkable achievement. On the contrary – some of the most subtle and intelligent advocates of unbelief made it their own. That which the mantle of religion had hidden from view was nothing other than chaos. It is a construction that demands admiration. 2005. But they are nevertheless constructions.2’ In this version. and could now at last free itself. page 226. but are in fact new and remarkable constructions. In fact I believe that successful constructions always answer to something that lies deep within humanity. An example: the this-worldly morality. but rather the product of a chain of constructions whose first links were forged by Christianity itself. and in doing so had made a virtue of necessity. as one had to create and shape new human possibilities. had been held in check for many long years by the existence of religion. This is also a story of subtraction – but one which ends badly. Some of the obstacles to people leaving the Christian fold were removed by
Morales du grand siècle. its disappearance signalled the beginning of an age of disorder and struggle. to which. almost unheard of. people have always been inclined. it is as if the humanist morality had always been there. As I see it.S. the end. according to this understanding. Philos. Many of those who have set themselves against modernity turn this approach upside down and suggest their own variation of this history: instead of liberation they talk of decline. J. and in so doing helps to throw the theological-ascetic code onto the scrap heap. 24(3)
result. the immanent. the latent humanist morality succeeds in establishing itself. I am not using the term “constructions” in the sense that takes the historical creations of human culture to be arbitrary. in short. humanist conceptions of modern morality were not always latently present. and which now showed itself. Epicureanism perhaps came close. and at the same time forgets that humiliating morality by which it had condemned life. destruction and sin. in Christendom. Stoic. or Christian manner – was. potentially already there in human life. It was not merely superficial spirits who saw things this way. I quote a passage from Paul Bénichou's famous work Morales du grand siècle: ‘Humankind represses its misery whenever it can. waiting for the chance to overthrow its oppressive predecessor. civilisation or morality.
. On this view. Paris 1952. Immanent humanism is not simply the result of the decline of religion. According to their view.
The relationship between belief and the enchanted world was such that atheism in that world would have been comparable to refusing. capable of protecting us from the powers of evil dwelling within the storm. I do not doubt in any way that Hydro-Québec supplies electricity. In doing so. amongst the things which surrounded us.3 Most obvious. which was able to defeat the powers of evil. religions were always a significant driving force for disenchantment. The channels of divine power went through social institutions. of spirits and magical powers. the impossibility of God's non-existence was a social fact. it was practically impossible not to believe in God. had a complex. Philos. This kind of spiritual power is no longer experienced phenomenologically in our everyday experience. particularly in the last few centuries in the aftermath of the Protestant and Catholic reformations. one felt oneself to be in a world full of threats. It makes sense to ask whether I should trust them. Afr. and are no longer shared by everyone. Many people would admit that they. Furthermore. He was the final guarantor that good would triumph in this world of manifold spirits and powers. relationship with the enchanted worldview. it was assumed that the lightning was controlled by spirits or spiritual powers. Such beliefs are still held to this day. in the world in which we live today. Not to believe would mean devoting oneself to the devil. God was the chief source of counter-. but differences will also reveal themselves in what follows. a world. in this case positive and benign. In this sense they were closer to the context of the gospels. With the disappearance of the whole of this worldview. Our peasant ancestors rang the church bells during storms – the so-called weather-bells. But for the vast majority there was no question whether one believed in God or not – the positive force was as real a fact as the threats it counteracted. it is no longer obvious that things really do happen in this way. The relationship was something like the following: As long as one lived in the enchanted world. 24(3)
Western Christianity itself. is the fact that one used to live in an “enchanted” world. in one or other context. On the contrary: if we accept the “official history” of our civilisation – in other words the view from “science” – this kind of spiritual power or influence does not exist for us. The question of belief was a question of trust and membership rather than one of the acceptance of particular doctrines. as historians know. in other words. where the weather-bells chimed. magic. In reality the Jewish. Paris 1985.
3 Here one will note certain parallels between my reflections and the well-known thesis of Marcel Gauchet. But. in this age. from our point of view. to believe in electricity. and later the Christian. this is not how things actually happened.226
S. But beliefs of this kind no longer form a coherent whole. vulnerable to black magic in all its forms. in which one felt the presence. or white. which assumes that belief in God is a modality of the enchanted worldview. whether they can keep the supply to my house in good order or not is another matter. This is because. are inclined to believe in occult powers of this kind. It is true that our positions have something in common. 2005. What is the relation between belief in God and this process of disenchantment? Nowadays we have a kind of unbelief. like Judaism. A small minority of truly remarkable – or perhaps truly desperate – people did indeed do this. For those completely absorbed in this world. in the main through the church.
. and that the objects and gestures of the church also carried spiritual force. J. In this world God was for most believers the source of a positive power. see his Le Désenchantement du monde. often inimical. it was inevitable that this particular part of it would also be extinguished. But there is no question about whether to believe in their existence or not. Christianity.
or the sexton. This milieu was very Protestant – even Deist. Philos. which could not have produced France without this already existing framework. But he was undoubtedly present both as the will which one obeyed. places of pilgrimages. Abstention would have been treason. concrete king does not exhaust the kingdom. One is easily deceived by this new form of presence. The monarchy is not merely grounded in the collective acts of its subjects. that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. He may no longer have been a force in the spirit world. because it later became standard to equate the revolution with a form of collective activity in which humanity takes over all responsibility. He is the representative of a higher reality. 2005. and made God present in another way. gestures (consecration). For these people. but he had become that much more indispensable as architect. The kingdom is also a “mystical body”. guarantor and inspiration of the cosmic as well as the social order. This is so because the reform movements that determined the new order and drove the spirits and powers from the old world. This framework assumes more than just human action. but he was that much more present as the Will who had created the order in which we humans live. But let us first examine the founding of the United States of America. an important barrier against unbelief disappeared. and in which there therefore no longer remains any place for God. places (Jerusalem. One in particular arose with the process of disenchantment. J. Afr.S. let alone in relics. Santiago de Compostela) or times (Christmas. a source of light in the darkness. In doing so they followed the Puritan tradition. however. It is true that human responsibility is an integral part of the modern context. which would realise God's purposes. This made unbelief impossible in another way: defence against evil assumes the solidarity that is required for the application of the force of good. For the revolutionary leaders. The new Jerusalem was to be a shining “city on a hill”. For many of the Founding Fathers understood their task as that of setting up a new form of political society. it precedes them. 24(3)
The application of this power happened at all levels. which exists not in pro-
. In other words. its priest. that among these are Life. “We hold these truths to be self-evident. that all men are created equal. and as a moral force that enabled one to obey His will.
With the fading of the enchanted world. Their intention was to set up a society that translated these ideals into reality – the first time this had been attempted. were animated first by the Christian faith and later by a Deistic worldview. There were. whose roots were in the Middle Ages. in order to understand this new form that the presence of God took. Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. or religious festivals. other barriers. but this does not necessarily rule out God. I will come to the cosmic aspect in a moment. Bringing God's power to bear against lightning was a communal act. and everyone needed to play their part. God's providence required a particular kind of order. God was not present in the Sacraments. This order followed that of divine providence. reveal this. Easter). he was not present in a particular immanent concentration of divine Power in certain objects (relics). and to whatever extent was possible for the people involved. The difference becomes particularly obvious when one compares the new American republic with a monarchy such as France. and makes possible their acts. The well-known words of the Declaration of Independence. which saw the new American colonies as an opportunity to realise God's will more fully. God's presence permeated the social fabric. He was not present in the Holy. Ringing the weather-bells was an act of the congregation. the actual.
in the first instance. which (at least for some) was attributed not to God. This role was fulfilled. But God (and later nature) has created them so as to live together. J. etc. opened a new niche for the presence of God in society. after centuries and millennia. and in many ways admirable. the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. but rather contributes to it. there is the creation of an exclusive humanism. requires a collective definition that is anchored in the social imagination. They form a society so as to live better than they otherwise could have. as the plan that our actions follow comes from him. The King's Two Bodies. Afr. one must look at what this second form of the presence of God in society has undermined. however. ‘secular’ time.228
S. the case of the Quebecois is a reminder of this. higher. freedom. achievement. which is not hierarchical. A society grounded in a collective act. The national sense of a people could define itself in terms of adherence to a particular confession. 2005. God is therefore anchored in the social imagination. as in the case of the new American republic. How is it that human beings. This identity might entail a significant reference to God. with reference to the Roman Catholic Church. or at least in a higher time. for others it is plain apostasy. A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Human motivation had to be reconceived so as to attribute to us the capacity to live out this morality without the
4 See Ernst Kantorowicz. such as a revolution. one that rules out the transcendent. but fundamentally egalitarian. But adherence to a faith does not last forever. we are dealing here with a remarkable turnaround. 24(3)
fane. and happiness. or a constitutional convention. but to nature. must succeed in such a way that the pursuit of happiness of each does not detract from that of others. This way of seeing things is at the root of our contemporary conception of universal human rights. It will suffice to say that this realisation displays two aspects. But this union. in eternity. a surprising. To understand our contemporary world. the Irish. The will to exclude the transcendent was clearly expressed. We become “one nation under God”. had first of all to be conceived. on the contrary. In this sense human responsibility is comprehensive. Here one thinks. time. One could call this definition the political identity of the society. I will mention three significant changes here. which is superior to profane time. by the human moral order which was derived from Locke and the modern natural law theorists. First of all. whereas modern states are grounded in collective action in secular time. of the Poles. This represents a widespread modern phenomenon. radically severed from transcendence. such as in the Declaration of Independence. Every human being pursues life. during which the moral life without God or another transcendental reality was unthinkable. Philos. came to understand their existence purely in terms of the immanent? I don't have the time to discuss this crucial question here. Princeton 1957
. This is the doctrine of the ‘king's two bodies’ . A human good. But this does not rule out God. In my opinion. The second aspect was even more difficult. the French Revolution presented the drama of the founding of a state on the basis of a Providence. we are used to regarding this development as secure. Modernity has. for some it is simply the discovery of human truth. As I have indicated above.4 One could say that pre-modern society is grounded in a transcendental reality. and the former French Canadians. but in another. Very soon after the American Revolution.
the creation of this exclusive humanism changes the entire starting point. and in people's lifestyles. This is at the same time both surprising and admirable. and perhaps even achieve it. and I could want this. and many have failed in the attempt to reach them. impartial good. If one sees in this a certain novelty.S. Despite our confusion and our lack of detailed knowledge. or the creation as described in the Bible (or both. I don't have space to here to describe the process in singular detail. later. Something new in the field of ethical motivation had to be created. one knows that the structure holds. become able to base their lives on these moral sources. Such a structure would not appear to have any moral relevance. be unhappy about the fact that I am not genuinely inspired by God's love. Afr. (b) Sympathy: an innate tendency. Rather these conceptions have been goals that humans have set themselves. and which forms us such that we live spontaneously according to the moral order that I have described above. whether its scaffolding be Forms. but the last two hundred years have seen how the sense of belonging to a cosmos has been eclipsed by the idea of a universe. as with Plato. before this is possible. I can. Philos. The sources of morality as well as the most exalted altruistic devotion are fully immanent. as if it were part of a plan. and that one would sense it were one to reach its limits. This is an extraordinary achievement. and does not present itself immediately. and it requires very deep changes of sensibility. 2005. It is not just God's mercy that has to be ruled out. or one might attempt to define political identity solely in terms of common concrete and ideal interests. Again. without conceivable limits. But it cannot just be a theoretical novelty: for one must be motivated by a conception of impartial reason. It could be a metaphysical conception of “nature”. Living in a cosmos means to live in a world structured and restricted by a plan. as a Christian. is something obvious. which is generally passed over in the stories of normative subtraction. And for the individual there is also the option of a morality without reference to the transcendental. as with the Jacobins. Its message is positive in every way. in the final analysis. Adam Smith. and that which gives us the capacity to distance ourselves from our particularity and to think in terms of the universal. and despite local signs of disorder. That it is possible to be inspired by an objective and impersonal worldview is not obvious. but rather that people have. The cosmos stands in relation to our ethical life. One needs to be reminded that no great conception of the sources of morality. Here we think of the meaning accorded to the concept of the “impartial spectator” in Hutcheson. which drives us to help our fellow humans. From now on the social imagination of the new society can attach itself to immanent points of reference. the plan is grounded in the Good. the Platonic recourse to the Form of the Good and the Stoic reference to the divine Logos within – all of this becomes redundant. The second important change – temporally speaking – is the transition from a cosmos to a universe. In any case. the utilitarians. nature's dowry. These structures are moral: in other words. The latter is enormous. as they were usually combined). Above all. What is surprising is not so much that it was possible to establish theories of this kind. 24(3)
help of any transcendent source. this universe appears indif-
. whether the Platonic Form of the good or the Christian conception of God. The most important immanent sources of morality were: (a) Reason: the means whereby we raise ourselves to the level of universality. in one's understanding of oneself. and. Rousseau is the seminal figure in this tradition. J. one might speak as though we are merely dealing with a theoretical discovery.
But it also goes in the other direction. because one cannot see down to the ground. what is the duration of our time compared with eternity? Less than the drop I have taken up on a needle-point compared with the limitless space surrounding me. who cannot avoid a sense of humility and wonder before that which stretches out over us to infin-
See Paolo Rossi The Dark Abyss of Time. it is clear that for many the theory of evolution has discredited the Bible. This demonstrates a conceptual change. between Protestant “fundamentalists” in the United States and confirmed materialists. in a galaxy of thousands.. pages 108-9. Everything beyond our understanding is to be found in the countenance of God. a change of imagination – this time of a cosmological nature – has carried itself out in our civilisation. 24(3)
ferent to the small drama of humanity. completely explicable laws. indeed from the non-living onwards. unlike our ancestors. There was no mystery internal to the cosmos. p. against unbelievers in the tradition of Diderot. in other words beyond the limits of the world. The world is ceaselessly beginning and ending. in Rameau's Nephew and D'Alembert's Dream. This new cosmic imagination works itself out in both directions in the struggle between belief and unbelief. such as that of Newton. which plays itself out on the surface of a small planet. so there is the same infinite succession of animalculae in the speck called Earth.230
S. but it is more than just that. such as. unalterable. which they somewhat naïvely and literally understood. we see that it postulates a world governed by strict. J. the creator. at every moment it is at its beginning and its end. It is also that we feel that behind us is what Buffon has called “the dark abyss of time”. Philos. For us. bathed in light. It is not just that we know that the universe is many billions of years old. as our ancestors rather hastily concluded from the Bible. as is our genesis from the non-human.. When one considers classical apologetics. the following comment of Diderot's from more than two hundred years ago: .6 Paradoxically one finds in the contemporary debate a strange alliance. in that it brings mystery back into the world. and even appears to be proof of materialism. and not just 6000. On the one hand. 'D'Alembert's Dream'. for example. one that rejects anything miraculous. Who knows what animal species preceded us? Who knows what will follow our present ones? Everything changes and passes away.
. Chicago 1984. only the whole remains unchanged. 2005. however. arouses a sense of mystery even amongst unbelievers. This sense of mystery shines through the words of many atheist scholars. But our universe. Afr. Just as there is an infinite succession of animalculae in one fermenting speck of matter. who believed that they could do so on the basis of biblical testimony. in a certain sense. a world in which there is no place for mystery. In the last one or two centuries. The beginning of their world was for them. 174. who demonstrates the existence and goodness of God on the basis of the form of the universe and its advantages for humankind. orbiting an unremarkable star.5 This abyss is dark. which stands open to the immeasurable and dark abyss from whence we come. Denis Diderot. translated by Leonard Tancock (Penguin Books 1966). it is lost in the dark.
. the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. on the occasion of a lecture at the ”Festival for Mind. for example. We are experiencing the breakthrough of this form of spirituality. It might be necessary to speak of a post-Durkheimian age. with the necessity of being true to one's own spiritual path. J. it is clear that the modern conception of the human moral order plays an important role. to see itself as constituted by individuals who were liberated from any previous hierarchical order. society was able. cited in Paul Heelas The New Age Movement Oxford 1996 at page 21. it also undermines secular forms of political identity such as.
As I explain things here. page 228. and who pursue their own vital interests.. This solidarity might express itself through membership of a particular church (the Catholic model) or through membership of “the church of one's choice” – in other words through membership of one of a group of churches which recognise each other's legitimacy (the Protestant model. One might be tempted to believe that this slogan applies only to representatives of the New Age movement. One need not necessarily go as far as a speaker at a New Age festival in England. But Heelas claims in chapter 6 that this position has certain affinities with far more commonly held attitudes. and not only for religions such as Christianity. I have spoken above of the two ways in which God is present in the public realm. It has happened in the last fifty years. p. Critique of practical reason.7 The last of these three changes is very recent.S.” Immanuel Kant. these societies are ‘Durkheimian’ . perhaps even more recently. cited likewise in Robert Bellah et al. that 80% of Americans agreed with the statement that “an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any churches or synagogues." But the privileging of one's own inspiration is ever more openly revealed. which is saturated with the ethic of authenticity. above all. Body and Spirit". whereby the transcendent or the holy is society. and for the kind of spirituality mediated through the political identity. A 1978 Gallup Poll revealed. makes less and less sense. whose motto was “Only accept what rings true to your own inner self9. 24(3)
ity. In the space between orthodox Christianity and deism. 2005. This is particularly obvious in manifestations of what has come to be called “New Age” spirituality. albeit in such a way as to support one another. This clearly changes the position. by virtue of this modern conception. But this kind of social connection is becoming less and less suited to the expressivist culture of our times. but it does create a climate in which adherence to a form of spirituality which does not speak to us.” (Heelas on page 164. Afr. Habits of the heart Berkeley 1985. in the holy or in the political identity of a society.8 But today forms of spirituality that are radically dissociated from social solidarity have evolved. In this restricted sense. But the phenomenon is in fact far broader than this. A certain solidarity is necessary both for a spirituality grounded in a God who is rooted in the holy. on account of it not being part of “our” tradition or “our” identity. This universe reminds one of what the eighteenth century termed “the sublime”. for example. which one sees in the United States). Various interpretations of this moral order of modernity have come to underpin the respective social im7 “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe. I do not here advocate Durkheim's much stronger thesis. This culture is concerned. the particular metaphysics which for a long time underpinned the “republican” identity in France. and Kant saw fit to compare the starry heavens with the moral law within. Sir George Trevelyan. 258. (tr Lewis Beck White) Chicago University of Chicago Press 1949. In one way or another the transcendent is connected to social relations. This concern certainly does not prevent reference to the transcendental or striving to go beyond the self. Philos.
This point has been made in a number of ways. in whatever form this order takes. New York. was one of the great factors in limiting the Gospel in our lives. This means: Christianity had.232
S. happiness. But it has also given us a new conception of Providence – one dominated by the apologetics of Newton's time. and how central theodicy was for this era.
. or. in a certain way. The location of morality has subsequently become an ever more internal one. and prosperity. certain kinds of objections to modernity which have often been expressed by Christian authors . And this allows me to come finally to my discussion of the immanent Counter-Enlightenment. but also from complete unbelievers. in another sense. It has helped free us from Christendom which. 1999. The fate of God. There is something to this. beyond the narrow boundaries of adherence to a religious community.). which we may see as “Christianity squared”. Unfortunately this is not the only way in which the two are connected. I have developed these thoughts in A Catholic Modernity? Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture. as Aris10 Michael Buckley has shown the importance of the motif of healing divine providence to seventeenth and eighteenth century apologetics. modern liberalism is ‘Christianity lite’. J. was tied to this new conception of order. 11 Here I am clearly indebted to Emmanuel Mounier. despite all its lustre and notable achievements. This moral order can also turn out to be a prison. James Heft (ed. 24(3)
aginaries associated with them.in particular the sense of imprisonment which modernity is alleged to produce . In other words. as. Interestingly. but there remained nevertheless a certain unrest on the border between Christians and non-Christians. in the work of unbelievers. one that limits and blinds us. We believers must concede that unbelief has done us a great service. or the market economy that ties free participants together. in which God expresses his goodness in the creation of a universe ordered around the principle of mutual support. There are a number of axes of rebellion. meant applying this principle in political and social life. such reactions have come not only from Christian authors or thinkers. Cf. This limitation had to be overcome in order to establish the morality of modernity. in doing so. Locke saw the right to life as the first among rights – not the good life. to put it differently. one might say. This moral order is also the site of complex relations between faith and unbelief. whether that of the democratic and egalitarian society which is made up of legal subjects. his Feu la Chrétienneté Paris 1947. But first a general remark about resistance to the hegemony of the moral order of modernity. 1987).11 In this sense modern liberalism is Christianity squared through and through. along a number of axes. New Haven. (At the Origins of Modern Atheism. I will discuss two of them: a) First of all the moral order of modernity aims to further life. God among us. albeit in different ways. Afr. already taken each individual to be holy and therefore worthy of respect. and. relies on a particular picture of its connection with the moral order of modernity: I think here of “Christianity squared”.10 In Western history it is precisely this conception of order that reveals the continuity between the social morality that was first embodied in divine Providence and that version of it which replaced Providence with Nature – a concept which itself barely survived the death of the cosmos.have also been expressed. understood as the capacity of “advanced” humans to cultivate the moral sources which lie within themselves. One speaks often of the relation Christianity has with Liberalism. Philos. 2005. made present in human society. and now finds itself within civilisation.
Que dore le matin chaste de l’ Infini Je me mire et me vois ange! Et je meurs. perfect. something that resembles the poet's death.S. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. renaître. But he finds himself in opposition to it with regard to the question of the purpose of life. Que la vitre soit l’ art.. in the chaste morning of the Infinite. Beneath observable reality lies nothingness. The rights to freedom and property are derived from it. 21-32)14 In this youthful work one can still see the religious sources of dissatisfaction with the ordinary life: the image of the window. pictured in various ways. Dans leur verre. This theme is well-known to Christians – “ich freue mich auf meinen Tod. it requires going beyond every par-
12 Charles Taylor Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. But later. Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté! (Les Fenêtres. béni. seized with disgust at the hard-souled man who wallows in the pleasures on which his appetite feeds . What becomes apparent resembles something more like a counter-privileging of death.12 While many would greet this affirmation with approval. and life itself as a kind of putrefaction.. wearing my dream as a diadem. Afr. the void. mysticism.. As Mallarmé says: “Ainsi. But beyond it there is heaven and a river. He strongly rejects the privileging of life – in fact he regards it with revulsion. Cambridge. angels.”13 in the words of the well-known Bach cantata. the lower part understood as a sanatorium. I look at myself and see an angel! and I die. This set of values is deeply connected with the affirmation of ordinary life. the pictures are still impregnated with the religious tradition: eternity.’
. lavé d éternelles rosées. Mallarmé took a more materialistic view of the universe. The poet's vocation remains nevertheless that of going beyond life. They rather strive for something that goes beyond life. And it is making a return. Philos. I flee and cling to all the windows from which one can turn one's back on life... in the context of pure immanence.’ 15 With regard to religious convictions. for Mallarmé. J. others see it as a limitation. and blessed in their glass. language. 24(3)
totle had it. Je fuis et je m’ accroche à toutes les croisées D’ où l’ on tourne l’ épaule à la vie. soit la mysticité – . ‘l’ explication orphique de la Terre. In fact he speaks of this vocation in terms borrowed from romanticism: the search for the original. something I referred to in Sources of the Self. after his crisis. but simply life. Mallarmé holds to an immanent humanism. et. 1989. surprisingly enough. at least. bathed in eternal dews. portant mon rêve en diadème. où ses seuls appétits Mangent . and I long – whether the window be art or mysticism – to be reborn. et j’ aime . which splits the universe into an upper and lower part. 13 ’ I look forward to my death with joy’ 14 'thus. in the anterior sky where Beauty flowers!’ 15 'the Orphic explanation of the Earth. 2005.... pris du dégoût de l’ homme à l’ âme dure Vautré dans le bonheur. something which might even require losing one's life. Realising the poet's vocation to create a purified language requires.
In a certain sense death. the richest source of life. Celan. In Mallarmé's new perspective.' 17 'Everything that. but happily I am perfectly dead. est inénarrable. Philos. Eternity changes him. my spirit. as a result. paradoxically. This is a process that is only consummated in death: ‘Tel Qu’ en Lui-même enfin l’ éternité le change. reproduced in Propos sur la poésie (Monaco: Editions du Rocher. We are obviously dealing with the absence of the object: (‘sur les crédences. par contre coup.'' ibid. This confusing conception of a. 20 '(For the Master has gone to draw tears from the Styx / With this object. One sees in the equality of all claimants to the ordinary life the levelling that extraordinary. 7 . J. which is seen as contemptible. et la région la plus impure où mon Esprit puisse s’ aventurer est l’ éternité. and the moment of death. que n’ obscurcit plus même le frelet du Temps. One refuses to recognise the primacy of ordinary life in the name of greatness. and others were to follow him in this. Camus. so to speak. and thus as decisive moment (“pray for us now and at the hour of our death”). in the sense of a definite goal beyond life. the heroic. ce Solitaire habituel de sa propre Pureté. and one hears weak echoes of it in the fad of the “Death of Man”. Let us now turn to the second axis. Plusieurs sonnets. 66. There is only nothingness. is also that of the greatest union with God. Afr. au salon vide: nul ptyx’)19 But one only reaches this first absence by means of another.8. the only one in which Nothingness takes pride). Heidegger's ‘Being toward Death’ is a well-known example of this. which even the reflection of Time no longer obscures'. and the most impure region where my Spirit can venture is eternity. If we note on the first axis primarily a revolt against life itself as restriction. the extraordinary. namely disappearance – in other words the death of the subject (‘Car le Maître est allé puiser des pleurs au Styx / Avec ce seul objet don't le Néant s'honore’). as the place where life collects and centres itself. Death. 5. Something similar is to be found in Buddhism. and Foucault. 18 'abolished knick-knack of sonorous inanity'.20 There is a strange parallel with previous religious traditions. that habitual Recluse of its own Purity. pendant cette longue agonie.' ibid. albeit one that is essentially a radical negation of transcendence. letter of March 1866 to Henri Cazalis. 1946).18 Eliot. In the Christian tradition the place of death. have an ineradicable place in more than just one religious tradition: death as the ultimate giving up of the self. The Christian paradox disappears: death is no more the source of new life. IV. 2005.17 Mallarmé became the first great modern poet of absence (‘aboli bibelot d'inanité sonore’ ). is in fact grounded in a decisive negation of all transcendent reality. mais heureusement je suis parfaitement mort. But it is replaced by another paradox: what appears to be a new affirmation of transcendence. my being suffered during that slow death was hilarious. This perspective keeps returning in our culture – and not only as in the example of Mallarmé. mon être a souffert.
. and therefore. at last. immanent transcendence is a significant aspect of what I term the immanent Counter-Enlightenment.’ 16 Tout ce que. but this theme is taken up in different ways by Sartre. mon esprit. grants us a privileged perspective. the greatest loss of self. on the second it is more that one insults everyday contentment. 19 'On the credenzas in the empty sitting rooms: no ptyx. eccentric be16 'As into Himself. 24(3)
ticularity. 6. the place of death has renewed paradigmatic status.234
And here also one finds that death is allocated a paradigmatic place. and orderliness only with difficulty. but also the egalitarianism that goes with it. But this movement tolerates benevolence. Here it is not so much that one strives for death (although there are deep affinities between the two axes). All of this acts as a brake on its aspirations to greatness. internal in a certain sense. heroism. Philos. in the course of its self-affirmation.22 Nietzsche rejects the idea that the highest goal of life could lie in the preservation and improvement of life and the reduction of suffering. and which praises courage. as a refusal of all that is noble and weighty in human beings. 22 Friedrich Nietzsche Thus spake Zarathustra (tr RJ Hollingdale) London: Penguin.
. wish to ridicule. In other words. He rejects not only the privileging of the ordinary life. implies cruelty. Gerald Bevan). to that which goes beyond the human and reaches out to the Übermensch. but rather that one sees it as an attempt to reduce the goals of human life to the core of a strict and abstract morality. to a certain extent. who are greater than the average. and it drives us in these directions in precisely the moment of its most effusive self-affirmation. within the modern affirmation of life. the warrior ethic. 24(3)
ings. one sees in it rather the rejection of the warrior ethic. which make a similar kind of point. Not death as the negation of life. it wishes.S. harmony. especially of that which gives human life a greater meaning. This has always been the mark of the
21 Alexis de Tocqueville. we need merely refer to the well-known chapter on modern despotism. London: Penguin. Nietzsche writes of ‘a miserable ease’. I think in particular of the lines on the subject of the last man taken from the Foreword to Zarathustra. nevertheless. 2005. J. Instead of Tocqueville's petty. to estimate life as less valuable than honour and status. was a conventional Christian. but rather the courage to look death in the face. at least in his youth. turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty. Nietzsche therefore remains. vulgar. taming it. In this remarkable passage written by a man who. and the virtues of the elite. Many have experienced this morality as repressive. and who did not want to reject Christianity as an ideal completely. Claiming the opposite means restricting it. and despotism and pettiness on the other. vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. to impose suffering and exploitation. Life itself. But his rebellion remains. by a roundabout route. To show this. who can hardly be regarded as an enemy of equality and democracy. according to Nietzsche. greatness. and risking one's life. 1961. Afr. of courage. The true movement of Life wishes to rehabilitate destruction and chaos. in which one finds the following extraordinary passage: “I see an innumerable crowd of men. domination. feared precisely this kind of loss of greatness. Nietzsche endorses.”21 It is interesting to note that Tocqueville sees a connection between greatness and the political freedom of modernity on the one hand. Democracy in America (tr. One experiences the moral order of modernity as another kind of limitation. oppressing it. the Superman. pleasure. universality. Instead of privileging the ordinary life as peaceful prosperity. p 43. to the extraordinary. For him there is nothing higher than the movement of life itself – the will to power. all alike and equal. which was the target of both Plato and Christianity. The reflective life also affirms death and destruction. p 805. 2003. locking it in. and robbing it of those higher manifestations which alone make the Übermensch's affirmation of life worth anything. Tocqueville. one sees an extraordinary anticipation of Nietzsche. and the elimination of the weak and the misbegotten.
modern antihumanism grounds itself in the complete absence of a plan in a universe devoid of meaning. This demonstrates the extent to which this kind of grounding in the real remains necessary for modern people. and of his superiority over ordinary mortals. It has left its mark above all in France: think of Bataille.23 The antihumanism articulated by Nietzsche has subsequently been strengthened by our consciousness of living in a universe. This does not mean simply repressing it. to use the concepts I introduced earlier. himself called for just such a grounding in the natural. This is possible because the moral order of modernity can always be experienced as a prison. or so I think. Philos. the Counter-Enlightenment of the unbelievers would find political expression exclusively in fascism. whereby we hope to transform it from within into something else. even though it is also possible to take this difference into account in other ways. and ask what its meaning is. One is seduced by the ideal of a hierarchical order. I find his theory profoundly interesting. The Passion of Michel Foucault. James Miller's book on Foucault shows the power of this rebellion against the cramped. not to mention many others. after the war. and the ordinary people are led to great heights. which Nietzsche rehabilitated – the machismo of the warrior – still echoes in modern liberal society – above all amongst young men. Later.
23 James Miller. In a strange inversion of things. On the contrary. There is a certain “elective affinity” between the cult of heroism and risk associated with Nietzsche and the political reaction against the “established disorder” which manifested itself at the beginning of the twentieth century. An ethic that integrates struggle and destruction into the good life finds itself seamlessly connected with the nature of things. who saw in the will to power a universal force. And one sees something similar in the youthful Ernst Jünger. the universe plays. One sees. 2005. From a Christian viewpoint. Traditional morality understood itself to be supported by the cosmos. New York: Harper Collins. discipline. How are we to understand it? How are we to live with it? All traditional religions found a way of living with this. For the Darwinian universe is the site of a brutal struggle. suffocating cell of humanism. Afr. nor that progress.236
S. We need to accept that this ethic still has a certain resonance for us. there is a particular way of recognising this dimension of humanity. as well as the American poet Robinson Jeffers. 1993. the role that was allotted to the cosmos in traditional morality. as opposed to a cosmos. J. and religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other.
. for modern antihumanism. Foucault. René Girard writes of a decisive difference between the understanding of violence in the Judeo-Christian religions on the one hand. It is unnecessary to emphasise the immense influence of Nietzsche's anti-humanism on the culture of the last century. The Counter-Enlightenment of the faithful meets that of the unbelievers. Modern humanism generates faintheartedness. or the good liberal society will neutralise it sufficiently for us no longer to be threatened by it. In the early part of the twentieth century it was associated with anti-democratic reaction. This accusation returns frequently in the culture of the Counter-Enlightenment. Maurras is one of the points at which these two streams meet. nor believing that cultural progress will destroy this powerful human instinct. in which the higher beings give the orders. we need to understand why thinkers who abhorred fascism from the depths of their beings were nevertheless attracted to antihumanism. 24(3)
warrior. And this on many levels. of nature “red in tooth and claw”. I do not say this for the purposes of discrediting it. Nietzsche. the warrior ethic. On another level. such as we see in Girard as well as others. and Derrida.
first of all. There is a third player. whereby each pair can make common cause against the third on some issue. In doing so they lay claim to being more consistent in their rejection of the transcendent than liberals. is more likely to be that of an ever more highly developed pluralism. J. but one cannot take only the dialogue between liberalism and Christianity into account. and by doing so to render every reflex of exclusion. in contrast to certain traditional societies in which spiritual families lived in ghettos. They have turned away from the transcendent. I do not mean by this pluralism on a normative level. It strikes me that this way of proceeding reveals itself with time as ever more of an obvious cul de sac. In contrast. if it is indeed leading us anywhere. I would say rather that the direction it is leading us in. namely shame. spiritual families are splitting and multiplying in our post-Durkheimian age. Afr. To this extent both forms of opposition to transcendence meet each other. the diminishing importance of religion) and a harmonious world beyond it. and morality are. The spiritually “other” might turn out to be one's brother. is turned against itself. we live in a thoroughly mixed society.
This triangular perspective. invalid. despite being of good will and just as intelligent and astute as oneself. impossible. It gives us. but beyond this critique Christians recognise the claims of their own faith in the fundamental values of the modern order. and discrimination absolutely unacceptable. because the chief weapon of the warrior ethic. But despite these differences. Once more its imprisoning tendencies are shown. whom I have termed the immanent Counter-Enlightenment. 2005. son. but remain at odds on other issues. Christians and antihumanists agree in certain ways on the failings of the moral order of modernity. and antihumanists. will arise. cannot remain without effect. One sees in the creation of immanent forms of Counter-Enlightenment that the power to construct new ethical perspectives has not waned with the birth of modern humanism. I have spoken above of “Christianity squared” and “Christianity lite”. insulated to the extent that they had no contact with each other. and in this sense they are closer to the humanists. The crucial fact is that today one lives next to these others. In fact. leads us to another understanding of modernity. 24(3)
in the current fashion of “political correctness”. how this process results in a dead end. as well as the history of the origins of unbelief that underlies it. or daughter. And here one sees how complex the relations between belief. If the subtraction story is correct. sister. This power is in fact stronger than ever. particularly as practised in America. A consequence of this is the reciprocal weakening of these families. violence. whereby many different varieties of living the spiritual life. The aim is to get people to feel ashamed of themselves. their objections to the moral order of modernity often resemble closely those of believers. and it means that we are moving in the direction of the complete disappearance of religion (or at least its disappearance within a certain range. but rather an ever more fragmented spiritual pluralism. Philos. The fact that one lives with others who.
. whom they accuse of advocating a neo-Christian morality.S. in that people are always likely to be somewhat irrational: let us rather say. a different perspective on the classical goals of the development of modernity. unbelief. but are nevertheless critical of liberalism and the moral order of modernity. choose profoundly different spiritual options. modern humanists. there is a strange triangular relationship between believers. or series of players. both within and outside of Christianity. This indicates a deficiency that is implicit in the moral psychology of this understanding of morality.
S. This world of difference will bring about new ways of living with difference. One thinks here of the English Evangelicals. that is a valuable achievement in comparison to the intolerance and exclusion which has been the rule in most of human history. for it also has the potential for excesses and deviations. for which we have the tendency of children to react against their parents to thank. It is also sometimes the case that they must have. In certain families it seems that sons change course from their fathers. one needs to do more than just respect those who are different. non-religious form of Christianity. Afr. We can therefore draw the following lesson: it is certainly the case that the moral order of modernity does pose certain problems for Christianity. I am unable to summarise the somewhat disjointed set of remarks that comprise this paper without defining what the relations between Christianity and all those moral and ethical visions that I have detailed ought to be. She is one of the founders of the attempt. But this is not an accident. All of this makes clear is that any attempt to re-establish Christendom. rejects the moralism in which she was brought up. What is in fact required is a genuine coexistence of differences. We could never conceive of a human society in which one could assume that those who work one hour are to receive the same wage
. or to see itself as satisfied or completely expressed by one of these moralities. which we call Bloomsbury. It seems to me that the pattern established in the enclosed world of the elites of eighteenth century England anticipated what has become the rule in modernity. And nor can it be the only applicable principle. But the message is not that we have here a general and fundamental principle which could serve as the basis for a well-ordered society. of course. It is clearly not possible for Christianity to reduce itself to a particular morality. or must be given. This policy. and where those who worked only an hour receive the same wages as the others. and whose final goal is in fact to establish that there is no final goal. There are parallels in the New Testament. This is not to disparage tolerance. are doomed to complete failure. which goes beyond simple tolerance. but rather in continual motion. 24(3)
It sometimes seems as if generations alternate between different sets of spiritual values. It is sometimes insufficient to remove all that discriminates against and bars the way to those who are different. to the extent that this is both necessary and possible. whose children at one time joined the camp of the unbelievers. Philos. Virginia Woolf. 2005. a simple contingency. In the next generation. But if one wants to move in the direction of an ever more human exchange. Of course it is very complicated and difficult to apply this kind of ideal. and daughters from their mothers. We are dealing here with a kind of pluralism that is not static. but in fact to help them find their voice or path. would contradict any policy the government of a decently administered country would be able to justify. to break open the prison. J. including those that take the form of an ersatz. And so it continued. the necessary means. but for this to happen it is necessary that others find their voices or their paths. which make this clear: for example that of the workers who are invited to work in the vineyards. We should perhaps recognise that it will not suffice simply to pursue a negative politics of non-discrimination. The idea of genuine transformation is that these different voices genuinely have something to say and something to give one another. although it had not in fact begun there. or a problem that arises only with this particular model – it arises with any given model. but rather a set of spiritual paths that cross and branch out from each other. as the Evangelicals had adopted and renewed the religion of their grandparents in reaction against the libertine generation of Gibbonians.
“Die Immanente Gegenaufklärung: Christentum und Moral” in Religion nach der Religionskritik. Michael. Oxford: Blackwell. Feu la Chrétienneté. 2005. Paris: Gallimard. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1996. on the contrary. Diderot. Sir George. and that there will be constant tension between the demands of faith. De Tocqueville. Gerald Bevan). Princeton: Princeton University Press. the relationship with God. 1985. Robert. and the demands of morality. Body and Spirit” in The New Age Movement. RJ Hollingdale) London: Penguin. The Passion of Michel Foucault. Stéphane. But it is not because of any failings in the moral order of modernity that these tensions exist. Taylor. Denis. 1987. 1989. James (ed). Akadamie. 1949. (tr. Alexis.
. Mallarmé. Cambridge. Le Désenchantement du monde. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Dark Abyss of Time: The History of the Earth and the History of Nations from Hooke to Vico. Afr. then I would say that it is infinitely superior.S. Paris:Gallimard. A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. London: Penguin. is rather that there are considerations that go beyond any possible moral order for the world of human beings. 1957. Kantorowicz. James. Rossi. Marcel. but to date there has not been a better one. Kant. some of which I have noted.) Verlag: Berlin. Emmanuel. This fact is not unimportant. Philos. Paris: Gallimard. Charles. A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Paul Heelas. Trevelyan. however. “Festival for Mind. This history of the moral order of modernity and its tensions with Christianity is not an exception. 1983. On the contrary: it is perhaps one of the best that has been established in the history of humankind. Morales du grand siècle. Gauchet. Bibliography Bellah. 1984. New Haven: Yale University Press. but when one compares it with any such order that has previously existed. “D’ Alembert's Dream” in Rameau's Nephew and D’ Alembert's Dream. Paolo. It has certain problems. 1947. Paul. Nietzsche. Bénichou. Paris: Gallimard. it is absolutely foundational. Habits of the heart. 2003. et al. 1984“Plusieurs sonnets”. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. The moral order that recognises democracy and the universality of rights has to date not been equalled. What this parable expresses. 1993. Immanuel. Miller. Charles. Buckley. 2003. Heft. 1952. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Mounier. 1966. J. Friedrich. Penguin Books. Ernst. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. translated by Leonard Tancock. Democracy in America. I do not say that it is not possible for a superior conception to arise at some point in the future. 1999. New York: Harper Collins. (tr. ouvres complètes. (tr Lewis Beck White) Chicago University Press. Ludwig Nagl (ed. 24(3)
as those who work ten hours. Taylor. Critique of practical reason. Thus spake Zarathustra. 1961.