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The Spirituality of Politics By Michael Gottsegen We live in an era of compartmentalization.

Lifes many spheres are separated from one another home from !or"# economics from politics# pu$lic from private. %t is not only that these spheres are separated# $ut that they are also understood to $e operating according to different rules && according to rules that are uni'ue to each sphere and !ithout application to any other. Gro!ing up is a$out learning the rules of each sphere and a$out learning not to ma"e the mista"e of applying rules that $elong to one sphere to another. The separation of life into different spheres is itself not ne!. Since anti'uity# !e have carved life up into different sectors. What is ne! to modernity# ho!ever# is the notion that each sphere is largely autonomous# and that there are no master rules that apply across the $oard. %n an earlier era# such an assertion !ould have $een $lasphemous. The categories of good and evil# of vice and virtue# !ere regarded as coe(tensive !ith the !hole of life. %n the Middle )ges# the *atholic church too" the vie! that every sector of life fell !ithin its or$it of concern. This same e(pansive definition of the e(tent of religions proper reach is found in the Talmud. The ra$$is legislative competence encompasses not only the synagogue and the social relations of the household# $ut e(tends to the mar"etplace# the +udges cham$ers and the Privy *ouncil. To argue that religion had no $usiness spea"ing to such issues !ould have seemed ridiculous. ,oes Gods concern !ith the goodness of human action "no! any $orders or limitations- .f course not/ 0or then should the moral authority of the church or synagogue. The furor that greeted the pu$lication of Machiavellis Prince in 1213 4 !hich asserted that political life should $e governed $y its o!n autonomous nature and not $y *hristian morality && gives clear evidence of +ust ho! entrenched these assumptions !ere at the time. What Machiavelli did for the autonomy of politics# )dam Smith 4 and capitalism more generally && did for the autonomy of the mar"et. Where once the church had regulated commodity prices# !or"ing conditions and the mar"et itself in order to more closely approach the *hristian vision of the good society# $y the mid&15th century the church had largely given up the field $efore free mar"et ideology. Modernity# then# not only $rought into $eing the autonomy of lifes various orders. )dditionally# $y so doing# it shran" the sacred canopy that religion had once cast over the !hole of life. 0o longer aspiring to shape the social order as a !hole in the image of the *ity of God# religion more and more came to $e identified !ith the hearth and the home# and !ith the sphere of family life. There alone !ould old&fashioned virtue have its place. %t is generally understood that !hen the 6e!s gained entry to society in the 15th century# they !ere re'uired to give up their pu$lic religion and to create instead a religion that centered around the home and hearth# and spo"e no more to the concerns of the pu$lic s'uare and the mar"etplace. )nd !hile this is true# it is important to understand that this

shrin"ing of the religious domain !as imposed upon *hristianity as !ell in its passage to modernity. )s Stephen *arter points out in his most recent $oo"# Gods 0ame in 7ain# !hile modernity has sought to circumscri$e the religious domain# the religions have not $een content to accept their reduced position. 0or have the religions $een !illing to accept !ithout 'uestion the notion that the economy and the polity fall outside the domain of its proper concern. Time and again# in fact# the religions have $ro"en free from their narro! confines to launch holy crusades on $ehalf of economic and political +ustice. %n effect# they !ere calling into 'uestion the autonomy of these spheres and insisting that the forms of in+ustice $eing perpetrated !ithin them !ere issues of the greatest moral and religious importance. The )$olitionist Movement# for e(ample# !as a religious movement that unfolded in the political domain and challenged the economic definition of $lac" men and !omen as property. The Suffrage Movement !as also largely religious in its inspiration# as !ere the movements for Prohi$ition and *ivil 8ights. %n each case# the autonomy of the political and economic realms !as called into 'uestion $y a religious movement that insisted on the rightful supremacy of the ethical dimension. ,uring the period of high modernity# these passing moments of religious engagement in the !orld $eyond religions 9proper: domain of home and hearth have $een important not only in themselves $ut for their conse'uences upon the 'uality of our pu$lic life. They are also important for calling into 'uestion the very compartmentalization of domains 4 and of the norms appropriate to them && that is synonymous !ith modernity. %n many !ays# this compartmentalization has $een a $oon to our collective life. The mar"et# unshac"led $y e(ternal restraints of religion and ethics# has $ecome a po!erhouse creating economic a$undance and material !ell&$eing. )t the same time# our unsanctified polity and secular society have $een spared the no(ious effects of religious intolerance and have en+oyed the $enefits that flo! from the personal freedoms of thought# association and e(pression that many religions have typically $een un!illing to allo!. %n recent decades# ho!ever# the do!nside of compartmentalization has $ecome more manifest. Both religion and political life have $een vitiated# in large part# as a conse'uence of the division of la$or that reigns $et!een them. 8eligion# restricted to the private domain# lac"s scope and $ecomes narcissistic and self&a$sor$ed. Political life# left to its o!n autonomous logic of po!er and dominated $y special interests# ceases to enlist the democratic energies that the system re'uires if the common good is to prevail in the long run. )t the same time# the dynamism of the mar"et increasingly undercuts the autonomy of state and religion# and calls into 'uestion !hether they are masters of their o!n domains anymore. Machiavelli# even as he argued for the autonomy of politics# !orried that the purity of political life might $e corrupted $y concentrations of private economic po!er that used politics to pursue their o!n particular good rather than the common !eal. The gro!ing influence of economic special interests in political life illustrates +ust ho! !ell

placed this an(iety happens to $e. %s it any surprise that the pu$lic turns a!ay in disgust from a political process that loo"s more and more li"e a spoils system# and in !hich the pu$lic good is almost entirely forgottenWhen religion !as first e(pelled from the pu$lic s'uare# many $elieved that religion !ould $e strengthened in the process and# in effect# purified of the 9contamination: $rought on $y its 9unholy: involvement in the mundane $usiness of political life. What fe! foresa! at the time !as that once religion !as consigned to the private sphere# it !ould cease to perform the important social function of conveying to all individuals a sense of their place in the social and cosmic !hole. Those !ho did foresee that religion !ould no longer perform this function $elieved that participation in political life !ould perform it instead. Today# ho!ever# neither religion nor politics performs this function. 8eligion has $ecome increasingly sectarian and the churches have $ecome increasingly self&a$sor$ed. While the intimate face&to&face community of the congregation remains important for individuals as a site for fello!&feeling and solidarity# religious communities are increasingly li"ely to dra! the circle of their neigh$orly concern rather narro!ly# encompassing only the immediate fello!ship group !hile e(cluding the !ider civic community. Were another social institution performing this function of conveying a vivid conception of the social !hole to every mem$er of the community and of imparting to the citizen an activist commitment to community service# then the fact that religion is not doing this !ould $e of far less significance. But !hen neither the political process nor religious institutions can impart this sense# the community is at ris"# for surely this communitarian spirit !ill not come from a mar"etplace that imparts an ethos that is essentially antithetical to it. ;This point should not $e understood as a criticism of capitalism or its ethos< rather# its purpose is to indicate its inherent limitations and the deleterious conse'uences that !ill follo! !here there is no countervailing social ethos or institutions.= We are living on the cusp of a ne! era. Multinational corporations and glo$al financial flo!s have transformed not only the mar"etplace# $ut the political sphere as !ell. %n high modernity# the state !as the dominant actor nationally and internationally# and politics en+oyed an unrivaled primacy for $oth good and ill. %n the era of G)TT and of the WT.# ho!ever# the state has $een eclipsed !hile glo$al capitalism and finance set the agenda# su$ordinating political life to mar"et forces and mar"et discipline. The mar"et is a harsh tas"master# $ut it need not call the tune forevermore. >o!ever# the 'uestion that forces itself upon us is from !hat 'uarter might redemption spring- ?rom !hat 'uarter might a social force arise po!erful enough to counter the coercive logic of economic necessity- The political sphere has no resources of its o!n that it can muster on $ehalf of the common good. Politics has $ecome a transparent medium reflecting the parallelogram of forces ;mostly economic= that are arrayed in society as a !hole. May$e# once upon a time# political life !as capa$le of engendering civic virtue and zeal for the common !eal out of its o!n interstices. But if this !as ever true# it is true no more. *ivic virtue must arise from else!here. Might it come from the religious sphere-

What !e do "no! is that at their $est the churches# synagogues and mos'ues nurture the fello!&feeling# the solicitude for the other and the $asic solidarity that are the elementary $uilding $loc"s upon !hich a more encompassing civic community and $ody politic can $e constructed. What !e do not "no! is !hether these nuclei of community# !hich are at once attracted and repelled $y politics and $y one another# have the capacity and the !ill to do for )merica today !hat they have done for )merica at critical moments in the past && to go $eyond the limits of their particularity to frame# and to act on $ehalf of# a !ider conception of the civic community and of the common good. *an the religious sector generate such energies and commitment today- .nly time# and our $est efforts# !ill tell.