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On the “Religion of Humanity”

In my response to Paul Seaton’s Liberty Forum essay, I mentioned once the phrase “religion of humanity” that can be found in Manent’s works. As Professor Seaton points out, this is an important concept that the French philosopher uses to explain the current trend toward homogeneity in the world. Seaton claims that the term was used first by Auguste Comte. This may be so, but in fact its roots are deeper than that and are worth a second look. Consider, for example, the end of chapter four of Manent’s Cours familier de philosophie politique (2001). There he pointed out the contrast between Rousseau and Dante on this issue, a tension that we still live with today. The first denied that a universal natural society might exist, while the latter believed in the possibility of a general society of humanity. If one sides with Rousseau, Manent wrote, one is likely to become in the end a partisan of the nation-state. But if one agrees with Dante that there is a universal society that links all human beings beyond their local attachments, one should be open to the current European project and would agree with its philosophical underpinnings. Hence the phrase “religion of humanity” should not be discounted too easily, as Manent himself suggests. We don’t know yet who was right: Rousseau or Dante? The verdict is still out. Humanity as “un ensemble des hommes vivants”, to use Manent’s own words, may have only a potential existence. Nonetheless, it would be imprudent to say that that it cannot have a political existence as well. Time alone will tell.
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