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Howtodefinesecularism

Everyoneagreestodaythatmodern,diversedemocracieshavetobesecular,insomesenseofthis
term.Butwhatsense?Theterm(alongwiththecorrespondingFrenchtermlacit,anditsderivatives)
hasmorethanonesense.Thereareinfactmanydifferentmeanings,butIbelievethatwecangettoa
crucialissueifwesingleouttwokeyconceptions.
Ononeview(A),secularismismainlyconcernedwithcontrollingreligion.Itstaskistodefinetheplace
ofreligioninpubliclife,andtokeepitfirmlyinthislocation.Thisdoesntneedtoinvolvestrifeor
repression,providedvariousreligiousactorsunderstandandrespecttheselimits.Butthevariousrules
andmeasureswhichmakeupthesecularist(orlaque)rgimeallhavethisbasicpurpose.
Ontheotherview(B),themainpointofasecularistrgimeistomanagethereligiousandmetaphysical
philosophicaldiversityofviews(includingnonandantireligiousviews)
1
fairlyanddemocratically.Of
course,thistaskwillincludesettingcertainlimitstoreligiouslymotivatedactioninthepublicsphere,
butitwillalsoinvolvesimilarlimitsonthoseespousingnonorantireligiousphilosophies.(Forinstance,
thedegreetowhicheithercandiscriminateincertainrelations,likehiring).ForB,religionisnotthe
primefocusofsecularism.
ThecaseIwouldliketomakehereisthatBismuchsuperiortoA,atleastforourtime.Thepopularityof
AistobeexplainedbycertainWesternhistoriesofstruggleinwhichsecularistrgimescametobe.But
ourpresentpredicamentisforthemostpartratherdifferentthantheonewhichgeneratedthese
conflicts.Itisaboveall,oneofgrowingdiversityinallWesterndemocracies.Forthesereasons,Bis
moreappropriate.
1
LetslookatwhatBinvolvesalittlemoreclosely.Infactmanagingdiversityinvolvesacomplex
requirement.Thereismorethanonegoodsoughthere.Wecansingleoutthree,whichwecanclassin
thethreecategoriesoftheFrenchRevolutionarytrinity:liberty,equality,fraternity.1)Noonemustbe
forcedinthedomainofreligion,orbasicbelief.Thisiswhatisoftendefinedareligiousliberty,including
ofcourse,thefreedomnottobelieve.Thisiswhatisalsodescribedasthefreeexerciseofreligion,in
thetermsoftheUSfirstAmendment.2)Theremustbeequalitybetweenpeopleofdifferentfaithsor
basicbelief;noreligiousoutlookor(religiousorareligious)Weltanschauungcanenjoyaprivileged
status,letalonebeadoptedastheofficialviewofthestate.Then,thirdly,(3)allspiritualfamiliesmust
beheard,includedintheongoingprocessofdeterminingwhatthesocietyisabout(itspoliticalidentity),
andhowitisgoingtorealizethesegoals(theexactrgimeofrightsandprivileges).This(stretchingthe
pointalittle)iswhatcorrespondstofraternity.
Thesegoalscan,ofcourse,conflict;sometimeswehavetobalancethegoodsinvolvedhere.
Moreover,Ibelievethatwemightaddafourthgoal:thatwetryasmuchaspossibletomaintain
relationsofharmonyandcomitybetweenthesupportersofdifferentreligionsandWeltanschaungen
(maybethisiswhatreallydeservestobecalledfraternity,butIamstillattachedtoneatnessofthe
aboveschema,withonlythethreetraditionalgoods.)
WhydoIthinkthatthisdiversitymodel(B)issuperiortothereligionfocussedmodel(A)?Onereasonis
thatisitmoreevenhanded.Ifwelookatthethregoalsabove,theyareconcernedrespectively,with(1)
protectingpeopleintheirbelongingand/orpracticeofwhateveroutlooktheychooseorfindthemselves
in;with(2)treatingpeopleequallywhatevertheiroption;and(3)givingthemallahearing.Thereisno
reasontosingleoutreligion,asagainstnonreligious,secular(inanotherwidelyusedsense),or
atheistviewpoints.
Indeed,thepointofstateneutralityispreciselytoavoidfavouringordisfavouringnotjust
religionpositions,butanybasicposition,religiousornonreligious.WecantfavourChristianityover
Islam,butalsoreligionoveragainstnonbeliefinreligion,orviceversa.
Oneofthewaysofdemonstratingthesuperiorityofthethreeprinciplemodelofsecularism,
overthatwhichisfixatedonreligion,isthatitwouldneverallowonetomisrecognizethergime
foundedbyAtatrkasgenuinelysecular,makinglightasitdoesofthefundamentalprinciples,andeven
oftheseparationofstateandreligiousinstitutions.
ThisalsoshowsthevalueofthelateRawlsianformulationforasecularstate.Thiscleavesvery
stronglytocertainpoliticalprinciples:humanrights,equality,theruleoflaw,democracy.Thesearethe
verybasisofthestate,whichmustsupportthem.Butthispoliticalethiccanbeandissharedbypeople
ofverydifferentbasicoutlooks(whatRawlscallscomprehensiveviewsofthegood).AKantianwill
justifytherightstolifeandfreedombypointingtothedignityofrationalagency;aUtilitarianwillspeak
ofthenecessitytotreatbeingswhocanexperiencejoyandsufferinginsuchawayastomaximizethe
firstandminimizethesecond.AChristianwillspeakofhumansasmadeintheimageofGod.They
concurontheprinciples,butdifferonthedeeperreasonsforholdingtothisethic.Thestatemust
upholdtheethic,butmustrefrainfromfavouringanyofthedeeperreasons.

Theideathatsecularismmakesaspecialcaseofreligionarisesfromthehistoryofitscomingto
beintheWest(asdoes,indeed,thename).Toputitbriefly,therearetwoimportantfoundingcontexts
forthiskindofregime,theUSandFrance.IntheUScase,thewholerangeofcomprehensiveviews,or
deeperreasons,wereintheoriginalcasevariantsof(Protestant)Christianity,stretchingtoasmattering
ofDeists.SubsequenthistoryhaswidenedthepaletteofviewsbeyondChristianity,andthenbeyond
religion.Butintheoriginalcase,thepositionsbetweenwhichthestatemustbeneutralwereall
religious.HencetheFirstAmendment:Congressshallpassnolawestablishingreligionorimpedingthe
freeexercisethereof(orsomethinglikethis).
ThewordsecularismdidntappearintheearlydecadesofAmericanpubliclife.Butthiswas
thesignthatabasicproblemhadnotyetbeenfaced.Becausethefirstamendmentconcernedthe
separationofchurchandstate,itopenedthepossibilityofgivingaplacetoreligionwhichnoonewould
accepttoday.Thusinthe1830s,ajudgeoftheSupremeCourtcouldarguethatwhilethefirst
amendmentforbadetheidentificationofthefederalgovernmentwithanychurch,sinceallthechurches
wereChristian(andineffectProtestant),onecouldinvoketheprinciplesofChristianityininterpreting
thelaw.
ForjudgeJosephStory,thegoalofthefirstamendmentwastoexcludeallrivalryamong
Christiansects,butneverthelessChristianityoughttoreceiveencouragementfromthestate.
Christianitywasessentialtothestatebecausethebeliefinafuturestateofrewardsand
punishmentsisindispensabletotheadministrationofjustice.Whatismore,itisimpossiblefor
thosewhobelieveinthetruthofChristianity,asadivinerevelation,todoubt,thatitisaspecialdutyof
governmenttofoster,andencourageitamongthecitizens.
2

ThisprimacyofChristianitywasupheldevenlaterinthe19thCentury.Aslateas1890.37ofthe
42existingstatesrecognizedtheauthorityofGodinthepreamblesorinthetextoftheirconstitutions.
AunanimousjudgmentoftheSupremeCourtof1892declaredthatifonewantedtodescribeof
Americanlifeasexpressedbyitslaws,itsbusiness,itscustomsanditssociety,wefindeverywherea
clearrecognitionofthesametruththatthisisaChristiannation.(ChurchoftheHolyTrinityv.United
States,143U.S.457at471)
Inthelatterpartofthecentury,resistancebegantobuildtothisconception,butaNational
ReformAssociationwasfoundedin1863withthefollowinggoal:

- The object of this Society shall be to maintain existing Christian features in the
American government to secure such an amendment to the Constitution of the United
States as will declare the nations allegiance to J esus Christ and its acceptance of the
moral laws of the Christian religion, and so as to indicate that this is a Christian nation,
and place all the Christian laws, institutions, and usages of our government on an
undeniable legal basis in the fundamental law of the land.

After1870,thebattlewasjoinedbetweenthesupportersofthisnarrowview,ononehand,and
thosewhowantedarealopeningtoallotherreligionsandalsotononreligion.Theseincludednotonly
Jews,butalsoCatholicswho(rightly)sawtheChristianityoftheNRAasexcludingthem.Itwasinthis
battlethatthewordsecularfirstappearsontheAmericansceneasakeyterm,andveryofteninits
polemicalsenseofnonorantireligious.
3

IntheFrenchcase,lacitcameaboutinastruggleagainstapowerfulchurch.Thestrong
temptationwasforthestateitselftostandonamoralbasisindependentfromreligion.MarcelGauchet
showshowRenouvierlaidthegroundsfortheoutlookoftheThirdRepublicradicalsintheirbattle
againstthechurch.Thestatehastobemoraletenseignant.Ithaschargedmesaussibienque
toutegliseoucommunaut,maistitreplusuniversel.Moralityisthekeycriterion.Inordernotto
beunderthechurch,thestatemusthaveunemoraleindpendantedetoutereligion,andenjoya
suprmatiemoraleinrelationtoallreligions.Thebasisofthismoralityisliberty.Inordertoholdits
ownbeforereligionthemoralityunderlyingthestatehastobebasedonmorethanjustutilityor
feeling;itneedsarealthologierationnelle,likethatofKant.
4
ThewisdomofJulesFerry,andlaterof
AristideBriandandJeanJaurez,savedFranceatthetimeoftheSeparation(1905)fromsuchalopsided
regime,butthenotionstuckthatlacitwasallaboutcontrollingandmanagingreligion.
Ifwemove,however,beyondsuchoriginatingcontexts,andlookatthekindsofsocietiesweare
nowlivingintheWest,thefirstfeaturethatstrikesusisthewidediversity,notonlyofreligiousviews,
butalsoofthosewhichinvolvenoreligion,nottospeakofthosewhichareunclassifiableinthis
dichotomy.Reasons(1),(2)and(3)aboverequirethatwetreatevenhandedlyallofthese.

Thisfixationonreligioniscomplex,anditisboundupwithtwootherfeaturesweoftenfindin
thedebatesonsecularism:thefirstisthetendencytodefinesecularismorlacitintermsofsome
institutionalarrangement,ratherthanstartingfromthegoalsasIproposedabove.Andsoyouhear
mantratypeformulae,liketheseparationofchurchandstate,orthenecessityofremovingreligion
frompublicspace(lesespacesdelaRpublique,asintherecentFrenchdebate).Thesecondfollows
fromthefirst,ormayeasilyseemto.Ifthewholematterisdefinedbyoneinstitutionalformula,then
onemustjustdeterminewhicharrangementofthingsbestmeetsthisformula,andthereisnoneedto
thinkfurther.Onecannotfindoneselfinadilemma,aswilleasilyhappenifoneispursuingmorethan
onegoal,becauseherethereisjustonemasterformula.
Henceoneoftenhearsthesemantrasemployedasargumentstoppers,theultimatedecisive
responsewhichannulsallobjections.IntheUS,peopleinvoketheWallofSeparationastheultimate
criterion,andhyperRepublicansinFrancecitelacitasthefinalword.(Ofcourse,ifoneconsultedthe
firstAmendmentoftheUSconstitutiononewouldfindtwogoalsmentioned,therejectionof
establishmentandtheassuranceoffreeexercise.Itisnotinconceivablethatthesecouldconflict.)
Thiskindofmoveamounts,fromthestandpointImadoptinghere,toafetishizationofthe
favouredinstitutionalarrangements.Whereasoneshouldstartfromthegoals,andderivetheconcrete
arrangementsfromthese.Itisnotthatsomeseparationofchurchandstate,somemutualautonomyof
governingandreligiousinstitutions,willnotbeaninescapablefeatureofanysecularistregime.Andthe
samegoesfortheneutralityofthepublicinstitutions.Thesearebothindispensable.Butwhatthese
requirementsmeaninpracticeoughttobedeterminedbyhowwecanmaximizeourthree(orfour)
basicgoals.
TakeforexamplethewearingofthehijabbyMuslimwomeninpublicschools,whichhasbeena
hotissueinanumberofWesterndemocracies.InFrance,pupilsinpublicschoolswerefamously
forbiddentheheadscarf,seenasasignereligieuxostantatoire,accordingtothenotoriousLoiStasiof
2004.IncertainGermanLaender,pupilscanwearit,butnotteachers.IntheUKandothercountries,
thereisnogeneralinterdict,buttheindividualschoolscandecide.
Whatarethereasonsforthisvariation?Plainlyinallthesecases,legislatorsandadministrators
weretryingtobalancetwogoals.Onewasthemaintenanceofneutralityinpublicinstitutionsseen
(rightly)asanessentialentailmentofgoal(2):equalitybetweenallbasicbeliefs.Theotherwasgoal(1),
ensuringthemaximumpossiblereligiousliberty,orinitsmostgeneralform,libertyofconscience.Goal
(1)seemstopushustowardspermittingthehijabanywhere.Butvariousargumentsweremadetoover
ridethisintheFrenchandGermancases.FortheGermans,whatwasdisturbingwasthatsomeonein
authorityinapublicinstitutionshouldbereligiouslymarked,asitwere.IntheFrenchcase,anattempt
wasmadetocastdoubtonthepropositionthatwearingthehijabwasafreeact.Thereweredark
suggestionsthatthegirlswerebeingforcedbytheirfamilies,orbytheirmalepeerstoadoptthisdress
code.Thatwasoneargumentwhichwasfrequentlyused,howeverdubiousitmightappearinthelight
ofthesociologicalresearchcarriedoutamongthepupilsthemselves,whichtheStasiCommission
largelyignored.
Theothermainargumentwasthatwearingoftheheadscarfinschoolwaslessanactofpiety
thanastatementofhostilityagainsttherepublicanditsessentialinstitutionoflacit.Thiswasthe
meaningbehindtheintroductionoftheconceptofsigneostantatoire.Asmallerdiscretesignwould
benoproblemarguedtheStasiCommission,buttheseattentiongrabbingfeaturesofdressweremeant
tomakeahighlycontroversialstatement.ItwasinvainthatMuslimwomenprotestedthatlefoulard
nestpasunsigne.
Soononelevel,wecanseethatthesedifferentnationalanswerstothesamequestionreflect
differenttakesonhowtobalancethetwomaingoalsofasecularregime.Butonanotherlevel,the
dilemmaanditsresolutionremainhiddenundertheillusionthatthereisonlyoneprinciplehere,say,
lacitanditscorollaryoftheneutralityofpublicinstitutionsorspaces(lesespacesdelaRpublique).
Itsjustamatterofapplyinganessentialfeatureofourrepublicanregime;thereisnoneedorplacefor
choice,ortheweighingofdifferentaims.
Perhapsthemostperniciousfeatureofthisfetishizationisthatittendstohidefromviewthe
realdilemmaswhichweencounterinthisrealm,andwhichleapintoviewoncewerecognizethe
pluralityofprinciplesatstake.

Weshouldbeawarethatthisfetishizationreflectsadeepfeatureoflifeinmoderndemocracies.
Wecanseewhyassoonasweponderwhatisinvolvedinselfgovernment,whatisimpliedinthebasic
modeoflegitimationofstatesthattheyarefoundedonpopularsovereignty.Forthepeopletobe
sovereign,itneedstoformanentityandhaveapersonality.
Therevolutionswhichusheredinrgimesofpopularsovereigntytransferredtherulingpower
fromakingontoa"nation",ora"people".Intheprocess,theyinventanewkindofcollectiveagency.
Thesetermsexistedbefore,butthethingtheynowindicate,thisnewkindofagency,wassomething
unprecedented,atleastintheimmediatecontextofearlymodernEurope.Thusthenotion`people'
couldcertainlybeappliedtotheensembleofsubjectsofthekingdom,ortothenonlitestrataof
society,butpriortotheturnoverithadn'tindicatedanentitywhichcoulddecideandacttogether,to
whomonecouldattributeawill.
Butforpeopletoacttogether,inotherwords,todeliberateinordertoformacommonwillon
whichtheywillact,requiresahighdegreeofcommoncommitment,asenseofcommonidentification.
Asocietyofthiskindpresupposestrust,thebasictrustthatmembersandconstituentgroupshaveto
have,theconfidencethattheyarereallypartoftheprocess,thattheywillbelistenedtoandtheirviews
takenaccountofbytheothers.Withoutthismutualcommitment,thistrustwillbefatallyeroded.
Andsowehaveinthemodernageanewkindofcollectiveagency.Itisonewithwhichits
membersidentify,typicallyastherealization/bulwarkoftheirfreedom,and/orthelocusoftheir
national/culturalexpression(ormostoften,somecombinationofthetwo).Ofcourse,inpremodern
societies,too,peopleoften"identified"withthergime,withsacredkings,orhierarchicalorders.They
wereoftenwillingsubjects.Butinthedemocraticageweidentifyasfreeagents.Thatiswhythenotion
ofpopularwillplaysacrucialroleinthelegitimatingidea.
5

Thismeansthatthemoderndemocraticstatehasgenerallyacceptedcommonpurposes,or
referencepoints,thefeatureswherebyitcanlayclaimtobeingthebulwarkoffreedomandlocusof
expressionofitscitizens.Whetherornottheseclaimsareactuallyfounded,thestatemustbeso
imaginedbyitscitizensifitistobelegitimate.
Soaquestioncanariseforthemodernstateforwhichthereisnoanalogueinmostpremodern
forms:what/whomisthisstatefor?whosefreedom?whoseexpression?Thequestionseemstomake
nosenseappliedto,say,theAustrianorTurkishEmpiresunlessoneansweredthe"whomfor?"
questionbyreferringtotheHabsburgorOttomandynasties;andthiswouldhardlygiveyoutheir
legitimatingideas.
ThisisthesenseinwhichamodernstatehaswhatIwanttocallapoliticalidentity,definedas
thegenerallyacceptedanswertothe"what/whomfor?"question.Thisisdistinctfromtheidentitiesof
itsmembers,thatisthereferencepoints,manyandvaried,whichforeachofthesedefineswhatis
importantintheirlives.Therebetterbesomeoverlap,ofcourse,ifthesemembersaretofeelstrongly
identifiedwiththestate;buttheidentitiesofindividualsandconstituentgroupswillgenerallybericher
andmorecomplex,aswellasbeingoftenquitedifferentfromeachother.
6

Inotherwords,amoderndemocraticstatedemandsa`people'withastrongcollectiveidentity.
Democracyobligesustoshowmuchmoresolidarityandmuchmorecommitmenttooneanotherinour
jointpoliticalprojectthanwasdemandedbythehierarchicalandauthoritariansocietiesofyesteryear.
InthegoodolddaysoftheAustroHungarianEmpire,thePolishpeasantinGaliciacouldbealtogether
obliviousoftheHungariancountrysquire,thebourgeoisofPragueortheVienneseworker,withoutthis
intheslightestthreateningthestabilityofthestate.Onthecontrary.Thisconditionofthingsonly
becomesuntenablewhenideasaboutpopulargovernmentstarttocirculate.Thisisthemomentwhen
subgroupswhichwillnot,orcannot,beboundtogether,starttodemandtheirownstates.Thisisthe
eraofnationalism,ofthebreakupofempires.
Ihavebeendiscussingthepoliticalnecessityofastrongcommonidentityformodern
democraticstatesintermsoftherequirementofformingapeople,adeliberativeunit.Butthisisalso
evidentinanumberofotherways.Thinkersinthecivichumanisttradition,fromAristotlethroughto
Arendt,havenotedthatfreesocietiesrequireahigherlevelofcommitmentandparticipationthan
despoticorauthoritarianones.Citizenshavetodoforthemselves,asitwere,whatotherwisetherulers
doforthem.Butthiswillonlyhappenifthesecitizensfeelastrongbondofidentificationwiththeir
politicalcommunity,andhencewiththosewhosharewiththeminthis.
Fromanotherangleagain,becausethesesocietiesrequirestrongcommitmenttodothe
commonwork,andbecauseasituationinwhichsomecarriedtheburdensofparticipationandothers
justenjoyedthebenefitswouldbeintolerable,freesocietiesrequireahighlevelofmutualtrust.In
otherwords,theyareextremelyvulnerabletomistrustonthepartofsomecitizensinrelationtoothers,
thatthelatterarenotreallyassumingtheircommitmentse.g.,thatothersarenotpayingtheirtaxes,
orarecheatingonwelfare,orasemployersarebenefittingfromagoodlabourmarketwithout
assuminganyofthesocialcosts.Thiskindofmistrustcreatesextremetension,andthreatenstounravel
thewholeskeinofthemoresofcommitmentwhichdemocraticsocietiesneedtooperate.Acontinuing
andconstantlyrenewedmutualcommitmentisanessentialbasisfortakingthemeasuresneededto
renewthistrust.
Therelationbetweennationandstateisoftenconsideredfromaunilateralpointofview,asifit
werealwaysthenationwhichsoughttoprovideitselfwithastate.Butthereisalsotheopposite
process.Inordertoremainviable,statessometimesseektocreateafeelingofcommonbelonging.This
isanimportantthemeinthehistoryofCanada,forexample.Toformastate,inthedemocraticera,a
societyisforcedtoundertakethedifficultandnevertobecompletedtaskofdefiningitscollective
identity.
ThuswhatIhavebeencallingpoliticalidentityisextremelyimportantinmoderndemocratic
states.Andthisidentityisusuallydefinedpartlyintermsofcertainbasicprinciples(democracy,human
rights,equality),andpartlyintermsoftheirhistorical,orlinguistic,orreligioustraditions.Itis
understandablethatfeaturesofthisidentitycantakeonaquasisacredstatus,fortoalterorundermine
themcanseemtothreatentheverybasisofunitywithoutwhichademocraticstatecannotfunction.
Itisinthiscontextthatcertainhistoricalinstitutionalarrangementscanappearasuntouchable.
Theymayappearasanessentialpartofthebasicprinciplesoftheregime,buttheywillalsocometobe
seenasakeycomponentofitshistoricidentity.Thisiswhatoneseeswithlacitasinvokedbymany
Frenchrpublicains.Theironyisthatinthefaceofamodernpoliticsof(multicultural)identity,they
invokethisprincipleasacrucialfeatureof(French)identity.Thisisunfortunate,butvery
understandable.Itisoneillustrationofageneraltruth:thatcontemporarydemocraciesasthey
progressivelydiversifywillhavetoundergoredefinitionsoftheirhistoricalidentities,whichmaybefar
reachingandpainful.

Atthispoint,IwouldliketodiscussaninterestingpointthatHabermasremindsusofinhis
paperDasPolitische:originallypoliticalauthoritywasdefinedandjustifiedincosmicreligiousterms.It
wasdefinedwithinthetermsofapoliticaltheology.
7
ButHabermasseemstothinkthatmodern
secularstatesmightdoaltogetherwithoutsomeanalogousconcept,andthisseemstomenotquite
right.
ThecrucialmovethatweseeinthemodernWestfromthe17
th
Century,themovethattakesus
outofthecosmicreligiousconceptionsoforder,establishesanewBottomupviewofsociety,as
existingfortheprotectionandmutualbenefitofits(equal)members.Thereisastrongnormativeview
attachedtothisnewconception,whichIvecalledthemodernmoralorder.
8
Itenshrinesbasically
threeprinciples(ononepossibleenumeration):1)therightsandlibertiesofthemembers,2)the
equalityamongthem(whichhasofcoursebeenvariouslyinterpreted,andhasmutatedtowardsmore
radicalconceptionsovertime),and3)theprinciplethatruleisbasedonconsent(whichhasalsobeen
defendedinmoreandlessradicalforms).
Thesebasicnormshavebeenworkedoutinahostofdifferentphilosophicalanthropologies,
andaccordingtoverydifferentconceptsofhumansociability.Itverysoontranscendedtheatomism
thatnarrowedthevisionofitsearlyformulators,likeLockeandHobbes.Butthebasicnormsremain,
andaremoreorlessinseparablefrommodernliberaldemocracies.
Therejectionofcosmicreligiousembeddingthuswasaccomplishedbyanewconceptionof
thepolitical,anewbasicnorm,whichasLefortsuggestsinvolveditsownrepresentationofpolitical
authority,butoneinwhichthecentralspotremainsparadoxicallyempty.Ifthenotionofsovereigntyis
retained,noonepersonorgroupcanbeidentifiedwithit.
Democraticsocietiesareorganizednotnecessarilyaroundacivilreligion,asRousseau
claimed,butcertainlyaroundastrongphilosophyofcivility,enshriningthethreenorms,whichis
contemporarysocietiesareoftenexpressedas1)humanrights,2)equalityandnondiscrimination,and
3)democracy.
Butincertaincases,therecanbeacivilreligion:areligiousviewincorporatingandjustifyingthe
philosophyofcivility.ThiswasarguablysofortheyoungAmericanrepublic.Itwasadoptingaform
whichwasclearlypartofGodsprovidentialplanformankind(Weholdthesetruthstobeselfevident,
thatmenwerecreatedequal).Oritcanalternativelybepartofanonorevenantireligiousideology,
aswiththeFirstFrenchRepublicOnecanevenarguethatallenglobingviewsofthiskindseemmore
naturaltomanyofourcontemporaries.Afterall,theprinciplesofourcivilphilosophyseemtocallfor
deepergrounding.Ifitsveryimportantthatweagreeontheprinciples,thensurelythingsaremuch
morestableifwealsoacceptacommongrounding.Orsoitmayappear,andthecenturieslong
traditionofpoliticallifeseemstotestifyforthisidea.
Forindeedtheoverlappingconsensusbetweendifferentfoundingviewsonacommon
philosophyofcivilityissomethingquitenewinhistory,andrelativelyuntried.Itisconsequently
hazardous.Andbesides,weoftensuspectthatthosewithdifferentbasicviewscantreallysubscribeto
theseprinciples,notthewaywedo!(because,asweknow,atheistscanthaveprinciples;oras
(another)weknows,religionsareallagainstlibertyand/orequality).
Theproblemisthatareallydiversedemocracycantreverttoacivilreligion,orantireligion,
howevercomfortingthismightbe,withoutbetrayingitsownprinciples.Wearecondemnedtolivean
overlappingconsensus.

Wehaveseenhowthisstronglymotivatedmovetofetishizeourhistoricalarrangementscan
preventourseeingoursecularregimeinamorefruitfullight,whichforegroundsthebasicgoalsweare
seeking,andwhichallowsustorecognizeandreasonaboutthedilemmaswhichweface.Butthis
connectstotheothermaincauseofconfusionIcitedabove,ourfixationonreligionastheproblem.In
fact,wehavemovedinmanyWesterncountriesfromanoriginalphaseinwhichsecularismwasahard
wonachievementwardingoffsomeformofreligiousdomination,toaphaseofsuchwidespread
diversityofbasicbeliefs,religiousandareligious,thatonlyclearfocusontheneedtobalancefreedom
ofconscienceandequalityofrespectcanallowustotakethemeasureofthesituation.Otherwisewe
riskneedlesslylimitingthereligiousfreedomofimmigrantminorities,onthestrengthofourhistoric
institutionalarrangements,whilesendingamessagetothesesameminoritiesthattheybynomeans
enjoyequalstatuswiththelongestablishedmainstream.
ThinkoftheargumentoftheGermanLaenderthatforebadetheheadscarfforteachers.These
areauthorityfigures,surely;butisourideathatonlyunmarkedpeoplecanbeauthorityfigures?That
thosewhosereligiouspracticesmakethemstandoutinthiscontextdontbelonginpositionsof
authorityinthissociety?Thisismaybethewrongmessagetoinculcateinchildreninarapidly
diversifyingsociety.
Butthefixationonreligionastheproblemisnotjustahistoricalrelic.Muchofourthought,and
someofourmajorthinkersremainstuckintheoldrut.Theywanttomakeaspecialthingofreligion,but
notalwaysforveryflatteringreasons.
Whatarewetothinkoftheidea,entertainedbyRawlsforatime,thatonecanlegitimatelyask
ofareligiouslyandphilosophicallydiversedemocracythateveryonedeliberateinalanguageofreason
alone,leavingtheirreligiousviewsinthevestibuleofthepublicsphere?Thetyrannicalnatureofthis
demandwasrapidlyappreciatedbyRawls,tohiscredit.Butweoughttoaskwhythepropositionarose
inthefirstplace.Rawlspointinsuggestingthisrestrictionwasthateveryoneshouldusealanguage
withwhichtheycouldreasonablyexpecttheirfellowcitizenstoagree.Theideaseemstobesomething
likethis.Secularreasonisalanguagethateveryonespeaks,andcanargueandbeconvincedin.
Religiouslanguagesoperateoutsideofthisdiscourse,byintroducingextraneouspremiseswhichonly
believerscanaccept.Soletsalltalkthecommonlanguage.
Whatunderpinsthisnotionissomethinglikeanepistemicdistinction.Thereissecularreason
whicheveryonecanuseandreachconclusionsby,conclusionsthatis,withwhicheveryonecanagree.
Thentherearespeciallanguages,whichintroduceextraassumptions,whichmightevencontradict
thoseofordinarysecularreason.Thesearemuchmoreepistemicallyfragile;infactyouwontbe
convincedbythemunlessyoualreadyholdthem.Soreligiousreasoneithercomestothesame
conclusionsassecularreason,butthenitissuperfluous;oritcomestocontraryconclusions,andthenit
isdangerousanddisruptive.Thisiswhyitneedstobesidelined.
AsforHabermas,hehasalwaysmarkedanepistemicbreakbetweensecularreasonand
religiousthought,withtheadvantageonthesideofthefirst.Secularreasonsufficestoarriveatthe
normativeconclusionsweneed,suchasestablishingthelegitimacyofthedemocraticstate,and
definingourpoliticalethic.Recently,hispositiononreligiousdiscoursehasconsiderablyevolved;tothe
pointofrecognizingthatitsPotentialmachtdiereligiseRedebeientsprechendenpolitischenFragen
zueinemernsthaftenKandidatenfrmglicheWahrheitsgehalte,.Butthebasicepistemicdistinction
stillholdsforhim.Thuswhenitcomestotheofficiallanguageofthestate,religiousreferenceshaveto
beexpunged.ImParlamentmussbeispielsweisedieGeschftsordnungdenPresidentenermchtigen,
religiseStellungnahmenundRechtfertigungenausdemProtokollzustreichen.
9

DothesepositionsofRawlsandHabermasshowthattheyhavenotyetunderstoodthe
normativebasisforthecontemporarysecularstate?Ibelievethattheyareontosomething,inthat
therearezonesofasecularstateinwhichthelanguageusedhastobeneutral.Butthesedonotinclude
citizendeliberation,asRawlsatfirstthought,orevendeliberationinthelegislature,asHabermasseems
tothinkfromtheabovequote.Thiszonecanbedescribedastheofficiallanguageofthestate:the
languageinwhichlegislation,administrativedecreesandcourtjudgmentsmustbecouched.Itisself
evidentthatalawbeforeParliamentcouldntcontainajustifyingclauseofthetype:WhereastheBible
tellsusthatp.Andthesamegoesmutatismutandisforthejustificationofajudicialdecisioninthe
courtsverdict.Butthishasnothingtodowiththespecificnatureofreligiouslanguage.Itwouldbe
equallyimpropertohavealegislativeclause:WhereasMarxhasshownthatreligionistheopiumofthe
people,orWhereasKanthasshownthattheonlythinggoodwithoutqualificationisagoodwill.The
groundsforboththesekindsofexclusionsistheneutralityofthestate.
ThestatecanbeneitherChristiannorMuslimnorJewish;butbythesametokenitshouldalso
beneitherMarxist,notKantian,notUtilitarian.Ofcourse,thedemocraticstatewillendupvotinglaws
which(inthebestcase)reflecttheactualconvictionsofitscitizens,whichwillbeeitherChristian,or
Muslim,etc,throughthewholegamutofviewsheldinamodernsociety.Butthedecisionscantbe
framedinawaywhichgivesspecialrecognitiontooneoftheseviews.Thisisnoteasytodo;thelines
arehardtodraw;andtheymustalwaysbedrawnanew.Butsuchisthenatureoftheenterprisewhichis
themodernsecularstate.Andwhatbetteralternativeistherefordiversedemocracies?
10

Nowthenotionthatstateneutralityisbasicallyaresponsetodiversityhastroublemaking
headwayamongsecularpeopleintheWest,whoremainoddlyfixatedonreligion,assomething
strangeandperhapseventhreatening.Thisstanceisfedbyalltheconflicts,pastandpresentofliberal
stateswithreligion,butalsobyaspecificallyepistemicdistinction:religiouslyinformedthoughtis
somehowlessrationalthanpurelysecularreasoning.Theattitudehasapoliticalground(religionas
threat),butalsoanepistemologicalone(religionasafaultymodeofreason).
11

Ibelievewecanseethesetwomotifsinapopularcontemporarybook,MarkLillasTheStillborn
God.Ononehand,Lillawantstoclaimthatthereisagreatgulfbetweenthinkinginformedbypolitical
theologyandthinkingandtalkingaboutpoliticsexclusivelyinhumanterms.
12
Modernshaveeffected
theliberation,isolation,andclarificationofdistinctivelypoliticalquestions,apartfromspeculations
aboutthedivinenexus.Politicsbecame,intellectuallyspeaking,itsownrealmdeservingindependent
investigationandservingthelimitedaimofprovidingthepeaceandplentynecessaryforhumandignity.
ThatwastheGreatSeparation.
13
Suchmetaphorsofradicalseparationimplythathumancentred
politicalthoughtisamorereliableguidetoanswerthequestionsinitsdomainthantheoriesinformed
bypoliticaltheology.
Somuchfortheepistemologicalranking.Butthentowardstheendofhisbook,Lillacallsonus
nottoloseournerve,andallowtheGreatSeparationtobereversed;
14
whichseemstoimplythatthere
aredangersindoingso.Thereturnofreligioninthissensewouldbefullofmenace.
15

Thisphenomenondeservesfullerexamination.Ideally,weshouldlookcarefullyatthedouble
groundsforthisstanceofdistrust,commentonthese,andthensaysomethingaboutthepossible
negativepoliticalconsequencesofmaintainingthisstance.Butinthispaper,Ishallonlyreallyhave
spacetolookattherootsoftheepistemologicalground.
IthinkthishasitssourceinwhatonemightcallamythoftheEnlightenment.Therecertainlyisa
commonviewwhichseestheEnlightenment(Aufklrung,Lumires)asapassagefromdarknesstolight,
thatis,asanabsolute,unmitigatedmovefromarealmofthoughtfulloferrorandillusiontoonewhere
thetruthisatlastavailable.Tothisonemustimmediatelyaddthatacounterviewdefinesreactionary
thought:theEnlightenmentwouldbeanunqualifiedmoveintoerror,amassiveforgettingofsalutary
andnecessarytruthsaboutthehumancondition.
Inthepolemicsaroundmodernity,morenuancedunderstandingstendtogetdriventothewall,
andthesetwoslugitout.Arnoldsphraseaboutignorantarmiesclashingbynightcomesirresistiblyto
mind.

ButwhatIwanttodohere,ratherthanbemoaningthisfact,istotrytoexplainwhatunderlies
theunderstandingofEnlightenmentasanabsolute,unmitigatedstepforward.ThisiswhatIseeasthe
mythoftheEnlightenment.(Onecantresistthisjab,becausemythisoftencitedaswhat
Enlightenmenthassavedusfrom.)
Thisisworthwhiledoing,Ibelieve,becausethemythismorewidespreadthanonemightthink.
Evensophisticatedthinkers,whomightrepudiateitwhenitispresentedasageneralproposition,seem
tobeleaningonitinothercontexts.
ThusthereisaversionofwhatEnlightenmentrepresentswhichseesitasoursteppingoutofa
realminwhichRevelation,orreligioningeneral,countedasasourceofinsightabouthumanaffairs,into
arealminwhichthesearenowunderstoodinpurelythisworldlyorhumanterms.Ofcourse,thatsome
peoplehavemadethispassageisnotwhatisindispute.Whatisquestionableistheideathatthismoves
involvestheselfevidentepistemicgainofoursettingasideconsiderationofdubioustruthand
relevanceandconcentratingonmatterswhichwecansettleandwhichareobviouslyrelevant.Thisis
oftenrepresentedasamovefromRevelationtoreasonalone(KantsblosseVernunft).
Clearerexamplesarefoundincontemporarypoliticalthinkers,forinstance,Rawlsand
Habermas.Foralltheirdifferences,theyseemtoreserveaspecialstatusfornonreligiouslyinformed
Reason(letscallthisreasonalone),asthougha)thislatterwereabletoresolvecertainmoralpolitical
issuesinawaywhichcanlegitimatelysatisfyanyhonest,unconfusedthinker,andb)wherereligiously
basedconclusionswillalwaysbedubious,andintheendonlyconvincingtopeoplewhohavealready
acceptedthedogmasinquestion.
ThissurelyiswhatliesbehindtheideaImentionedabove(section6),entertainedforatimein
differentformbyboththinkers,thatonecanrestricttheuseofreligiouslanguageinthesphereof
publicreason.Wemustmentionagainthatthispropositionhasbeenlargelydroppedbyboth;butwe
canseethatthepropositionitselfmakesnosense,unlesssomethinglike(a)+(b)aboveistrue.Rawls
pointinsuggestingthisrestrictionwasthatpublicreasonmustbecouchedintermswhichcouldin
principlebeuniversallyagreedupon.Thenotionwasthattheonlytermsmeetingthisstandardwere
thoseofreasonalone(a),whilereligiouslanguagebyitsverynaturewouldfailtodoso(b).

Beforeproceedingfarther,Ishouldjustsaythatthisdistinctioninrationalcredibilitybetween
religiousandnonreligiousdiscourse,supposedby(a)+(b),seemstomeutterlywithoutfoundation.It
mayturnoutattheendofthedaythatreligionisfoundedonanillusion,andhencethatwhatisderived
fromitlesscredible.Butuntilweactuallyreachthatplace,thereisnoapriorireasonforgreater
suspicionbeingdirectedatit.Thecredibilityofthisdistinctiondependsontheviewthatsomequite
thisworldlyargumentsufficestoestablishcertainmoralpoliticalconclusions.Imeansatisfyinthe
senseof(a):itshouldlegitimatelybeconvincingtoanyhonest,unconfusedthinker.Thereare
propositionsofthiskind,rangingfrom2+2=4allthewaytosomeofthebetterfoundeddeliverances
ofmodernnaturalscience.Butthekeybeliefsweneed,forinstance,toestablishourbasicpolitical
moralityarenotamongthem.Thetwomostwidespreadthisworldlyphilosophiesinourcontemporary
world,utilitarianandKantianism,intheirdifferentversions,allhavepointsatwhichtheyfailtoconvince
honestandunconfusedpeople.Ifwetakekeystatementsofourcontemporarypoliticalmorality,such
asthoseattributingrightstohumanbeingsassuch,saytherighttolife,Icannotseehowthefactthat
wearedesiring/enjoying/sufferingbeings,ortheperceptionthatwearerationalagents,shouldbeany
surerbasisforthisrightthanthefactthatwearemadeintheimageofGod.Ofcourse,ourbeing
capableofsufferingisoneofthosebasicunchallengeablepropositions,inthesenseof(a),asourbeing
creaturesofGodisnot,butwhatislesssureiswhatfollowsnormativelyfromthefirstclaim.
Ofcourse,thisdistinctionwouldbemuchmorecredibleifonehadasecularargumentfor
rightswhichwaswatertight.AndthisprobablyaccountsforthedifferencebetweenmeandHabermas
onthisscore.Hefindsthissecurefoundationinadiscourseethic,whichIunfortunatelyfindquite
unconvincing.

The(a)+(b)distinction,appliedtothemoralpoliticaldomain,isoneofthefruitsofthe
Enlightenmentmyth;orperhapsoneshouldsayitisoneoftheformswhichthismythtakes.Itwouldbe
interestingtotracetheriseofthisillusion,throughaseriesofmoveswhichwereinpartwellfounded,
andinpartthemselvesgroundedonillusions.Inanotherpaper,
16
Iidentifiedthree,ofwhichthefirst
twoarerelativelywelltraced,andthethirdrequiresmoreelaboratedescription.Illbrieflymentionthe
firsttwohere
Firstcomes(1)foundationalism,whichoneseesmostfamouslywithDescartes.Thiscombinesa
supposedlyindubitablestartingpoint(theparticulateideasinthemind)withaninfalliblemethod(that
ofclearanddistinctideas)andthusshouldyieldconclusionswhichwouldliveuptoclaim(a).Butthis
comesunstuck,andintwoplaces.Theindubitablestartingpointscanbechallengedbyadetermined
scepticism,suchaswefindinHume;andthemethodreliesmuchtoomuchonaprioriargument,and
notenoughonempiricalinput.
Buteventhoughhisfoundationalismandhisaprioriphysicswererejected,Descartesleftbehind()a
beliefintheimportanceoffindingthecorrectmethod,and()thecrucialaccountwhichunderpinsthe
notionofreasonalone.Heclaimedtobeprescindingfromallexternalauthority,whetheremanating
fromsocietyortradition,whetherinculcatedbyparentsorteachers,andtorelyonlyonwhat
monologicalreasoncanverifyascertain.Theproperuseofreasonissharplydistinguishedfromwhatwe
receivefromauthority.Inthewesterntraditionthissupposedlyexternalimpositioncomestoinclude,
indeedtofinditsparadigmin,religiousrevelation.AstheMarquisdeCondorcetputit,inhisaccountof
theprogressofthehumanmind,

Ilfutenfinpermisdeproclamerhautementcedroitsilongtempsmconnudesoumettretoutes
lesopinionsnotrepropreraison,cestdiredemployer,poursaisirlavrit,leseul
instrumentquinousaittdonnpourlareconnatre.Chaquehommeapprit,
avecunesortedorgueil,quelanaturenelavaitpasabsolumentdestincroiresurlaparole
dautrui;etlasuperstitiondelAntiquit,labaissementdelaraisondevantledliredunefoi
surnaturelledisparurentdelasocitcommedelaphilosophie.
17

Ourreasoningpowerisheredefinedasautonomousandselfsufficient.Properreasontakesnothingon
faithinanysenseoftheword.Wemightcallthistheprincipleofselfsufficientreason.Thestoryof
itsriseanditsselfemancipationcomestobeseenasakindofcomingofageofhumanity.AsKantput
it,notlongafterCondorcetwrote,Enlightenmentistheemergenceofhumanbeingsfromastateof
tutelageforwhichtheywerethemselvesresponsible,aselbstbeschuldigteUnmndigkeit(aself
responsiblenonage).Thesloganoftheagewassapereaude!Daretoknow.
18

Thefirstcrucialmoveisthattoselfsufficientreason.Thesecond(2)wastopointtonatural
scienceasamodelforthescienceofsociety,themoveweseeinHobbes,forinstance.Ishallnotpursue
thisfurtherhere,becausereductiveviewsofsocialsciencehavelesscredibilitytoday,althoughtheyare,
alas,stillpresentonthescene.

Thiswholematterdeservesmuchfurtherconsideration,morethanIcangiveithere.ButIam
convincedthatthisfurtherexaminationwouldlendevenmorecredibilitytothediversityconceptIhave
beenproposinghere,whichamountstothis:Whatdeservetobecalledsecularistregimesin
contemporarydemocracyhavetobeconceivednotprimarilyasbulwarksagainstreligionbutasgood
faithattemptstosecurethethree(orfour)basicgoalsIoutlinedabove.Andthismeansthatthey
attempttoshapetheirinstitutionalarrangements,nottoremaintruetohallowedtradition,butto
maximizethebasicgoalsoflibertyandequalitybetweenbasicbeliefs.

NOTES

1
Rawlswouldtalkhereofcomprehensiveconceptionsofthegood.SeehisPoliticalLiberalism
2
AndrewKoppelman,RawlsandHabermas,page36.
3
ChristianSmith,TheSecularRevolution,UCalPr2003.SeealsoTisaWenger,RewritingtheFirst
Amendment:CompetingAmericanSecularisms,18501900.

4
MarcelGauchet,LaReligiondanslaDmocratie,Paris:Gallimard1998,pp.4750
5.
.Rousseau,wholaidbareveryearlythelogicofthisidea,sawthatademocraticsovereigncouldn'tjustbean"aggregation";ithas
tobean"association",thatis,astrongcollectiveagency,a"corpsmoraletcollectif"with"sonunit,sonmoicommun,savieetsa
volont".Thislasttermisthekeyone,becausewhatgivesthisbodyitspersonalityisa"volontgnrale".ContratSocial,BookI,
chapter6.
6.
.Ihavediscussedthisrelationin"LesSourcesdel'identitmoderne",inMikhalElbaz,AndreFortin,andGuyLaforest,eds.,Les
Frontiresdel'Identit:ModernitetpostmodernismeauQubec,SainteFoy:Pressesdel'UniversitLaval,1996,pp.34764
7
IndiesersymbolischenDimensionentstehtjenelegitimationswirksameLegierungausPolitikundReligion,auf
sichderBegriffdesPolitischenbezieht,DasPolitische,4.
8
SeeModernSocialInaginaries.
9
J.Habermas,ZwischenNaturalismusuneReligion,Frankfurt:Suhrkamp2005,page137.Ofcourse,Habermasis
right:officiallanguageindiversedemocraciesmustavoidcertainreligiousreferences(althoughthisshouldntbe
stretchedtoincludeassemblydebates),butthisisnotbecausetheyarespecificallyreligious,butratherbecause
theyarenotshared.Itwouldbejustasunacceptablefor,say,legislationtobejustifiedbyawhereasclause
referringtoanatheistphilosophy,asbysuchaclausereferringtotheauthorityoftheBible.
10
IamnotsurewhetherIamdisagreeingwithHabermas,orwhetherthedifferenceinformulationreallyamounts
toadifferenceinpractice.Webothrecognizecontextsinwhichthelanguageofthestatehastorespectareserve
ofneutrality,andothersinwhichfreedomofspeechisunlimited.Wedifferperhapsmoreinourrationalesthanin
thethepracticewerecommend.
11
Sometimestheobligationofcitizenstoaddresstheircompatriotsinthelanguageofsecularreasonisgrounded
inanobligationtomakeonespositionintelligibletothem.Theselfunderstandingoftheconstitutionalstatehas
developedwithintheframeworkofacontractualisttraditionthatreliesonnaturalreason,inotherwordssoely
onpublicargumentstowhichallpersonsaresupposedtohaveequalaccess(JHabermasReligioninthePublic
Sphere,page5).Butwhatreasonistheretothinkthatnaturalreasonofferedusakindofideological
Esperanto?WereMartinLutherKingssecularcompatriotsunabletounderstandwhathewasarguingforwhenhe
putthecaseforequalityinBiblicalterms?WouldmorepeoplehavegotthepointhadheinvokedKant?And
besides,howdoesonedistinguishreligiousfromsecularlanguage?IstheGoldenRuleclearlyamoveineitherone
ortheother?
12
TheStillbornGod,page5.
13
Ibid,p.162.
14
Ibid,pp.3056
15
Habermasisanexceptionalfigure;inmanyrespects,ofcourse,buthereIwanttopointoutthatalthoughheisa
majorthinkerintheepistemologicaldistinctionreligion/reason(forwhichIcriticizehimbelow),hemost
emphaticallydoesNOTsharethepoliticalmistrustofreligionwhichoftengoeswiththis.
16
SeeBlosseVernunft

17
Condorcet,Esquisseduntableauhistoriquedesprogrsdelesprithumain,Paris:Flammarion1988,page225.I
havelearnedagretdealfromtheinterestingdiscussioninVincentDescombes,Leraisonnementdelours,Paris:
Seuil2007,pp.163178.
18
ImmanuelKant,WasistAufklrung?,inKantsWerke,AkademieTextausgabe(Berlin:WalterdeGruyter1968)
VolumerVIII,page33.