Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What would it mean to govern so that members of a society can 'enjoy the goods to which they have a right'?

The Immanent Frame
Secularism, religion, and the public sphere
New at The Immanent Frame, a discussion about Nicholas Wolterstorff's book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs, with responses from the author:

Kevin den Dulk: “Justice and rights-talk in liberal democracies
“Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a profoundly ambitious book. His normative aspiration is nothing less than 'speaking up for the wronged of the world' by reorienting contemporary thinking on rights and justice. … But what about the practice of liberal democracy? What would it mean to govern so that members of a society can 'enjoy the goods to which they have a right'? Justice is not a book of practical application, but it is clearly on Wolterstorff’s mind.” View den Dulk's full post.

Jonathon Kahn: “Nicholas Wolterstorff's fear of the secular
“The truly dynamic discussion in America today about religion and politics is not between 'wall of separation' secularists and Christian political theologians attempting to turn American into a theocracy. Instead, the promising but fledgling discussion is between religious and non-religious democrats who are acutely aware of the two horns of this essential American dilemma. First, one has a right to express one’s convictions in whatever terms one holds them, including religious terms; second, one cannot assume that one’s fellow citizens’ convictions are shaped by the same terms.” View Kahn's full post and see Wolterstorff's response.

John Schmalzbauer: “Rehabilitating religious rights talk
“Wolterstorff critiques the notion that rights talk is an offshoot of modern individualism. Questioning Stanley Hauerwas’ claim that the language of rights 'underwrites a view of human relations as exchanges,' he presents an account of justice that is irreducibly communal. Wolterstorff also takes on those philosophers who would ground their accounts of justice in the classical Greek and Roman descriptions of the well-lived life. In his judgment, such approaches fail to take into account the inherent worth of human beings.” View Schmalzbauer's full post.

David Johnston: “Justice and theism
“Wolterstorff’s book is a challenging, serious, sustained reflection on the foundations of justice. He wrestles with a wide range of difficult issues, often with considerable success. Yet the net result with which the reader is left seems to amount to something less than the sum of its parts. I shall point to a handful of difficulties, touching on both his historical narrative (which occupies roughly half the book) and his philosophical argument.” View Johnston's full post and see Wolterstorff's response.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Citizens of many EU countries are afraid that their problems are decided elsewhere and without them

19.2.2009 - ENGLISH PAGES
Speech of the President of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus in the European Parliament

There is no end of history. Claiming that the status quo, the present institutional form of the EU, is a forever uncriticizable dogma, is a mistake that has been – unfortunately – rapidly spreading, even though it is in direct contradiction not only with rational thinking, but also with the whole two-thousand-year history of European civilization. [...] Let us not underestimate the fears of the citizens of many member countries, who are afraid, that their problems are again decided elsewhere and without them, and that their ability to influence these decisions is very limited. [...] Let us not allow a situation where the citizens of member countries would live their lives with a resigned feeling that the EU project is not their own; that it is developing differently than they would wish, that they are only forced to accept it. We would very easily and very soon slip back to the times that we hoped belonged to history.

The present decision making system of the European Union is different from a classic parliamentary democracy, tested and proven by history. In a normal parliamentary system, part of the MPs support the government and part support the opposition. In the European parliament, this arrangement has been missing. Here, only one single alternative is being promoted and those who dare thinking about a different option are labelled as enemies of the European integration. Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition. It was through this experience that we learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom. That is why political alternatives must exist.

And not only that. The relationship between a citizen of one or another member state and a representative of the Union is not a standard relationship between a voter and a politician, representing him or her. There is also a great distance (not only in a geographical sense) between citizens and Union representatives, which is much greater than it is the case inside the member countries. This distance is often described as the democratic deficit, the loss of democratic accountability, the decision making of the unelected – but selected – ones, as bureaucratisation of decision making etc. The proposals to change the current state of affairs – included in the rejected European Constitution or in the not much different Lisbon Treaty – would make this defect even worse. [...]

I say all of this because I do feel a strong responsibility for the democratic and prosperous future of Europe. I have been trying to remind you of the elementary principles upon which European civilisation has been based for centuries or even millennia; principles, the validity of which is not affected by time, principles that are universal and should be therefore followed even in the present European Union. I am convinced that the citizens of individual member countries do want freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.

At this moment in time, the most important task is to make sure that free discussion about these problems is not silenced as an attack on the very idea of European integration. We have always believed that being allowed to discuss such serious issues, being heard, defending everyone’s right to present a different than “the only correct opinion” – no matter how much we may disagree with it – is at the very core of the democracy we were denied for over four decades. We, who went through the involuntary experience that taught us that a free exchange of opinions and ideas is the basic condition for a healthy democracy, do hope, that this condition will be met and respected also in the future. This is the opportunity and the only method for making the European Union more free, more democratic and more prosperous. Václav Klaus, European Parliament, Brussels, 19 February 2009 [12:35 PM 12:55 PM]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tocqueville’s vision and even the language anticipate Orwell’s 1984, or Huxley’s Brave New World

February 14th, 2009 12:21 pm We’re All Fascists Now II: American Tyranny Michael Ledeen

Fascism was a war ideology and grew out of the terrible slaughter of the First World War. Fascism hailed the men who fought and prevailed on the battlefield, and wrapped itself in the well-established rhetoric of European nationalism, which does not exist in America and never has. Our liberties are indeed threatened, but by a tyranny of a very different sort.

Most of us imagine the transformation of a free society to a tyrannical state in Hollywood terms, as a melodramatic act of violence like a military coup or an armed insurrection. Tocqueville knows better. He foresees a slow death of freedom. The power of the centralized government will gradually expand, meddling in every area of our lives until, like a lobster in a slowly heated pot, we are cooked without ever realizing what has happened. The ultimate horror of Tocqueville’s vision is that we will welcome it, and even convince ourselves that we control it.

There is no single dramatic event in Tocqueville’s scenario, no storming of the Bastille, no assault on the Winter Palace, no March on Rome, no Kristallnacht. We are to be immobilized, Gulliver-like, by myriad rules and regulations, annoying little restrictions that become more and more binding until they eventually paralyze us.
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated… [...]

The tyranny he foresees for us does not have much in common with the vicious dictatorships of the last century, or with contemporary North Korea, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. He apologizes for lacking the proper words with which to define it. He hesitates to call it either tyranny or despotism, because it does not rule by terror or oppression. There are no secret police, no concentration camps, and no torture. “The nature of despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel, but minute and meddling.” The vision and even the language anticipate Orwell’s 1984, or Huxley’s Brave New World. Tocqueville describes the new tyranny as “an immense and tutelary power,” and its task is to watch over us all, and regulate every aspect of our lives.
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

We will not be bludgeoned into submission; we will be seduced. He foresees the collapse of American democracy as the end result of two parallel developments that ultimately render us meekly subservient to an enlarged bureaucratic power: the corruption of our character, and the emergence of a vast welfare state that manages all the details of our lives. His words are precisely the ones that best describe out current crisis:
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? [...]

In Tocqueville’s elegant construction, it “renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself.” Once we go over the edge toward the pursuit of material wealth, our energies uncoil, and we become meek, quiescent and flaccid in the defense of freedom.
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

The devilish genius of this form of tyranny is that it looks and even acts democratic. We still elect our representatives, and they still ask us for our support. “…servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind…might be combined with some of the outward forms of freedom, and…might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.” Freedom is smothered without touching the institutions of political democracy. We act out democratic skits while submitting to an oppressive central power that we ourselves have chosen.
They devise a sole, tutelary and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people…this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. [...]

The great Israeli historian Jacob Talmon coined the perfect name for this perversion of the Enlightenment dream, which enslaves all in the name of all: totalitarian democracy.
These extreme cases help us understand Tocqueville’s brilliant warning that equality is not a defense against tyranny, but an open invitation to ambitious and cunning leaders who enlist our support in depriving ourselves of freedom. He summarizes it in two sentences that should be memorized by every American who cherishes freedom:
The…sole condition required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced, as it were, to a single principle.
As I said last time, we’re in for a hell of a fight. Or so I hope. Pages: Prev12 10:30 AM

1. a Duoist: Only 28 years after Tocqueville’s book, socialism swept across Europe; the ideology of ‘equality’ was born. In the Christian nations, ‘equality’ resonated with the founding slave-religion, and “helplessness” eventually became the ultimate virtue. In this cultural transformation of merging Christian theology with socialist ideology, ‘victimhood’ became a form of heroism and we slaughtered tens of innocent millions, all in the name of “equality.”
Talmon was correct, as was Tocqueville and Hayek and Nietzsche: the ultimate conclusion of merging Christian doctrines with socialism tenets will eventually be ‘voluntary totalitarianism.’
It is wonderful to read this warning caution from a freedom scholar. Thank you, Dr. Ledeen. Feb 14, 2009 - 8:39 pm

Monday, February 9, 2009

The message of Savitri isn't to renounce the world, but to embrace it

The Abode of Yoga
"All life is Yoga." Sri Aurobindo
Sunday, February 8, 2009 Savitri

While still in law school, I had secured a clerkship at a small, high-end business litigation firm in downtown San Diego. Upon graduation from school, the firm hired me full-time. With my positive bar exam results, my cushy student life was over.

I took solace in Sri Aurobindo's final masterpiece: Savitri. As I've written before, the most significant books I read during my three year law school career were Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga, and The Life Divine. In Savitri's 24,000 lines of blank verse, Auorbindo weaves the themes of his canon into a simple love story. [...]

The message of Savitri isn't to renounce the world, but to embrace it. That said, Savitri is a challenging read (to put it mildly). Two things made it easier for me though. First, I had already read most of Sri Aurobindo's canon -- particularly The Life Divine. I found the themes to be the same and easily recognizable having had already been exposed to them in Aurobindo's other writings.

Second, I read Savitri in small doses as I commuted into work each day on public transportation. Following the poetic and esoteric language alone -- not to mention trying to keep up with Aurobindo's prodigious vocabulary -- takes concentration. Reading a little at a time made it a lot easier to absorb.

With few exceptions -- politics perhaps being one -- it was difficult for me to imagine a more spiritually challenging profession than being a trial lawyer. Yet, that's the path I began to tread. Savitri made it a little easier. Posted by Y. at 9:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, February 6, 2009

The message of Sri Aurobindo that all life is yoga should be spread to the maximum extent possible - Prof Manoj Das

Pondy Varsity VC advocates spiritual values for governance
By chennaivision at 6 February, 2009, 1:08 pm Puducherry,

Pondicherry University Vice Chancellor J A K Tareen today said spirituality and ethical values were essential for good governance.
Presiding over inaugural function of the International Research workshop on ’spiritual and ethical foundations of organisational development’, jointly organised by the University of Delhi School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship, Regent University USA, Infinity Foundation USA and Department of Management Studies, Pondicherry University, here, Mr Tareen said spirituality theme should reach the common people by beginning at home and at school.

Mr Tareen expressed concern over unhindered foreign culture and western style of living, which was accepted by the society informally. There must be some way out and proper reasoning for the promotion of integrated and spiritual foundation of organisational development, he added.
The vice-chancellor said corporate governance should not only focus on profit centric, but also promote an objective and ethical approach. The participants should ensure that their discussions and recommendations were shared with the common people to achieve unity.

Inaugurating the workshop, Prof Manoj Das, an Aurobindian, said there shoud be synthesis of idealism and perfection and the message of Sri Aurobindo that all life is yoga should be spread to the maximum extent possible. About two hundred delegates were participating in the three-day workshop. UNI

Secular form of Asian political institutions often masks a religious spirit

A Secular Age: Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia posted by Richard Madsen

In his monumental book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor distinguishes three meanings of secularism, as it refers to the “North Atlantic societies” of Western Europe and North America.

  • The first meaning is political. In this sense, secularism refers to political arrangements that make the state neutral with regard to religious belief. The legitimacy of the government is not dependent on religious belief and the government does not privilege any particular religious community (or any community of non-believers).
  • The second meaning of secularism can be termed sociological. It refers to a widespread decline of religious belief and practice among ordinary people.
  • The third meaning is cultural. It refers to a change in the conditions of belief, “a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.”

In the North Atlantic world, all governments are (for all practical purposes) secular in the first sense, Western Europe, but not the United States, is secular in the second sense, and all societies are secular in the third sense. Taylor tells the story of how the three modes of secularism have developed throughout the course of Western history and of how they have mutually influenced one another. He is especially concerned with the third mode, the development of secular conditions of belief.

Can this analytic framework be applied outside of the North Atlantic world, particularly to Asian societies? Taylor himself would not claim to have created a framework for a universal theory of comparative religion. But this framework, grounded in a particular cultural and historical experience, may nonetheless be useful for cross cultural comparisons. [...] But the secular form of Asian political institutions often masks a religious spirit. Some examples:

  • Japan has a secular constitution, but many of its government leaders have felt compelled to pray for the spirits of the war dead at the Yasakuni shrine. The pressure to visit the shrine comes from nationalistic constituencies within Japan, but it is indeed a pressure to worship at a Shinto shrine, presided over by a priest, which purports not just to memorialize the names of the dead but actually to contain their spirits. (Japan’s Asian neighbors are more upset about this than Americans. Could this be because Asians take more seriously the living presence of spirits of the dead?)
  • Through its “Vigilant Center” at the Ministry of Culture, the government of Thailand is supposed to protect the nation’s culture and values by, among other things, keeping people from using images of the Buddha for profane purposes.
  • The Indonesian government is based on a national ideology of “Pancansila,” which proclaims a national unity based upon mutual tolerance among believers in an “Almighty Divine.”
  • And even the government in China, which is supposedly led by the atheist Communist Party, takes it upon itself to carry out religious functions. It has claimed the right to determine who is the true re-incarnation of the Panchen Lama (and will undoubtedly do the same for the next re-incarnation of the Dalai Lama). It claims to be able to determine the difference between true religion and “evil cults,” and tries to root out even private belief in “evil cults” like Falungong. Moreover, the Chinese government invests enormous amounts of money in spectacular public rituals, like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, which are redolent with symbols of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. [...]

Political secularization, in Taylor’s sense, therefore is a reasonably accurate way to describe the formal structure of most East and Southeast Asian states. But it doesn’t adequately describe the interior spirit of these states, which must be comprehended through a closer examination of how these states have developed within modern history. Taylor’s account of political secularization does, however, help us pose the questions of how the external forms and interior spirit of modern Asian states have interacted with one another and what have been the practical consequences of this interaction.

It would be beyond the scope of this post to give a full account of the development of Asian states. But as we consider the development of the social and cultural life within some Asian societies, we can get some sense of how these societies and cultures have been influenced by the interplay between secular form and religious substance within their states. In my next two posts, I will explore the extent to which Asian states and societies have followed Taylor’s path to social and cultural secularization.

[Editor's note: This post draws from a draft chapter for the SSRC's forthcoming publication, Rethinking Secularism, co-edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Craig Calhoun, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen.] Madsen R. Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia. The Immanent Frame. 2009. This entry was posted on Thursday, February 5th, 2009 at 10:40 am and is filed under A Secular Age.

Tusar N. Mohapatra: February 6th, 2009 at 2:29 am
[India is not a secular state. Indian state actually privileges Hinduism over other religionsI demonstrate that in practice, Indian state actually privileges Hinduism over other religions and religious communities. The Indian state is in fact the defender of the dharma for the following five reasons... For all these five reasons, India is not a secular state. It is in fact the defender of Hindu dharma. Hyderabad-born, MIT-based Omar Khalidi is the author of Muslims in Indian Economy and Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India. Why India Is Not A Secular State: Omar Khalidi 8:39 PM]

Mirror of Tomorrow :: Beyond Religion: Perspective of the . However, we shall see that spirituality itself has to evolve and become a higher spiritual adventure and a new discovery ringing in a new era of knowledge without the possibility of error, a creative and supremely effective power and bliss without the shadow of suffering. Religion in the West hardly admits the free seeking of the aspiring human mind.