Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What's A Dangerous Proposition?

Dreher speculates on "dangerous propositions" and nominates his favorite:

That liberal democracy cannot be sustained in a secular, materialistic culture.

And he goes on to recap the old First Things brouhaha, similarly engendered:

"The question here explored, in full awareness of its far-reaching consequences, is whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime."

Then he quotes a fellow named Ross Douthat:

To oversimplify egregiously but not, I think, inaccurately, the modern Anglo-American political tradition came into being because Christians were willing to accept the Christianity-lite political settlement offered by social-contract liberalism - and they were willing to accept it because its major premise, that man was endowed with natural and inalienable rights by Nature's God, was broadly congruent with Christian tradition. In a Lockean-liberal society, the law might not do everything that some Christians would like it to do - compel belief, for instance - but neither would it directly violate basic Christian principles.

There have been tensions in this compromise over the last two centuries, with Christians pushing for more religion in the liberal order, secularists pushing for less. But for most of American history it worked out pretty well, and Christians were at the forefront of the long-running push to ensure that the premises of natural-rights liberalism (which were also Christian premises) found appropriate expression in the laws of the nation - particularly where race was concerned, but also with regard to the unborn, as increasing scientific knowledge about fetal life led to the nineteenth-century bans on pre-quickening abortions. (Or so Ramesh argues...)

However, the Lockean settlement was obviously a long time ago, and most of today's liberals no longer believe in the "endowed-by-their-Creator" theory of human rights. Which is why abortion has become such a flashpoint - because it's the place where modern liberals have instituted a utilitarian approach to killing in place of the older natural-rights-based understanding, and the place where Christians are resisting. This explains, in turn, why pro-lifers make liberal arguments even though the source of their conviction is usually religious: it's not because they're dishonestly concealing their Christianity, but because they still think that rights-based liberalism is the common ground between Christians and secularists, and so they naturally attempt to argue on that ground. And the current pro-life frustration, I think, flows from the fact that pro-choicers have half-abandoned this common ground, but often won't admit it.

THAT'S the kind of thing that starts discussions.

1 comment:

Billiam said...

Thanks for the post! I'll add that site to my Favs for regular visitation. You're also right, in that it makes for a good discussion and great thought food!