Democracy and Tradition

Democracy and Tradition

Jeffrey Stout
Series: New Forum Books
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rn3w
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    Democracy and Tradition
    Book Description:

    Do religious arguments have a public role in the post-9/11 world? Can we hold democracy together despite fractures over moral issues? Are there moral limits on the struggle against terror? Asking how the citizens of modern democracy can reason with one another, this book carves out a controversial position between those who view religious voices as an anathema to democracy and those who believe democratic society is a moral wasteland because such voices are not heard.

    Drawing inspiration from Whitman, Dewey, and Ellison, Jeffrey Stout sketches the proper role of religious discourse in a democracy. He discusses the fate of virtue, the legacy of racism, the moral issues implicated in the war on terrorism, and the objectivity of ethical norms. Against those who see no place for religious reasoning in the democratic arena, Stout champions a space for religious voices. But against increasingly vocal antiliberal thinkers, he argues that modern democracy can provide a moral vision and has made possible such moral achievements as civil rights precisely because it allows a multitude of claims to be heard.

    Stout's distinctive pragmatism reconfigures the disputed area where religious thought, political theory, and philosophy meet. Charting a path beyond the current impasse between secular liberalism and the new traditionalism,Democracy and Traditionasks whether we have the moral strength to continue as a democratic people as it invigorates us to retrieve our democratic virtues from very real threats to their practice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2586-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    The solidarity of an aggrieved people can be a dangerous thing. No lesson from recent history could be more evident. Any nation united mainly by memories of injustices done to it is likely to behave unjustly in its own defense and to elicit similar responses from its neighbors and enemies. A cycle of self-righteous violence will then ensue. Fear and resentment will escalate all around, placing innocents at home and abroad in further jeopardy. America’s newfound solidarity in the age of terrorism therefore warrants suspicion. Many around the world nervously await our next massive use of military power, understandably afraid...

  5. Part One: The Question of Character

    • Chapter 1 CHARACTER AND PIETY FROM EMERSON TO DEWEY
      (pp. 19-41)

      Walt Whitman held that “society, in these States, is canker’d, crude, superstitious, and rotten. Political, or law-made society is, and private, or voluntary society, is also.” And yet he also held that a vigorously democratic ethos is struggling to be born of the people as they are, and wants midwifery from writers who would be pleased to see it explicit and mature. The “important question of character,” as Whitman poses it inDemocratic Vistas,¹ is what sort of people we can reasonably aspire to be, given the disturbing condition of society as it stands and the influence it has already...

    • Chapter 2 RACE AND NATION IN BALDWIN AND ELLISON
      (pp. 42-60)

      This chapter considers another American debate concerning piety and peoplehood—that among African-American thinkers over Black Nationalism and its separatist conception of political community. That this form of racial nationalism is a reaction to the racist exclusion of blacks from full participation in the civic nation is a vivid reminder that the virtues most directly linked to the prospects of democracy are justice, friendship, generosity, and hope. For the erosion of these virtues rapidly undermines the trust in others and in the future that is essential to identification with the civic nation as a whole. If the next generation fails...

  6. Part Two: Religious Voices in a Secular Society

    • Chapter 3 RELIGIOUS REASONS IN POLITICAL ARGUMENT
      (pp. 63-91)

      Religious diversity, like racial diversity, has been a source of discord throughout American history. Most Americans claim to be religious, but their convictions are hardly cut from the same cloth. Given that some of these convictions are thought to have highly important political implications, we should not be surprised to hear them expressed when citizens are exchanging reasons for their respective political views. Secular liberals find the resulting cacophony deeply disturbing. Some of them have strongly urged people to restrain themselves from bringing their religious commitments with them into the political sphere. Many religious people have grown frustrated at the...

    • Chapter 4 SECULARIZATION AND RESENTMENT
      (pp. 92-117)

      In the 1960s Christian theologians made news by extolling the virtues of the secular city. Nowadays, however, they often denounce secularized political culture in vehement terms. John Milbank and his fellow proponents of “radical orthodoxy” hold that “for several centuries now, secularism has been defining and constructing the world. It is a world in which the theological is either discredited or turned into a harmless leisure-time activity of private commitment.” The only appropriate response, they conclude, is a theology that “refuses the secular.” This means rejecting both “secular reason” and the “secular state” as spheres of discourse not essentially “framed...

    • Chapter 5 THE NEW TRADITIONALISM
      (pp. 118-139)

      Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas have already entered these pages a number of times as representative critics of the political culture of modern democracy. As I have already suggested, their influence is especially strong in the seminaries, where the term “liberal” is nowadays as unlikely to be used in praise of someone as it is in the arena of presidential politics. Their writings are clearly one source of the animus against secularism discussed in the previous chapter.¹ I want now to look closely at the form of traditionalism MacIntyre and Hauerwas espouse. Its most troublesome feature, from the perspective of...

    • Chapter 6 VIRTUE AND THE WAY OF THE WORLD
      (pp. 140-161)

      Stanley Hauerwas is surely the most prolific and influential theologian now working in the United States. He has also done more than anyone else to spread the new traditionalism among Christians in the Englishspeaking world. But in the introduction to his recent book,A Better Hope, he confesses that he has “grown tired of arguments about the alleged virtues or vices of liberalism.”¹ This is understandable, because he has argued against the vices of liberalism countless times, often while invoking Mac-Intyre’s authority, in the many books he has written since the latter’sAfter Virtueappeared in 1981. The index to...

    • Chapter 7 BETWEEN EXAMPLE AND DOCTRINE
      (pp. 162-180)

      The previous chapter invited Hauerwas to put an end to the controversy over his alleged sectarianism by giving up his antiliberal polemic and recasting his social criticism in somewhat different terms. I am not encouraging him to be less vehement or less theological in denouncing evil and vice. He is surely right in saying that American society has a lot to answer for given its conduct over the last several decades. And if he spoke less theologically, he wouldn’t be Hauerwas. My hope is that he will do much in the future to clarify the wrongs we have committed and...

  7. Part Three: A Conditioned Rectitude

    • Chapter 8 DEMOCRATIC NORMS IN THE AGE OF TERRORISM
      (pp. 183-202)

      The argument of part 2 has proceeded entirely by way of immanent criticism. I have closely examined the liberalism of Rawls and Rorty and the traditionalism of Milbank, MacIntyre, and Hauerwas, and found both of these approaches unable to provide a satisfactory account of the role of religious traditions in modern democracy. The task of part 3 is to work out an acceptable alternative to these approaches. A successful philosophical account of democratic political culture would overcome the weaknesses I have identified in these approaches while simultaneously inheriting their strengths. It would thus put us in a position to explain...

    • Chapter 9 THE EMERGENCE OF MODERN DEMOCRATIC CULTURE
      (pp. 203-224)

      Modern democracy came into existence by defining itself over against its predecessors and competitors as a revolutionary departure. Its champions often claimed that in criticizing traditional mores and institutional arrangements they had broken completely with a feudal and ecclesiastical past. One hears echoes of this claim in Paine’sThe Rights of Man, in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” and in many lesser texts. The claim exaggerates a real difference.

      Modern democracy was in some sense a revolutionary break with the past. Its emergence was intertwined with the English, American, and French Revolutions, and the use its early defenders made of such concepts as...

    • Chapter 10 THE IDEAL OF A COMMON MORALITY
      (pp. 225-245)

      Democracy came into the modern world opposing the representatives of a feudal and theocratic past. Among its opponents on the global scene today are terrorists, dictators, and crime lords, who use cruelty, intimidation, and extreme poverty to infuse populations with fear and hopelessness. Meanwhile, some multinational corporations strike deals with thugs wherever this advances their economic interests. In return they receive a supply of docile workers, most of them women, willing to work for low pay, as well as the freedom to run sweatshops and abuse the environment as they please. In nominally democratic states, they buy elections, break unions,...

    • Chapter 11 ETHICS WITHOUT METAPHYSICS
      (pp. 246-269)

      Nothing in the previous chapter entails striking the locutions of Sophocles and King from the lexicon of pragmatic democrats. When a great poet or social critic decks out the distinction between justification and truth in a memorable image, and by speaking of a higher law empowers a search for the betterment of our actual codes, the pragmatic philosopher is wise to leave well enough alone. But some readers might worry that my pragmatic approach to the prospects for a common democratic morality and my metaphysically austere treatment of “the moral law” would, if accepted and fully understood, have a strongly...

    • Chapter 12 ETHICS AS A SOCIAL PRACTICE
      (pp. 270-286)

      The previous chapter argued that even if one does not adopt a metaphysical explanation of what moral obligation and excellence are, it remains reasonable to view ethical discourse as an objective affair. I will now give additional support to this conclusion by reflecting on Brandom’s account of the ways in which we all keep track of the beliefs and intentions we undertake and attribute when conversing with other people. A game, as Wittgenstein realized, is a relatively perspicuous example of a social practice—a relatively simple species of the genus to which ethical discourse belongs. Brandom develops the analogy between...

  8. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 287-308)

    Eminent writers have recently been inviting us to choose sides on the modern age, as if they knew the essence of modernity and whether, on the whole, it has been a good or a bad thing. The ones who say that modernity has mainly been a good thing tend to think of democracy as its essence. The ones who imply, at least in their tone and their selection of examples, that modernity has mainly been a bad thing tend to see talk of democracy as a sort of smoke screen, designed to draw attention away from modern evils. Both sides...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 309-340)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 341-348)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-349)