Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kraynak: Christianity vs. Modernity II

By Robert P. Hunt

The following is a short excerpt of this essay:

"In Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, Robert P. Kraynak challenges many of the assumptions made by both liberal secularists and committed Christians regarding the proper intellectual and moral foundations for constitutional government. He rejects the liberal assumption that some variant of "moral autonomy" can serve as a foundation for contemporary "rights talk," and, more broadly, questions whether the liberal intellectual tradition contains within itself the resources to sustain its own commitment to democratic self-government. And, while he believes that a more full-bodied religious sensibility that goes beyond a form of "Be Nice" Christianity is needed to sustain constitutional government, he wonders whether any principled commitment on the part of Christians to "modern democracy" might not constitute a surrender to liberal modernity. His arguments regarding the inadequacy of liberalism’s view of man and society are forceful and persuasive. Less persuasive is his argument regarding the inherent conflict between Christianity and democracy--especially to someone who, like myself, shares with Kraynak a commitment to the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism but who, I suspect, parts company with him regarding the intellectual vision and categories that might best inform the effort to sustain a Christian view of man and society.

To his credit, Kraynak is by no means sanguine regarding the contemporary effort on the part of many Christians, and especially of Roman Catholics in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, to effect a rapprochement between Christianity and liberalism. On the contrary, Kraynak rejects these efforts and provides the reader with a thorough critique of the effort to ground constitutional government in the premises of philosophical liberalism. Understanding that every form of government is grounded in some view of human nature and of the goods that make for human flourishing, he argues that the variety of liberal efforts to ground constitutional government in a Kantianized defense of "moral autonomy" (a la David Richards) or "equal concern and respect" (a la Ronald Dworkin) cannot be sustained. These efforts undercut the matrix of institutions, virtues, and convictions that sustain the temporal common good. He endorses a teleological view of human nature, or, as he describes it, a spiritual, political, and social "hierarchy of ends" under which our obligations and rights as human beings are derived from the goods that are the goals of human nature. In so doing, he supplies a scathing critique of the liberal project: of the tendency of secular rationalist liberalism to create a culture of disbelief and of the trajectory of liberal rights talk toward statism rather than toward truly limited, constitutional government. "Unless the rights of persons are clearly specified from the outset as serving the true hierarchy of ends, those rights will be seen in contemporary secular terms and will weaken subsidiarity by increasing demands to expand the centralized bureaucratic state."(bold face is mine)


In the first text in bold face above, we see Kraynak's larger thesis that is premised on his worry that Christians are making unholy alliances with modern liberalism.  In the second bold faced text, we see the roots of his argument that there are higher and lower human beings that appears here.  I also found it interesting that he seems to agree with Dr. Hall that the modern liberal(Enlightenment?) view of man leads to a centralized bureaucratic state.

28 comments:

Pinky said...

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I'll have to learn more about Kraynak as he appears to be in line with so much that Strauss promotes in his work.
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It's beginning to look as though the deep respect some have for the American Founding comes into so much conflict with their distaste for modernity that they are falling all over themselves attempting to justify one with the other. So, they deny any impact of the Enlightenment on our Founding and try to attribute it, mostly, to our ancient religious roots. But that is merely my suspicion now.
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King of Ireland said...

"It's beginning to look as though the deep respect some have for the American Founding comes into so much conflict with their distaste for modernity that they are falling all over themselves attempting to justify one with the other. So, they deny any impact of the Enlightenment on our Founding and try to attribute it, mostly, to our ancient religious roots. But that is merely my suspicion now."

There is the Christian case for rights and their is the Modern case for rights. America was founded on the former not the latter. In other words, we did not throw God and the Bible out. Modern philosophy does. If you want to see the results of modern philosophy unvarnished look at the public schools. Dewey's thoughts on education have finally become not only dominant but tyrannical in that if you dissent you are gone.

Pinky said...

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I don't deny the problems inherent with modernity any more than I deny the problems inherent in religion.
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It's how we deal with either set of problems that is the main issue--in both cases.
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King of Ireland said...

I think the mistake is in people like Jack Goldstone that recognize the free individuals sovereign over a limited political state laid the ground for the advancement of the modern engineering culture but misread the history that helped bring that concept to fruition in the American Founding.

In other words, for Science to flourish it seems the religious idea of rights based in imago dei had to take hold of society first. Or one could say that the Scientists undermine the very thing that made it possible for them to flourish when the screw with Christian political thought.

How much free inquiry do you think there was in the French Revolution?

Pinky said...

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There was enough free inquiry in the French Revolution to get you into maybe the next week as long as you didn't rub some dude the wrong way.
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King of Ireland said...

I hear you Pinky. That is why we better study this stuff out and get it right. A lot is on the line as we have a national dialogue about the roots of our nation and what they were based on.

Pinky said...

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Of course, we all want to understand the foundations upon which our society was built.
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And, it is important for us to know that and to understand how things have changed to be what they are today.
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Things HAVE changed and how!
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Yet, it is important for us to understand where they were two and three hundred years ago. But, are we saying that because they were such and such in 1776, we should honor that and make sure we stay stuck at that place? That would be exactly what is meant by ahistoricism, would it not?
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Is my surmisal wrong?
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King of Ireland said...

"But, are we saying that because they were such and such in 1776, we should honor that and make sure we stay stuck at that place? That would be exactly what is meant by ahistoricism, would it not?
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Is my surmisal wrong?"


They were interviewing Pete Carrol the other day and asked him about his philosophy of coaching and why he stickes with it? He said that the most profound meeting he ever had with John Wooden when he asked how he changed his philosophy with each team?

Wooden told him, "Your philosophy is your philosophy and that never changes. You just changed how relate it to different teams." Sound principles should never change.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Sound principles should never change"

What sound principles of the founding do you imply?

King of Ireland said...

"What sound principles of the founding do you imply?"

Rights based in imago dei and everything that naturally proceeds from there and ends in "free individuals sovereign over a limited state" and the flourishing of an engineering culture that Goldstone speaks of.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course, we all want to understand the foundations upon which our society was built.
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And, it is important for us to know that and to understand how things have changed to be what they are today.
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Things HAVE changed and how!
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Yet, it is important for us to understand where they were two and three hundred years ago. But, are we saying that because they were such and such in 1776, we should honor that and make sure we stay stuck at that place? That would be exactly what is meant by ahistoricism, would it not?


This is historism in a nutshell, that the what is universally [philosophically] good changes with the times.

Pinky said...

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This looks like it is part of the neoconservative line--anti modern.
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Pinky said...

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So, Tom, to stay stuck in the past is ahistoricism? That was my question.
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bpabbott said...

Re: "Rights based in imago dei and everything that naturally proceeds from there and ends in "free individuals sovereign over a limited state" and the flourishing of an engineering culture that Goldstone speaks of."

I'm more prone to natural rights, but do understand why rights from God carries more weight for many.

In any event, it would be interesting to do a poll of what our population views as our founding principles ... well maybe more scary than interesting ;-)

King of Ireland said...

"In any event, it would be interesting to do a poll of what our population views as our founding principles ... well maybe more scary than interesting ;-)"

Well the good news is that many would know more about it than a few years ago thanks to the Tea Party. The bad news is that there is a lot of indoctrination going on and people are just parroting what the leaders tell them instead of studying it themselves.

But the bottom line is that it is not really taught in school and when it is taught it is in such a boring manner that most kids do not listen.

Pinky said...
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Pinky said...

nnh nnh nnh
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I'm aching to post some stuff here about that attitude being presented by KOI.
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But, the claim is that it would be off topic.
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So, visit my blog site, http://americansociety-today.blogspot.com/
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I'm looking for others to post on American society and to take some responsibility for what is posted over there on American society.
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King of Ireland said...

"I'm aching to post some stuff here about that attitude being presented by KOI.
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But, the claim is that it would be off topic."

If it is going to delve into political debate Pinky then it is off topic and would destroy this blog. Feel free to post anything I say there and let me know if I need to respond.

King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

I went and read your blog. I did a post on Strauss above. I would have thought you would comment. It is very general post that was designed to open of the doors for discussion of a broad range of topics.

I opened the door whether you walk through it or not is up to you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If it is going to delve into political debate Pinky then it is off topic and would destroy this blog.

The Strauss "list" I've participated on for years has fallen to current politics lately, Sarah Palin, Tea Parties, etc.

Whatever good discussion is left is buried under a pile of unreadable garbage.

________

So, Tom, to stay stuck in the past is ahistoricism? That was my question.

No, you rephrased the question. Historicism [modernity] is the belief that the definition of "what is good" changes with the times. Classical philosophy holds the good is eternal and not subject to the currents of history.

This is not to say that desperate times may not call for desperate measures. But what is normatively good remains when "normalcy" returns.

As for being "stuck in the past," Edmund Burke, the so-called first conservative, said "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation."

However, radicalism destroys first, then rebuilds, the latter only sometimes. But its first impulse and action is destruction.

If "the good" is unchanging, "ahistoricism," if you will, then a functioning society has "the good" in it, and requires only reforming, not tearing down and starting from scratch. Therefore, modernity is inherently destructive; classical philosophy is inherently conservative; if we follow Burke---who as a reformer supported rights for the peoples of America, Ireland and India, but opposed the radicalism and inherent destructiveness of the French Revolution---reform is fine, indeed necessary to develop the good more fully and and so doing preserve [conserve] the good that already exists.

To be "stuck in the past" is not the argument. That would be silly.

As for our study of religion and the Founding, what is clear is that most folks have no idea of the truth about the past. It's as if we all dropped in from Mars last Friday, all "rights" and no "duties," an infantilism that would have appalled the Founders.

If we are to reject the Founding as good modern historicists, fine. But first we must understand what it is we're rejecting, and be honest about the fact we're rejecting it.

Pinky said...

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I don't think I rephrased any question. Perhaps I merely clarified it?
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I agree with most of what you wrote in your short critique, Tom.
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There is a part of me that agrees with everything Strauss taught--at leas from the practical standpoint of affairs. If we want peace, then perhaps we should be pragmatic about it in the C.S. Pierce sense.
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There is a part of me that finds great fault with Strauss. I have a struggle about the situation as it is in our society today.
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Is it better to accept the romantic myth so many of us hold on to or should we expose the lie and move on into the future?
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We have a problem with our nationhood. What's a person to do about it?
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We cannot improve our lot by haggling over who is right about Hobbes or anyone else. Not that all that history isn't important. It is crucial to our growth. But, we do have to make some choices, don't we?
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K.O.I., I don't think there's a single point at issue unless it is the idea that because some Founders read the Bible, we should base our society on that. The Bible was, in fact, the most widely circulated collection of wisdom around. Why wouldn't the Founders have studied it? Everyone studied it.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil, I don't think natural law is a lie. I've been through all the complications and walked deep into the tall weeds. I'm no great philosopher and nobody's ever going to elect me to anything. I'm just a catcher in the rye at this point, and that's really OK. The rest is up to you. Peace, my friend.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I like

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sanders_Peirce

[pronounced "purse"], BTW. I'm a smart fella, but I only understand him in bits and purses. Humanity is only just catching up with him, some 100 years later.

Pinky said...

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I said that I agree with much of what you wrote, Tom; but, I didn't say I agreed with it one hundred percent.
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The argument is not about natural law being a lie; but, it is about its source. Am I wrong?
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King of Ireland said...

"K.O.I., I don't think there's a single point at issue unless it is the idea that because some Founders read the Bible, we should base our society on that"

I never have said we should. I am not a proponent of sola scriptura. I do believe, with good reason, that the Bible and Christian thought had a great impact on the founding. Huge difference.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The argument is not about natural law being a lie; but, it is about its source. Am I wrong?

The source would be the Roman Stoics, particularly Cicero. Perhaps Plato and Aristotle too. I dunno.

Pls advise.

Pinky said...

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It appears some believe natural law comes from God.
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Romans 1:20.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

If God is a reality, which the Founders---even Jefferson and Franklin believed---there's no problem here.

If "Christianized" natural law gives people hives, they can look back to Cicero.