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Living in a post- age

I am very uncomfortable with the usage of the term post-something. We live in the post-secular age, Habermas argues, or “we live in an era which perceives itself as post-ideological” Žižek says in a recent article. This seems to suggest that we have indeed dealt with the challenges of the era that we have now left behind, in these cases the secular and ideological era, as if classes have become irrelevant and religion has either disappeared or became comfortably confined to the private sphere of the liberal state.

The post- classification is in itself ideological. It attempts to shift the debate in favour of one or the other side of the existing disagreement. The post-secular example is maybe the most illuminating. Saying that we live in such an era, it is to say that the state has indeed become secular and that religious groups do not have claims for preferential treatment. In the extreme case that they do, these claims are assessed on the merit of freedom of religion and equality of treatment, making sure that all of these voluntary associations receive the same treatment by the institutions of the liberal state.

This position seems to take two things for granted.

  1. The state is (or at some recent point has been) secular.
  2. All religions are treated equally.

Both of these assumptions are problematic. (1) is problematic because the state is considered neutral after it internalised the norms of the dominant culture, which is, at least in the European context, based on the values of Christianity. Nietzsche in Gay Science makes a much better argument that I could ever do in support of the former. (2) is problematic, because (1) is false and because some religions, beside the dominant one, are treated as inferior, even in comparison to other minority religions. The terrorisation of Islam is the example that I have in mind.

My motivation derives from my disagreement with (1). I am amazed by the fact that we have yet to establish a common framework of deliberation upon which we can make sense of each other. For example, if one reads how western commentators try to make sense of non-western cultures, s/he would be amazed. Foreign meanings are assigned to familiar concepts, which misrepresent the ‘others’, hence resulting in homogenising caricatures of what the others are, eliminating the possibility of actually understanding what other people are saying, or most importantly, understanding what other people claim in the name of their culture. Carole Pateman’s Sexual Contract and Charles W. Mills’s Racial Contract, leads us to the realisation of a further, Cultural and Religious Contract that underpins any public justification within the realm of the liberal state.

This is why a moral basis for recognition, prior (as Honneth suggests) to deliberation is necessary, if we are to claim that we live in states where each individual is equal (let us not enter into the debate of in respect to what? please, life is too short).

One of the people who dedicated his life to the importance of recognition is Charles Taylor. There is a very interesting website with the audio proceedings of an international conference organised in his honour at the Univeristy of Montreal. This is a great way to celebrate one’s eightieth birthday.

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