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Religion of Humanity

We can’t help it, we’re human, we necessarily have worldviews.  Everybody does.  The Resistance does too, rough hewn, in the aggregate, and tacit as it may be.  Now it is time to take a look squarely at the Resistance’s main object of concern:  Humanity itself.  The Resistance declares itself “inclusive” and it hates “exclusion.”  Its vision and its concern encompass all of humanity.  But not all “humanisms” are created equal.  But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Who is to say that Resistance humanism is unquestionable?  Not me. Not Pierre Manent.  Not John Fonte.

Following our usual procedure, we begin with telling phenomena, revealing signs of the underlying humanitarian vision of the Resistance.  Any talk of immigration restriction is declared (or suspected of being) “racist” and “xenophobic,” and temporary bans on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries with known inabilities to vet Islamist terrorists were automatically judged “Islamophobic.”   As a rule, greater public concern is shown for possible “backlash” against Muslims here than for the victims of terrorist murder.  Typically, the condemnation of such murder is ritualistic, conveyed in flat tones, and then dropped so as not to give aid-and-comfort to the real enemy, domestic political opponents who are “Islamophobic.”  Once again, the binary structure of Resistance thinking declares itself.

Islam and Muslims are a striking exception to Progressive-Resistance antipathy toward traditional religions, so they are a particularly revealing case.   To be sure, they are often defended on the tactical principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my ally.”  But there is something deeper at work and Pierre Manent can help bring it to light.  It is precisely a certain sort of humanitarianism.

Manent has had the dubious privilege of observing its European version for decades, long before the Resistance came into being.  He can help us understand, mutatis mutandis, the more recent American version.  In a shorthand formulation, it is “a view of Humanity as already, or virtually, unified, with no significant differences”.[1]  Anyone who merely points out real and obvious divisions that exist among human beings is deemed to endorse them, to delight in human division, and to be in the grips of odium unitatis generis humani.  Anyone who says that these differences in beliefs and morals and collective organization are humanly significant and merit discussion, both philosophic and civic, has malevolently opened a can of worms and troubles the necessary unity and desirable unification of Humanity.  On the European continent, this view has taken the form of a secular religion, “a religion of Humanity,” and it is strictly enforced in their version of political correctness.   Here is Manent in 2010:

Anyone who does not see humanity as an immediate reality, as an evident experience in a way, reveals, according to the dominant opinion, his hostility to human unity and thus to humanity itself.  Such is the authority among us of this idea, o[f] philosophic origin, of humanity.[2]

This philosophical idea has taken on a certain cast, at once obfuscating and obdurate, and assumed a quasi-religious status:

According to this public philosophy, we see, we must see, we can only see human unity, or at least humanity in the process of unification.

But if we claim to see what we do not see, if what is visible and what is visibly fragmented do not arrest our gaze, and if, on the contrary, we believe we are seeing the invisible unity of humanity, then we are indeed part of what we can only call a religion, part of what I am happy to call, following others, the religion of humanity.  We are not only under the power of an idea; rather, the philosophical idea of humanity comes along with a religious enthusiasm (italics added).[3]

As a political philosopher, Manent has analyzed this ersatz philosophico-religious mindset’s characteristics and sources, as well as various domains in which it displays itself (international law; identity-politics; moral relativism), subjecting it to philosophical and political critique.  Some of these analyses also have the guilty pleasure of exhibiting his capacity for sarcasm.  One piquant example:

Under a flashing neon sign proclaiming “human unity,” contemporary Europeans would have humanity arrest all intellectual or spiritual movement in order to conduct a continual, interminable liturgy of self-adoration.[4]

The point is serious though, as it indicates the atheistic humanism involved, as well as the stifling self-satisfaction.   Whereas premodern Europeans were involved in the great adventures of searching for the philosophical and religious truth, and were alive to the great human possibility of “conversion,” of aligning one’s soul with the truth found or accepted, contemporary democrats are beyond those adventures and challenges.  There is a certain democratic complacency publicly encoded on the continent, born of dogmatic skepticism compounded by easy-going affirmation.   Its centerpiece is a distinctive view of human dignity.

Here, again, is Manent, this time on “contemporary moral conscience” and its central category, human dignity.  The foil is Kant, who most powerfully put human dignity on the modern philosophical map.  The main point is the recent democratization of an earlier, sterner understanding of human dignity, and its affront to the natural movements of the human spirit and to Socrates.

To respect the dignity of other human beings is no longer to respect the respect they hold within themselves for the moral law.  Today it is more to respect the choice they have made, whatever that choice may be, in asserting their rights.  For Kant, respect for human dignity is respect for humanity itself; for contemporary moralism, respect for human dignity is respect for the “contents of life,” whatever they may be, of other human beings.  The same words are used, but with an altogether different moral perspective.[5]

According to the first, the Kantian perspective,

My respect is addressed to the humanity of the other human beings; as human beings they are essentially respectable.  Now, what they do with their life, the “contents of their life,” is another thing; I can approve, disapprove, be indifferent, or be perplexed, in short, here the full scale of feelings and judgments that life arouses in us is naturally deployed.[6]

In this dispensation, the human mind is given free rein to follow its natural movements.  And Socrates can ask his probing questions, even in the public square.

The contemporary public square is quite different.  There, “[r]espect is demanded for all life contents, all life choices, or all lifestyles.”[7]

But, observes Manent,

[t]his formulation really has no meaning.  Or its only meaning is that all life contents, all life choices, all lifestyles must be approved, appreciated, valued, applauded.  But that is simply impossible.[8]

With the hocus-pocus and magic wand of this inflated notion of dignity, everything is dignified.  But everyone knows that everything is not dignified, that ideas and choices and beliefs and sexual practices and orientations and notions of justice and nobility are not self-explanatory or self-justifying:  the socratic imperative of “giving an account” (logon didonai) continues (even if dimmed) for human beings in advanced democratic times.  Contemporary moralism, in denying this, is deeply anti-human.

Nor will it do to say that public life can be a blanket allowance or licensing of lifestyles, while civil society and private life can continue their judging ways.  The classics and Tocqueville taught that what is authoritative in the political realm becomes authoritative tout court.  This is often on display here.  Take the Supreme Court and Justice Kennedy.

Kennedy, of course, is the one who has introduced this catch-all view of human dignity into our jurisprudence.  From the “sweet mystery of life” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey to his setting up of two autonomies in Lawrence v. Texas, that of the dignified individual and that of state legislatures, and declaring that the former cannot be attained by any morals legislation, but in fact must determine the latter (Obergefell), we in America know this heavy-handed use of dignity.

The example of Justice Kennedy reminds us that the American humanitarianism of the Resistance, while sharing many features with its European cousin, is perforce different because of unique features of the American scene.  For example, we have already spoken about the central place that African-Americans play in our views of race and country.  And in the face of Manent’s insistence upon the normative unity of Humanity at the core of this worldview (at the price of failing to take seriously serious differences), some readers will have wondered where the Resistance insistence upon “diversity” and “minorities” fits in?   Hence there is a need to turn to more American-focused analyses of this sort of cosmopolitan humanitarianism.  Happily, one is available and has been for a while.  To John Fonte’s analysis of “transnational progressivism” we turn next.

[1] For a fuller treatment, see my “European Dreamin’:  Democratic Astigmatism and Its Sources,” www.voegelinview.com, February 8, 2017.

[2] Seeing Things Politically (St. Augustine Press, 2015), trans. by Ralph C. Hancock, Introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney, p. 150.  There is a typo in the original.

[3] Ibid., p. 151-152.

[4] Democracy without Nations? (ISI Books, 2007), trans. with an introduction by Paul Seaton, pp. 8-9.

[5] A World beyond Politics?  (Princeton University Press, 2006), trans. by Marc LePain, p. 193.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 194.

[8] Ibid.

Reader Discussion

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on August 09, 2017 at 12:53:26 pm

Truly excellent.

In preparation for the next installment, here's a link to John Fonte's commentary since January 2007 taken from the Hudson Institute's site: https://www.hudson.org/experts/130-john-fonte

I expect the October 2016 article "Transformers" published by the Claremont Review of Books will be relevant.

I'm not much of a Christian but I am a Calvinist Independent who knows church history. What strikes me is how similar our Progressives are to the 17th C. Presbyterians in both old and new England. Then, the self-styled orthodox Presbyterians were forever calling us Independents heretics, burning our books and pamphlets and banishing us from polite society. They were no different from Archbishop William Laud and they would make no accommodations for "tender consciences." It was always their way or disenfranchisement if one could not agree to whatever Solemn League and Covenant had captured their fancy at the moment followed by banishment for the first offense and flogging, imprisonment or death for the second.

What distinguishes a Presbyterian from an Independent is that Presbyterians were always radical Whigs who believed the church and the state were one and that sovereignty is vested in the institutions of government; while Independents were always radical republicans who believe that the church and state must be not be one and that those being governed are sovereign.

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EK
on August 09, 2017 at 17:19:47 pm

excellent!

The secularists who would be Puritans! Indeed, the humanists (of today) have far more in common with that New England sect than a certain level of licentiousness.

Nice distillation of Manent!

Look forward to next in the series.

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gabe
on August 09, 2017 at 18:28:44 pm

l am left to wonder as to what "the Resistance" is, and whether it is fair to build such a magnificent edifice on such an unstable plot of intellectual ground.

For instance, l perceive Donald Trump as dangerously incompetent and mentally ill (narcissistic personality disorder). That, ostensibly, makes me part of "the Resistance." l am virulently opposed to untrammeled immigration, advocating single-payer because l'm a good capitalist, and it's cheaper. One size does not fit all. lt seems to me that the author has gathered a Dennis Prager-class pile of straw to build his men with. But even that is beside the point.

This paragraph stuck out:

"Kennedy, of course, is the one who has introduced this catch-all view of human dignity into our jurisprudence. From the “sweet mystery of life” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey to his setting up of two autonomies in Lawrence v. Texas, that of the dignified individual and that of state legislatures, and declaring that the former cannot be attained by any morals legislation, but in fact must determine the latter (Obergefell), we in America know this heavy-handed use of dignity."

While l grant that the typical Kennedy opinion is an adventure in opacity, l fail to perceive how the author has been in any way injured by that troika of cases. l have been married for almost four decades, and don't see any harm to me if Ted and Fred decide to wed. And with first-hand knowledge of the fact that vaccines and oral contraceptives are not perfectly safe, l fail to see why a woman can't terminate an unplanned pregnancy caused by failure of the method she was using. lt's not that "sweet mystery of life," so much as the sweetness of privacy--a right to be let alone. "The most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men." Olmstead v. US [Brandeis, J., dissenting].

Just be honest, Prof. Seaton: You want to be a mullah. No matter how hard you try to obscure it in a cloak of verbosity, you want to impose your moral code on the rest of us. Allah-u-ackbar!

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LawDog
on August 09, 2017 at 19:10:58 pm

Careful here, Dawg:

You may be guilty of imputing to others the motives / perceptions / thinking that perhaps you may possess yourself. I find this quite common as in, say, the Google-ites, campus speech police etc who all impute evil motive and intent to others while they themselves *impose* their own moral codes on those who are reluctant to accept the latest grab bag of "goodies" - read: newly divined rights emanating from the penumbra of that sweet mystery of life. (and anyway, Mario Lanza did a much better presentation of "Sweet Mystery of Life" back in the day).

Also, I do get a KICK out of all those protesting that their privacy is being invaded while freely and willingly (gullibly) surrendering some rather intimate details of their lives to the oracular fonts of the modern age - Facebook, Google, amazon.

My goodness, I have even read that the makers of that idiotic robotic vacuum cleaner, Zoomba (?) is going to collect and sell date on the Zoomba owner's house, belongings, etc.

And we decry a loss of privacy. Inanity reigns Supreme!

BTW: Were it simply that gays could marry, etc and just leave everyone alone, your assertion that it "harms none" would be valid. BUT - that is not what they seek (nor what the courts appear to limit SSM to); rather, they seek, no, DEMAND, approbation; it must be that all acclaim their particular choice or face the loss of employment, civil suit, etc.

Me, I'm like Don Corleone, who, at a big sitdown, proclaims, "Mind you, I don;t care what a man does for a living..." The Good Don goes on to let it be known that so long as it leaves him alone - it is all OK.

I suspect that is what most people want; to neither belittle nor be forced to provide public acclaim for certain lifestyle choices. To express a desire to be left alone (in privacy, Mr. Justice Brandeis) ought not, at least to any reasonable mind, be equated with mullah-ism.
Frankly, I think you know better, BTW.

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gabe
on August 09, 2017 at 23:30:13 pm

This intellectual construct is false, because the typical human being is too psychologically powerful to brook equality: Unity is a bad idea.

Willing citizens may collaborate for comprehensive safety and security (CSS), and they are collaborating against dissidents to CSS. Unity is not expected.

Most willing citizens may acquire the liberty to pursue personal preferences in order to discover their person.

Respect is a bad demand. Citizens’ civic behaviors may attract appreciation.

Equality is a bad demand. Are there two equal ova? If so, their equality ends upon fertilization.

Dignity is a private pursuit.

Chess is another intellectual game people play.

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Phil Beaver
on August 10, 2017 at 08:42:24 am

I was always genuinely puzzled-not just angry, but legitimately trying to understand-the relationship between the left (including the mainstream "cool people") and Islam, considering the obvious differences on sexuality, feminism, etc. I recently heard an argument that it's partly racial, because Islam is predominantly black and brown. I found this mildly satisfying, as the only other thing I could come up with was that they REALLY don't like their own Christian civilization. Hence the views on sex and gender that are bad for Christians are perfectly good for Muslims, even when taken to much more of an extreme.

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Bernard Menard
on August 10, 2017 at 11:13:14 am

g: "Were it simply that gays could marry, etc and just leave everyone alone, your assertion that it “harms none” would be valid. BUT – that is not what they seek (nor what the courts appear to limit SSM to); rather, they seek, no, DEMAND, approbation"

l'm honestly not understanding that statement ... and with it, your grievance. An integral part of being married is being able to ACT married in public. To be able to check into a hotel as a married couple. To be able to walk into a bakery and order a cake. To not be fired for who you choose as a life partner.

ls that so unreasonable?

Let's approach this question from a Christian perspective. Jesus taught that you should "do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Matt. 7:12. What rights are you willing to forfeit? And if you are unwilling to cede them, why should they?

As for FB, they have a name and a birthday. And l am not going to warrant that they are correct. :) Needless to say, l won't be patronizing Ancestry.com (read the contract). l am mortified by what is happening in our nation's universities, but you guys seem to be displaying a similar form of snowflake behavior.

They're here. They're queer. Get used to it. lf you have a problem with that, solve it.

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LawDog
on August 10, 2017 at 11:25:14 am

Presbyterians, not Puritans. Back then, Puritans were any and all Calvinist sects that rejected high church forms and ceremonies. Puritans included Independents, Anabaptists, general and particular Baptists, Quakers, Familists, proto-Unitarians like Henry Marten and Isaac Newton and any other Reformed sect. Presbyterians, who were also Puritans, hated them all.

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EK
on August 10, 2017 at 13:44:31 pm

This is not a religious question; its a political question to be resolved with reference to the Constitution.

My axioms are that sovereignty is vested in those being governed; their sovereignty is absolute; they express their sovereignty by the vote of the majority and through the laws they enact and enforce. Absent a basic law or constitution, there are no individual rights the majority of those governed are bound to respect.

In constitutional democratic republics, such as the US and the several states, a constitution identifies any fundamental individual rights that will always be respected, notwithstanding the will of any transient majority that may emerge. Constitutions also deal with matters like the extent of the franchise, election of the representatives who will attend to the business of making the laws and the structure of the government. In this model, a constitution that has not been ratified by those being governed does not bind the governed. Such a constitution is merely the diktat of the governing regime. It may be enforced by the sword but it is never legitimate and will always be a usurpation of the sovereignty vested in the governed.

The US was framed as a federal constitutional democratic republic. That means it is a federation of sovereign constitutional democratic republics called states. Here, the 9th and 10th Amendments are important. The 9th Amendment affirms popular sovereignty and the 10th Amendment affirms that, acting through their state republics, the governed in each state may chose what rights or interest to vindicate and which to restrain - limited only by the plain language of the Federal constitution. This model was badly deformed by the 17th Amendment and the consequences are now very obvious.

Our problem with the Nine Nazgûl is that since 1940, they have been discovering individual rights that never existed before in western history. They have not been ratified by the governed and they are a usurpation of popular sovereignty.

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EK
on August 10, 2017 at 13:52:49 pm

Dawg:

Nawwhh! I have no grievance - just a certain bemusement.

BUT - it is not true that they simply want to be able to act like traditional folks. There is, as I perceive it, an overweaning need for others to publicly proclaim their approbation of their lifestyle choices. Hey, I don't find it *sinful* - i just find it distasteful. and i could tell quite some interesting stories of young, gay junior associates prancing into a womans office and regaling the poor woman with tales of their weekend escapades.

Would you do that? Would you fire someone who objected to straight marriage? C'mon, Dawg, it ain't the right that is firing people or suppressing speech.

So I say I am bemused by all this. Live your lives as you see fit - don;t expect others to always approve as approval is not a human right nor one that, to the best of my limited ability, I can glean from the text of COTUS.

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gabe
on August 10, 2017 at 14:10:52 pm

EK:

You are correct. I was using the term in the colloquial "perjorative" sense - no offense intended - simply as a means of drawing what I suspect would be an unwanted comparison.

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gabe
on August 10, 2017 at 19:52:55 pm

Hey Dawg & others:

Then there is this that demonstrates how the resistance does NOT really care about other opinions - they are SO tolerant - wherein Serena willaims is lambasted on (that shitstorm conveyance) Twitter for expressing positive comments about motherhood and how she feels it makes her MORE of a woman.

Oh, yeah, they DON;T try to "impose" their own moral codes on deplorable persons.

https://townhall.com/tipsheet/cortneyobrien/2017/08/10/serena-motherhood-remarks-n2367160

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gabe
on August 12, 2017 at 21:03:46 pm

EK: "In constitutional democratic republics, such as the US and the several states, a constitution identifies any fundamental individual rights that will always be respected, notwithstanding the will of any transient majority that may emerge."

The Framers respectfully disagree. In introducing his original draft of our Bill of Rights to the House of Representatives, James Madison explained that he consciously avoided attempting to enumerate all the rights retained by the people, arguing that

"….by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution."

1 Annals of Congress 456 (1789) (remarks of Rep. Madison).

The clause Rep. Madison refers to reads as follows:

"The exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.”

Id. at 452.

This is the Rosetta Stone for interpretation of our modern-day Ninth and Tenth Amendments. While the Ninth doesn’t create rights, it is a constitutionally mandated canon of construction, prohibiting judges from interpreting the Constitution in any manner that would "deny or disparage [unenumerated rights] retained by the people," U.S. Const, amend. IX, and the Tenth is an express reservation of powers to "the States respectively, or to the people." Id. amend. X. As such, government can only infringe upon those rights that were willingly relinquished by the people, and only when needed in order to discharge its legitimate duties as our authorized agents.

EK: "Our problem with the Nine Nazgûl is that since 1940, they have been discovering individual rights that never existed before in western history. They have not been ratified by the governed and they are a usurpation of popular sovereignty."

That statement is pure constitutional eisegesis. Rights are retained by the individual unless expressly ceded to either the federal or state government. And yes, even those they didn't think of. Professor Barnett refers to this foundational concept as "the presumption of liberty." Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (2004).

EK: "The 9th Amendment affirms popular sovereignty"

As Madison explained, it does nothing of the sort. lt equates enumerated and unenumerated rights, such as the right of the next William Penn to not have to remove his hat in deference to authority. You don't get the vote of the Pennsylvania delegation without it.

EK: "the 10th Amendment affirms that, acting through their state republics, the governed in each state may chose what rights or interest to vindicate and which to restrain – limited only by the plain language of the Federal constitution."

Article 3 of the New Hampshire Constitution provides: "When men enter into a state of society, they surrender up some of their natural rights to that society, in order to ensure the protection of others; and, without such an equivalent, the surrender is void." While no other state constitution states it with more clarity, the concept was ubiquitous: Natural rights are retained unless and until they are surrendered.

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Trevor Chase
on August 13, 2017 at 13:52:57 pm

'@ Trevor:

I don't think we disagree at all.

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EK

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