The Secular Contract: The Politics of Enlightenment
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The Secular Contract seeks to defend the European Enlightenment's secularization of political philosophy by promoting an understanding of Enlightenment secular liberalism and extending it to contemporary issues.
The work proposes that the Enlightenment united the secularizing trends that occurred at the time across all areas of knowledge into a "secular contract" for modern politics. It argues that this was a normatively valuable enterprise whose aims and arguments need to be recovered today, especially in light of the challenges faced by the West, including fundamentalist Christianity in the US and radical Islam in Europe.
Looking at the works of many thinkers, such as Hobbes, Jefferson, Madison, Rousseau, the book then shifts to the present day to argue for a different liberalism, as suggested by such contemporary thinkers as William Galston or Stephen Macedo. An engaging read, The Secular Contract will appeal to anyone interested in political theory and the history of ideas.
turns to rid the political sphere of centrifugal and irresolvable religious controversy could end up looking just as coldly at natural science. One cannot simultaneously argue that a) natural reason and empiricist science are the God-approved conduits to truth, and b) the political authority determines the nature of truth by its definition The Treaty of Atlantis 29 of social peace—unless one has a generous faith that the workings of reason and science can proceed unfettered without leading to
of an arrangement or institution if one can show that no social order which lacked this feature could possibly secure popular consent.18 Building on seventeenth-century innovations, the Enlightenment left us the language of social contract. But its true legacy in political theory may in fact be the positing of a new “contractual” outlook not only between citizens and their governors, but also between citizens and their future equivalents. Such an emphasis on temporal continuity is typically
patriarchal structures have yielded far less to “the standpoint of contract” (Hegel)? Only one culture at one point in time produced progressive public secularism—the one that simultaneously began to talk about its politics as a contract. One can seek to pluralize or unmask the Enlightenment apart from partisan purposes. The historian Roy Porter, for example, in a fluent and enjoyable account of one of the national Enlightenments (Britain in this case), begins with a warning: “The Enlightenment
and they had “no need of many laws to decide them, or variety of officers to superintend the process, or look after the execution of justice, where there were but few trespasses, and few offenders” (§107). Locke’s Kingship is little more than the generalship early societies required for frequent periods of warfare, when they most needed political organization (§108). Adam Smith later countered the anti-modernity of Rousseau with a similar argument: early democracy was hardly corrupted by
authority vested in the general will derives from the model of the church.”60 Rousseau’s distaste for anti-religious polemic was one of the things that drove him from the philosophe party, and an aspect of his thought that endeared him to those in the counter-Enlightenment tradition.61 A biographer contextualizes the matter: It was Calvin who . . . fus[ed] theocracy with oligarchy and democracy with the aim of making political institutions the instruments of Providence. If more recent historians