Thursday, July 9, 2009

To bar religion from public life is to remove one of the key voices in the harmony of state

Caritas in Veritate and Promoting Authentic Human Development
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

Having just spent some time reading Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit and parts of his Phenomenology of Spirit, I found it the Pope’s point about the need “to operate in a climate of freedom” to be in great continuity with Hegel’s thought. For example, in the section on “Objective Spirit” in Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit, he explores the concrete institutional structures that promote human flourishing. According to Hegel, political institutions-those which over time have developed various traditions and customs-are the conditions required for the possibility of human advancement and flourishing. Though I in no way agree with Hegel’s narrative regarding the details of the master/slave dialectic, he does claim that this dialectic must be overcome through recognition of our mutual rationality and freedom-that is, the other must be recognized not as my tool but as an “I” who has the ability to step back from the causal matrix and act as a free being.

The first triad under Objective Spirit is the movement from abstract right (thesis), to morality (Moralit├Ąt, antithesis), to social ethics (Sittlichkeit, the synthesis of the previous two). Abstract right deals with law articulating various rights and duties of the citizens. Morality focuses on the individual conscience and what s/he takes as morally binding on her/himself. When we get to social ethics, however, we have moved beyond mere private conscience (though private conscience has not be eradicated) to a higher synthesis of private morality and social living in the customary life of a concrete state. Here the triad moves from the immediacy of the family to civil society to the state.

The structures of a civil society are based on contract and private interests where the most basic unit in the atomistic individual. Yet, Hegel also emphasizes that a civil society should allow for voluntary entry associations such as churches, fine art societies and the like. The state, of course, represents the synthesis of this triad, and it is here that we find not only the government of the people but the lifeblood of the people as well. Here the individual finds greater meaning within the larger whole, while, according to Hegel, still remaining an individual. Interestingly, Hegel stresses that the state’s constitution is not to be externally imposed on a people, but rather must arise from within the state’s own history and tradition. That is, it must express the state’s innermost being-its Spirit/Geist.

Consequently, for Hegel, religion plays a huge role in the development of the state, as religion is tied to the ultimate and deeply felt concerns of human beings. This is not to suggest that a state’s constitution ought to quote bible verses in its legislation; rather, the idea is that the intelligible principles and moral insights of religion have an essential role to play in public life and to bar religion (in that sense) from public life is to remove one of the key voices in the harmony of state. (Charles Taylor seems to articulate something along these lines).

Hegel also notes that the history of states has gone through many developments. In some expressions, freedom was experienced by few; however, in the modern state, the possibility of freedom for all has been unleashed. In no way am I suggesting that what Hegel says is identical in all its details with what Benedict XVI articulates in his encyclical. However, there are some interesting overlaps here to be explored [...]

In short, both Hegel and Benedict emphasize the importance of human freedom, the formative role of concrete institutions and tradition, and the need to appeal to common, shared truths available to all apart from revelation (which is not to say that Christians in the public square, for example, ought not to allow revelation to inform their views. Indeed they should and must. It’s the how that various Christians disagree over).

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