Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

In what alternate universe would we really want a Machiavellian, or even Hobbesian politics compared to one where Rick Warren simply is one (religious) voice among many? I am well aware of Oakeshott's reading of Hobbes, but its worth recalling that Hobbes' model for political authority was Moses, precisely because he both was political and religious leader, fusing the two together. And Part III of Leviathan is titled "Of a Christian Commonwealth." This is why I thought Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God was so silly -- Hobbes was in many ways the political theologian par excellence, not the representative figure of some "great separation" between religious and politics.

You are on firmer ground with Locke, but a number of Locke scholars recognize just how vital God is to his project.

Can we really ground human equality in nature, in the principles we understand through simple reason? (Before you are too quick to answer, read the Essay Concerning Human Understanding alongside the Second Treatise). Maybe not -- God ties up a number of loose ends in Locke's thought (see Jeremy Waldron's work on this, or the chapter on Locke in Joshua Mitchell's Not by Reason Alone). He said a few things about Catholics, too, right?

I think it's more important to cultivate a politic ethic of restraint and humility, even if the person's voice remains inflected with religion, than to demand a narrow secularism. My concern is not to have a public sphere hermetically sealed off from all foundational reasoning, but to urge generosity, self-criticism, and an understanding of our own fallibility -- left and right, secular and religious. That is, I'm not so concerned with limiting what can be said (what counts as legitimate discourse), but urging citizens to say it in a certain way, with a particular sensibility. And I think this approach fits in much better with the trajectory of American history and politics.