From the dawn of the modern age, religious thinkers have warned that, strictly speaking, secular politics is impossible — that without the transcendent foundation of Judeo-Christian monotheism to limit the political sphere, ostensibly secular citizens would begin to invest political ideas and ideologies with transcendent, theological meaning.
Put somewhat differently: Human beings will be religious one way or another. Either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things.
With traditional faith in rapid retreat over the past decade, liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good.
But liberalism’s leading theoreticians (Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, Mill) never intended it to serve as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good. On the contrary, liberalism was supposed to act as a narrowly political strategy for living peacefully in a world of inexorably clashing comprehensive views of reality and the human good.
The key to the strategy was the promulgation of the pluralistic principle of toleration.
Which is why the proper response to the distinctive dogmatism of our time is to urge liberals to return to their tolerant roots. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in my own writing, and my efforts will continue until more liberals come to their senses and begin recalling their comrades to a robust defense of their own pluralistic principles.
(Photo at top of page of the Joe Louis fist memorial in Detroit, placed there in 1986, during the disastrous and racist 20 year reign of Democrat Mayor Coleman Young. Photo by James Marvin Phelps, Shutterstock.com.)