Democratic Faith

Democratic Faith

PATRICK J. DENEEN
Series: New Forum Books
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 440
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sf9g
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    Democratic Faith
    Book Description:

    The American political reformer Herbert Croly wrote, "For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility."Democratic Faithis at once a trenchant analysis and a powerful critique of this underlying assumption that informs democratic theory. Patrick Deneen argues that among democracy's most ardent supporters there is an oft-expressed belief in the need to "transform" human beings in order to reconcile the sometimes disappointing reality of human self-interest with the democratic ideal of selfless commitment. This "transformative impulse" is frequently couched in religious language, such as the need for political "redemption." This is all the more striking given the frequent accompanying condemnation of traditional religious belief that informs the "democratic faith."

    At the same time, because so often this democratic ideal fails to materialize, democratic faith is often subject to a particularly intense form of disappointment. A mutually reinforcing cycle of faith and disillusionment is frequently exhibited by those who profess a democratic faith--in effect imperiling democratic commitments due to the cynicism of its most fervent erstwhile supporters.

    Deneen argues that democracy is ill-served by such faith. Instead, he proposes a form of "democratic realism" that recognizes democracy not as a regime with aspirations to perfection, but that justifies democracy as the regime most appropriate for imperfect humans. If democratic faith aspires to transformation, democratic realism insists on the central importance of humility, hope, and charity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2689-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE: WORSHIPING DEMOCRACY: THE PANTHÉON AND THE GODDESS OF DEMOCRACY
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION Dynamics of Democratic Faith
    (pp. 1-12)

    Democracy is regnant in practice and triumphant in theory. While many thinkers object to suppositions that we have reached philosophically the “end of history,” nevertheless in Western political thought there is no formidable or even noticeably significant challenge to the near-universal embrace of democracy as the sole legitimate form of government.¹ Particulars differ radically—sometimes it appears that various camps fight to assume the label “democratic” in order to assert their unimpeachable legitimacy and dismiss the claims of philosophical opponents, just as the term “antidemocratic” constitutes opprobrium of the highest order—yet, at base, an underlying embrace of certain democratic...

  6. PART I: DEMOCRATIC FAITH AND ITS DISCONTENTS
    • CHAPTER ONE Faith in Man
      (pp. 15-49)

      To the ears of many, linking the words “faith” and “democracy” is strange, uncanny, bizarre, objectionable, and, for some, even sacrilegious. Faith is belief in the unknown or the unknowable: as expressed by Nathan Rotenstreich, “faith and belief connote assent to something beyond observation.”¹ By contrast, democracy is a manifest and observable form of government, one that has been in existence during various periods throughout human history and is currently the form of governance most frequently found in nations throughout the world, and especially in the West. The longest continuous constitutional form of government, that of the United States of...

    • CHAPTER TWO Democratic Transformation
      (pp. 50-83)

      A conundrum exists at the core of the democratic faith. On the one hand, it is a faith in human capacity for democratic self-governance that points to obstacles that stand in the way of the fruition of the faith, including such external obstructions as liberalism, capitalism, and the scale of the modern nation-state. On the other hand, given that human beings do not manifest the full democratic proclivities nor potential in the face of such obstacles—else such a faith would be utterly unnecessary—it is a faith that also, however implicitly, proves critical of the same people in whom...

    • CHAPTER THREE Democracy as Trial: Toward a Critique of Democratic Faith
      (pp. 84-116)

      Resorting again to the images with which this book began, thedesacralizationof a religious space such as the Panthéon reflects the implicit acknowledgment that the sacred remnants of such a space—suggested by the shape of the building, its history, the attenuated reverence its echoes still provoke—continue to confer sacral legitimacy on the new secular endeavor even as it succeeds in being only imperfectly secular. The paintings on the walls of the Panthéon reflect this incomplete secularization, portraying the life of Saint Geneviève, the supine protectress of Paris. Preserved perhaps out of purely secular appreciation for their artistic...

  7. PART II: VOICES OF THE DEMOCRATIC FAITHFUL
    • CHAPTER FOUR Protagoras Unbound: The Democratic Mythology of Protagoras’s “Great Speech”
      (pp. 119-139)

      The most preeminent Sophist of his age, Protagoras of Abdera, is reported by Plato to have made one of the great declarations of relativism: “man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of the things which are not, that they are not.”¹ Because of this extreme denial of any measure or standard upon or by which to judge human actions outside relative human perceptions, as most accounts have it, the Sophists drew the attacks especially of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, who assured that future generations would think only negatively about sophists and...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Civil Religion and the Democratic Faith of Rousseau
      (pp. 140-165)

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the first great modern articulator of “democratic faith.” As discussed in the introduction to this book, it was Rousseau’s claim at once to be content with “men as they are,” yet his ambition to fashion humanity as theymightbe, that oriented his faith toward human political potential. His faith led him to view human contrivances that might otherwise serve to effect humanity’s corruption—such as arts, laws, even religion—as potentially manipulable artifices that could be employed toward the end of realizing a democratic humanity. Rousseau rejected the Calvinism of his Genevan youth—one which held...

    • CHAPTER SIX American Faith: The Translation of Religious Faith to Democratic Faith
      (pp. 166-188)

      In light of the individual excellences that democracy calls upon—in Santayana’s words, even requiring that “the common citizen must be something of a saint and something of a hero”—it is not surprising to encounter expressions of the need to promotebeliefin democracy, and indeed to see such belief as a requisite feature of democracy’s fruition.¹ One unavoidably encounters the language of “trust,” “belief,” “hope,” and even “faith” in the prospects of democratic self-governance, in the capacities of democratic citizens, and in the possibility of a democratic ideal. Democracy takes on the characteristics of a community of the...

  8. PART III: FRIENDLY CRITICS OF DEMOCRATIC FAITH
    • CHAPTER SEVEN “A Pattern Laid Up in Heaven”: Plato’s Democratic Ideal
      (pp. 191-213)

      Critics of democratic faith—that is, critics of the belief in democracy that is premised upon “transformative” efforts aimed at fulfilling the godlike capacities of potential democratic citizens—are, more often than not, most easily served simply by rejecting democracy as a viable political system. This has been the obvious conclusion of many thinkers throughout the Western tradition. A hardheaded civic realism results in an antidemocratic temper, and in the current age of democratic ascendancy such thinkers are largely vilified for their fundamental inegalitarianism and, more, their lack of democratic faith.

      Some have undertaken a different form of critique of...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Only Permanent State: Tocqueville on Religion and Democracy
      (pp. 214-238)

      Contemporary debates about the presence and role of religion in the liberal-democratic polity tend to take extreme sides on the ancient controversy about the proper place and role of religion in political life. Some claim that religion poses too great a danger to the liberal polity to be allowed entrance into the public sphere; others insist that democracy cannot survive without a religious basis, that the continued civic health of the polity requires the moral underpinnings and ethic of self-sacrifice that religion alone provides.¹ It is a truism perhaps to acknowledge that both positions have certain merits: religion is indeed...

    • CHAPTER NINE Hope in America: The Chastened Faith of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christopher Lasch
      (pp. 239-269)

      I have argued at the beginning of the last part of this book that “friendly critics” of “democratic faith” lay claim in particular to the religious language and accompanying theological and political concepts of humility, hope, and charity. The former two, in particular, might seem to fit together only fitfully: humility would appear to coexist, if at all, in considerable tension with hope. Hope, oriented toward a belief in a better, even ideal, future, would seem to necessitate the abandonment of humility in favor of a kind of boldness. Yet, as I argue in this penultimate chapter, hope and humility...

  9. CONCLUSION A Model of Democratic Charity
    (pp. 270-288)

    On January 20, 2001, President George W. Bush waxed uncharacteristically poetic in the midst of his Inaugural Address, invoking a faith different from that Christian faith he often professed during the campaign. While frequent allusions to his Christianity caused alarm and consternation among committed secularists, the invocation of a “democratic faith” in his Inaugural Address created no ripples and set off no figurative alarm bells, but appeared a seamless part of the traditional language of the secular sermon that such speeches traditionally resemble. Indeed, his mention of democratic faith elecited all but no remarks. He invoked this faith as follows:...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 289-360)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 361-366)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-367)