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The Immanent Counter-Enlightenment: Christianity and Morality1

Charles Taylor
McGill University and NorthWestern University

Ian Jennings
(translator) University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Humboldt University E-mail: idjennings@hotmail.com Abstract In this translation of Charles Taylor's paper, Die Immanente Gegenaufklrung: Christentum und Moral, the author discusses the relationship between Christianity and morality, in the light of developments in the West over the past five centuries. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between morality and the development of unbelief, the rejection of God, and atheism. I

I would like, under this somewhat enigmatic heading, to say something about the relationship between Christianity and morality. In doing so, I will set out a rough overview of the progress of this relationship over the past five centuries, sketching in particular the relationship between morality and the development of unbelief, of the rejection of God, and atheism in the West. It will undoubtedly be a very concise overview, but will nevertheless allow us to examine certain questions. We are dealing, in a certain sense, with a triangular relationship involving Christianity, morality, and unbelief, in which the two outer conceptions oppose each other, and conduct their dispute through the middle one. Our understanding of this triangular relationship will depend greatly on how we see the genesis of unbelief in the modern period. These two questions will be very closely related in the discussion that follows. The first point that needs to be made is a negative one. It strikes me that there is a widely-accepted view of how unbelief has developed in the West, which is, interestingly enough, held not only amongst believers. This view takes the rise of unbelief to coincide with the decline of belief. In other words, according to this picture, the first thing that happened was the loss of faith: at a particular time, and for various reasons, whether scientific or moral, whether owing to the progress of science, or to considerations of theodicy, people began to reject religion and Christianity, to criticise, to give up their faith, and so, to a certain extent, to explode the horizons of Christianity. As a
1 This paper was first written in French under the title, Les anti-Lumires immanentes: Christianisme et morale. A German translation, Die Immanente Gegenaufklrung: Christentum und Moral was published in the book by Ludwig Nagl (ed.), Religion nach der Religionskritik, Akademie Verlag: Berlin, 2003. The English version published here was translated from the German version, with the permission of the author. Grateful thanks to Ruth Abbey for her very helpful comments on the translation.

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result, various forms of unbelief came to occupy the now empty space. That which expressed itself as purely immanent morality was latent, potentially already there in human life; its metaphysical-theological exterior had to be ruptured and its Christian superstructure removed. This I call the subtraction story: unbelief came after the loss of faith. The disappearance of the formerly Christian horizon made the way clear for a possibility that had always been there, and which now showed itself. An example: the this-worldly morality, to which, according to this understanding, people have always been inclined, had been held in check for many long years by the existence of religion, and could now at last free itself. It was not merely superficial spirits who saw things this way. On the contrary some of the most subtle and intelligent advocates of unbelief made it their own. As an example, I quote a passage from Paul Bnichou's famous work Morales du grand sicle: Humankind represses its misery whenever it can; and at the same time forgets that humiliating morality by which it had condemned life, and in doing so had made a virtue of necessity.2 In this version, the latent humanist morality succeeds in establishing itself, and in so doing helps to throw the theological-ascetic code onto the scrap heap. On this view, it is as if the humanist morality had always been there, waiting for the chance to overthrow its oppressive predecessor. What is most surprising is that it is not only the unbelievers who adhere to the story of subtraction. Many of those who have set themselves against modernity turn this approach upside down and suggest their own variation of this history: instead of liberation they talk of decline. According to their view, only the horizon of religion guarantees community, civilisation or morality; its disappearance signalled the beginning of an age of disorder and struggle, in short, the end. This is also a story of subtraction but one which ends badly. That which the mantle of religion had hidden from view was nothing other than chaos, destruction and sin. My view is very different. As I see it, the immanent, humanist conceptions of modern morality were not always latently present, but are in fact new and remarkable constructions. I am not using the term constructions in the sense that takes the historical creations of human culture to be arbitrary. In fact I believe that successful constructions always answer to something that lies deep within humanity. But they are nevertheless constructions, as one had to create and shape new human possibilities. An immanent morality without connection to transcendence whether one understands this in the Platonic, Stoic, or Christian manner was, in Christendom, almost unheard of. Epicureanism perhaps came close, but it had nothing of the activist spirit and universal ethic that mark modern humanism. It is a construction that demands admiration. It is no small irony that it is often easier for believers to recognise the true value of this remarkable achievement, given the extent to which unbelievers are prisoners of a subtraction story that trivialises atheist humanism by reducing it to a complex of truisms which had previously been kept in the shadows by an oppressive and distorting religion. Immanent humanism is not simply the result of the decline of religion, but rather the product of a chain of constructions whose first links were forged by Christianity itself. Five hundred years ago, such a humanism was unimaginable in Western Christendom. Some of the obstacles to people leaving the Christian fold were removed by

Morales du grand sicle, Paris 1952, page 226.


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Western Christianity itself.3 Most obvious, from our point of view, is the fact that one used to live in an enchanted world, a world, in other words, in which one felt the presence, amongst the things which surrounded us, of spirits and magical powers. Our peasant ancestors rang the church bells during storms the so-called weather-bells. In doing so, it was assumed that the lightning was controlled by spirits or spiritual powers, and that the objects and gestures of the church also carried spiritual force, in this case positive and benign, capable of protecting us from the powers of evil dwelling within the storm. Such beliefs are still held to this day. Many people would admit that they, in one or other context, are inclined to believe in occult powers of this kind. But beliefs of this kind no longer form a coherent whole, and are no longer shared by everyone. This is because, in the world in which we live today, it is no longer obvious that things really do happen in this way. This kind of spiritual power is no longer experienced phenomenologically in our everyday experience. On the contrary: if we accept the official history of our civilisation in other words the view from science this kind of spiritual power or influence does not exist for us. What is the relation between belief in God and this process of disenchantment? Nowadays we have a kind of unbelief, which assumes that belief in God is a modality of the enchanted worldview. With the disappearance of the whole of this worldview, it was inevitable that this particular part of it would also be extinguished. But, as historians know, this is not how things actually happened. Christianity, like Judaism, had a complex, often inimical, relationship with the enchanted worldview. In reality the Jewish, and later the Christian, religions were always a significant driving force for disenchantment, particularly in the last few centuries in the aftermath of the Protestant and Catholic reformations. The relationship was something like the following: As long as one lived in the enchanted world, where the weather-bells chimed, one felt oneself to be in a world full of threats, vulnerable to black magic in all its forms. In this world God was for most believers the source of a positive power, which was able to defeat the powers of evil. God was the chief source of counter-, or white, magic. He was the final guarantor that good would triumph in this world of manifold spirits and powers. For those completely absorbed in this world, it was practically impossible not to believe in God. Not to believe would mean devoting oneself to the devil. A small minority of truly remarkable or perhaps truly desperate people did indeed do this. But for the vast majority there was no question whether one believed in God or not the positive force was as real a fact as the threats it counteracted. The question of belief was a question of trust and membership rather than one of the acceptance of particular doctrines. In this sense they were closer to the context of the gospels. The relationship between belief and the enchanted world was such that atheism in that world would have been comparable to refusing, in this age, to believe in electricity. I do not doubt in any way that Hydro-Qubec supplies electricity; whether they can keep the supply to my house in good order or not is another matter. It makes sense to ask whether I should trust them. But there is no question about whether to believe in their existence or not. Furthermore, the impossibility of God's non-existence was a social fact. The channels of divine power went through social institutions, in the main through the church.
3 Here one will note certain parallels between my reflections and the well-known thesis of Marcel Gauchet; see his Le Dsenchantement du monde, Paris 1985. It is true that our positions have something in common, but differences will also reveal themselves in what follows.

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The application of this power happened at all levels, and to whatever extent was possible for the people involved. Ringing the weather-bells was an act of the congregation, its priest, or the sexton. God's presence permeated the social fabric. This made unbelief impossible in another way: defence against evil assumes the solidarity that is required for the application of the force of good. Bringing God's power to bear against lightning was a communal act, and everyone needed to play their part. Abstention would have been treason.

With the fading of the enchanted world, an important barrier against unbelief disappeared. There were, however, other barriers. One in particular arose with the process of disenchantment. This is so because the reform movements that determined the new order and drove the spirits and powers from the old world, were animated first by the Christian faith and later by a Deistic worldview. This order followed that of divine providence, and made God present in another way. He may no longer have been a force in the spirit world, but he had become that much more indispensable as architect, guarantor and inspiration of the cosmic as well as the social order. I will come to the cosmic aspect in a moment. But let us first examine the founding of the United States of America, in order to understand this new form that the presence of God took. For many of the Founding Fathers understood their task as that of setting up a new form of political society, which would realise God's purposes. In doing so they followed the Puritan tradition, which saw the new American colonies as an opportunity to realise God's will more fully. The new Jerusalem was to be a shining city on a hill, a source of light in the darkness. For the revolutionary leaders, God's providence required a particular kind of order. The well-known words of the Declaration of Independence, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, reveal this. Their intention was to set up a society that translated these ideals into reality the first time this had been attempted. This milieu was very Protestant even Deist. For these people, God was not present in the Sacraments, let alone in relics, places of pilgrimages, or religious festivals. But he was undoubtedly present both as the will which one obeyed, and as a moral force that enabled one to obey His will. He was not present in the Holy. In other words, he was not present in a particular immanent concentration of divine Power in certain objects (relics), gestures (consecration), places (Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela) or times (Christmas, Easter); but he was that much more present as the Will who had created the order in which we humans live. One is easily deceived by this new form of presence, because it later became standard to equate the revolution with a form of collective activity in which humanity takes over all responsibility, and in which there therefore no longer remains any place for God. It is true that human responsibility is an integral part of the modern context, but this does not necessarily rule out God. The difference becomes particularly obvious when one compares the new American republic with a monarchy such as France, whose roots were in the Middle Ages. The monarchy is not merely grounded in the collective acts of its subjects; it precedes them, and makes possible their acts, which could not have produced France without this already existing framework. This framework assumes more than just human action. The kingdom is also a mystical body; the actual, concrete king does not exhaust the kingdom. He is the representative of a higher reality, which exists not in pro-


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fane, secular time, but in another, higher, time. This is the doctrine of the king's two bodies .4 One could say that pre-modern society is grounded in a transcendental reality, in eternity, or at least in a higher time, which is superior to profane time, whereas modern states are grounded in collective action in secular time, such as in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, etc. In this sense human responsibility is comprehensive. But this does not rule out God, as the plan that our actions follow comes from him. Modernity has, on the contrary, opened a new niche for the presence of God in society. A society grounded in a collective act, such as a revolution, or a constitutional convention, requires a collective definition that is anchored in the social imagination. One could call this definition the political identity of the society. This identity might entail a significant reference to God, as in the case of the new American republic. We become one nation under God. God is therefore anchored in the social imagination. This represents a widespread modern phenomenon. The national sense of a people could define itself in terms of adherence to a particular confession. Here one thinks, with reference to the Roman Catholic Church, of the Poles, the Irish, and the former French Canadians. But adherence to a faith does not last forever; the case of the Quebecois is a reminder of this. To understand our contemporary world, one must look at what this second form of the presence of God in society has undermined. I will mention three significant changes here. First of all, there is the creation of an exclusive humanism, one that rules out the transcendent. Very soon after the American Revolution, the French Revolution presented the drama of the founding of a state on the basis of a Providence, which (at least for some) was attributed not to God, but to nature. The will to exclude the transcendent was clearly expressed. As I have indicated above, we are used to regarding this development as secure; for some it is simply the discovery of human truth, for others it is plain apostasy. In my opinion, however, we are dealing here with a remarkable turnaround, a surprising, and in many ways admirable, achievement. How is it that human beings, after centuries and millennia, during which the moral life without God or another transcendental reality was unthinkable, came to understand their existence purely in terms of the immanent? I don't have the time to discuss this crucial question here. It will suffice to say that this realisation displays two aspects. A human good, radically severed from transcendence, had first of all to be conceived. This role was fulfilled, in the first instance, by the human moral order which was derived from Locke and the modern natural law theorists. Every human being pursues life, freedom, and happiness. But God (and later nature) has created them so as to live together. They form a society so as to live better than they otherwise could have. But this union, which is not hierarchical, but fundamentally egalitarian, must succeed in such a way that the pursuit of happiness of each does not detract from that of others, but rather contributes to it. This way of seeing things is at the root of our contemporary conception of universal human rights. The second aspect was even more difficult. Human motivation had to be reconceived so as to attribute to us the capacity to live out this morality without the
4 See Ernst Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies. A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, Princeton 1957

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help of any transcendent source. It is not just God's mercy that has to be ruled out; the Platonic recourse to the Form of the Good and the Stoic reference to the divine Logos within all of this becomes redundant. The sources of morality as well as the most exalted altruistic devotion are fully immanent. The most important immanent sources of morality were: (a) Reason: the means whereby we raise ourselves to the level of universality, and that which gives us the capacity to distance ourselves from our particularity and to think in terms of the universal, impartial good. Here we think of the meaning accorded to the concept of the impartial spectator in Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and, later, the utilitarians. (b) Sympathy: an innate tendency, nature's dowry, which drives us to help our fellow humans, and which forms us such that we live spontaneously according to the moral order that I have described above. Rousseau is the seminal figure in this tradition. What is surprising is not so much that it was possible to establish theories of this kind, but rather that people have, in the final analysis, become able to base their lives on these moral sources. This is an extraordinary achievement, which is generally passed over in the stories of normative subtraction. If one sees in this a certain novelty, one might speak as though we are merely dealing with a theoretical discovery. But it cannot just be a theoretical novelty: for one must be motivated by a conception of impartial reason, and it requires very deep changes of sensibility, in one's understanding of oneself, and in people's lifestyles, before this is possible. One needs to be reminded that no great conception of the sources of morality, whether the Platonic Form of the good or the Christian conception of God, is something obvious. Rather these conceptions have been goals that humans have set themselves, and many have failed in the attempt to reach them. I can, as a Christian, be unhappy about the fact that I am not genuinely inspired by God's love, and I could want this, and perhaps even achieve it. That it is possible to be inspired by an objective and impersonal worldview is not obvious. Something new in the field of ethical motivation had to be created. This is at the same time both surprising and admirable. In any case, the creation of this exclusive humanism changes the entire starting point. From now on the social imagination of the new society can attach itself to immanent points of reference. It could be a metaphysical conception of nature, as with the Jacobins, or one might attempt to define political identity solely in terms of common concrete and ideal interests. And for the individual there is also the option of a morality without reference to the transcendental. The second important change temporally speaking is the transition from a cosmos to a universe. Living in a cosmos means to live in a world structured and restricted by a plan, whether its scaffolding be Forms, as with Plato, or the creation as described in the Bible (or both, as they were usually combined). Despite our confusion and our lack of detailed knowledge, and despite local signs of disorder, one knows that the structure holds, and that one would sense it were one to reach its limits. These structures are moral: in other words, the plan is grounded in the Good. The cosmos stands in relation to our ethical life. Its message is positive in every way. Again, I don't have space to here to describe the process in singular detail, but the last two hundred years have seen how the sense of belonging to a cosmos has been eclipsed by the idea of a universe. The latter is enormous, without conceivable limits, and does not present itself immediately, as if it were part of a plan. Such a structure would not appear to have any moral relevance. Above all, this universe appears indif-


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ferent to the small drama of humanity, which plays itself out on the surface of a small planet, orbiting an unremarkable star, in a galaxy of thousands. This demonstrates a conceptual change, but it is more than just that. In the last one or two centuries, a change of imagination this time of a cosmological nature has carried itself out in our civilisation. It is not just that we know that the universe is many billions of years old, and not just 6000, as our ancestors rather hastily concluded from the Bible. It is also that we feel that behind us is what Buffon has called the dark abyss of time.5 This abyss is dark, because one cannot see down to the ground, unlike our ancestors, who believed that they could do so on the basis of biblical testimony, which they somewhat navely and literally understood. The beginning of their world was for them, in a certain sense, bathed in light. For us, however, it is lost in the dark, as is our genesis from the non-human, indeed from the non-living onwards. This new cosmic imagination works itself out in both directions in the struggle between belief and unbelief. On the one hand, it is clear that for many the theory of evolution has discredited the Bible, and even appears to be proof of materialism. But it also goes in the other direction, in that it brings mystery back into the world. When one considers classical apologetics, such as that of Newton, who demonstrates the existence and goodness of God on the basis of the form of the universe and its advantages for humankind, we see that it postulates a world governed by strict, unalterable, completely explicable laws, a world in which there is no place for mystery. Everything beyond our understanding is to be found in the countenance of God, the creator, in other words beyond the limits of the world. There was no mystery internal to the cosmos. But our universe, which stands open to the immeasurable and dark abyss from whence we come, arouses a sense of mystery even amongst unbelievers. This sense of mystery shines through the words of many atheist scholars, such as, for example, the following comment of Diderot's from more than two hundred years ago: ... what is the duration of our time compared with eternity? Less than the drop I have taken up on a needle-point compared with the limitless space surrounding me. Just as there is an infinite succession of animalculae in one fermenting speck of matter, so there is the same infinite succession of animalculae in the speck called Earth. Who knows what animal species preceded us? Who knows what will follow our present ones? Everything changes and passes away, only the whole remains unchanged. The world is ceaselessly beginning and ending; at every moment it is at its beginning and its end.6 Paradoxically one finds in the contemporary debate a strange alliance, one that rejects anything miraculous, between Protestant fundamentalists in the United States and confirmed materialists, against unbelievers in the tradition of Diderot, who cannot avoid a sense of humility and wonder before that which stretches out over us to infin-

5 6

See Paolo Rossi The Dark Abyss of Time, Chicago 1984, pages 108-9. Denis Diderot, 'D'Alembert's Dream', in Rameau's Nephew and D'Alembert's Dream, translated by Leonard Tancock (Penguin Books 1966), p. 174.

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ity. This universe reminds one of what the eighteenth century termed the sublime, and Kant saw fit to compare the starry heavens with the moral law within.7 The last of these three changes is very recent. It has happened in the last fifty years, perhaps even more recently. I have spoken above of the two ways in which God is present in the public realm, in the holy or in the political identity of a society. In one way or another the transcendent is connected to social relations. In this restricted sense, these societies are Durkheimian .8 But today forms of spirituality that are radically dissociated from social solidarity have evolved. This is particularly obvious in manifestations of what has come to be called New Age spirituality. But the phenomenon is in fact far broader than this. It might be necessary to speak of a post-Durkheimian age. A certain solidarity is necessary both for a spirituality grounded in a God who is rooted in the holy, and for the kind of spirituality mediated through the political identity. This solidarity might express itself through membership of a particular church (the Catholic model) or through membership of the church of one's choice in other words through membership of one of a group of churches which recognise each other's legitimacy (the Protestant model, which one sees in the United States). But this kind of social connection is becoming less and less suited to the expressivist culture of our times, which is saturated with the ethic of authenticity. This culture is concerned, above all, with the necessity of being true to one's own spiritual path. This concern certainly does not prevent reference to the transcendental or striving to go beyond the self; but it does create a climate in which adherence to a form of spirituality which does not speak to us, on account of it not being part of our tradition or our identity, makes less and less sense. One need not necessarily go as far as a speaker at a New Age festival in England, whose motto was Only accept what rings true to your own inner self9." But the privileging of one's own inspiration is ever more openly revealed. We are experiencing the breakthrough of this form of spirituality. This clearly changes the position, and not only for religions such as Christianity; it also undermines secular forms of political identity such as, for example, the particular metaphysics which for a long time underpinned the republican identity in France.

As I explain things here, it is clear that the modern conception of the human moral order plays an important role. In the space between orthodox Christianity and deism, society was able, by virtue of this modern conception, to see itself as constituted by individuals who were liberated from any previous hierarchical order, and who pursue their own vital interests, albeit in such a way as to support one another. Various interpretations of this moral order of modernity have come to underpin the respective social im7 Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Immanuel Kant, Critique of practical reason, (tr Lewis Beck White) Chicago University of Chicago Press 1949, p. 258. I do not here advocate Durkheim's much stronger thesis, whereby the transcendent or the holy is society. Sir George Trevelyan, on the occasion of a lecture at the Festival for Mind, Body and Spirit", cited in Paul Heelas The New Age Movement Oxford 1996 at page 21. One might be tempted to believe that this slogan applies only to representatives of the New Age movement. But Heelas claims in chapter 6 that this position has certain affinities with far more commonly held attitudes. A 1978 Gallup Poll revealed, for example, that 80% of Americans agreed with the statement that an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any churches or synagogues. (Heelas on page 164, cited likewise in Robert Bellah et al., Habits of the heart Berkeley 1985, page 228.)

8 9


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aginaries associated with them, whether that of the democratic and egalitarian society which is made up of legal subjects, or the market economy that ties free participants together. But it has also given us a new conception of Providence one dominated by the apologetics of Newton's time, in which God expresses his goodness in the creation of a universe ordered around the principle of mutual support. God among us, made present in human society, meant applying this principle in political and social life.10 In Western history it is precisely this conception of order that reveals the continuity between the social morality that was first embodied in divine Providence and that version of it which replaced Providence with Nature a concept which itself barely survived the death of the cosmos. The location of morality has subsequently become an ever more internal one, and now finds itself within civilisation, understood as the capacity of advanced humans to cultivate the moral sources which lie within themselves. This moral order is also the site of complex relations between faith and unbelief. One speaks often of the relation Christianity has with Liberalism, and, in doing so, relies on a particular picture of its connection with the moral order of modernity: I think here of Christianity squared. This means: Christianity had, in a certain way, already taken each individual to be holy and therefore worthy of respect, but there remained nevertheless a certain unrest on the border between Christians and non-Christians. This limitation had to be overcome in order to establish the morality of modernity, which we may see as Christianity squared, beyond the narrow boundaries of adherence to a religious community. There is something to this. We believers must concede that unbelief has done us a great service. It has helped free us from Christendom which, despite all its lustre and notable achievements, was one of the great factors in limiting the Gospel in our lives.11 In this sense modern liberalism is Christianity squared through and through. Unfortunately this is not the only way in which the two are connected, as, in another sense, modern liberalism is Christianity lite. This moral order can also turn out to be a prison, one that limits and blinds us. This point has been made in a number of ways, or, to put it differently, along a number of axes. And this allows me to come finally to my discussion of the immanent Counter-Enlightenment. But first a general remark about resistance to the hegemony of the moral order of modernity, in whatever form this order takes. Interestingly, such reactions have come not only from Christian authors or thinkers, but also from complete unbelievers. In other words, certain kinds of objections to modernity which have often been expressed by Christian authors - in particular the sense of imprisonment which modernity is alleged to produce - have also been expressed, albeit in different ways, in the work of unbelievers. There are a number of axes of rebellion. I will discuss two of them: a) First of all the moral order of modernity aims to further life, happiness, and prosperity. Locke saw the right to life as the first among rights not the good life, as Aris10 Michael Buckley has shown the importance of the motif of healing divine providence to seventeenth and eighteenth century apologetics, and how central theodicy was for this era. The fate of God, one might say, was tied to this new conception of order. (At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Haven, 1987). 11 Here I am clearly indebted to Emmanuel Mounier. Cf. his Feu la Chrtiennet Paris 1947. I have developed these thoughts in A Catholic Modernity? Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture. New York, James Heft (ed.), 1999.

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totle had it, but simply life. The rights to freedom and property are derived from it. This set of values is deeply connected with the affirmation of ordinary life, something I referred to in Sources of the Self.12 While many would greet this affirmation with approval, others see it as a limitation. They rather strive for something that goes beyond life, something which might even require losing one's life. This theme is well-known to Christians ich freue mich auf meinen Tod,13 in the words of the well-known Bach cantata. And it is making a return, surprisingly enough, in the context of pure immanence. As Mallarm says: Ainsi, pris du dgot de l homme l me dure Vautr dans le bonheur, o ses seuls apptits Mangent ... Je fuis et je m accroche toutes les croises D o l on tourne l paule la vie, et, bni, Dans leur verre, lav d ternelles roses, Que dore le matin chaste de l Infini Je me mire et me vois ange! Et je meurs, et j aime ... Que la vitre soit l art, soit la mysticit ... renatre, portant mon rve en diadme, Au ciel antrieur o fleurit la Beaut! (Les Fentres, 21-32)14 In this youthful work one can still see the religious sources of dissatisfaction with the ordinary life: the image of the window, pictured in various ways, which splits the universe into an upper and lower part; the lower part understood as a sanatorium, and life itself as a kind of putrefaction. But beyond it there is heaven and a river; the pictures are still impregnated with the religious tradition: eternity, angels, mysticism. But later, after his crisis, Mallarm took a more materialistic view of the universe. Beneath observable reality lies nothingness, the void. The poet's vocation remains nevertheless that of going beyond life. In fact he speaks of this vocation in terms borrowed from romanticism: the search for the original, perfect, language, l explication orphique de la Terre. 15 With regard to religious convictions, Mallarm holds to an immanent humanism. But he finds himself in opposition to it with regard to the question of the purpose of life. He strongly rejects the privileging of life in fact he regards it with revulsion. What becomes apparent resembles something more like a counter-privileging of death. Realising the poet's vocation to create a purified language requires, for Mallarm, something that resembles the poet's death; at least, it requires going beyond every par-

12 Charles Taylor Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989. 13 I look forward to my death with joy 14 'thus, seized with disgust at the hard-souled man who wallows in the pleasures on which his appetite feeds ... I flee and cling to all the windows from which one can turn one's back on life; and blessed in their glass, bathed in eternal dews, in the chaste morning of the Infinite, I look at myself and see an angel! and I die, and I long whether the window be art or mysticism to be reborn, wearing my dream as a diadem, in the anterior sky where Beauty flowers! 15 'the Orphic explanation of the Earth.


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ticularity. This is a process that is only consummated in death: Tel Qu en Lui-mme enfin l ternit le change. 16 Tout ce que, par contre coup, mon tre a souffert, pendant cette longue agonie, est innarrable, mais heureusement je suis parfaitement mort, et la rgion la plus impure o mon Esprit puisse s aventurer est l ternit, mon esprit, ce Solitaire habituel de sa propre Puret, que n obscurcit plus mme le frelet du Temps.17 Mallarm became the first great modern poet of absence (aboli bibelot d'inanit sonore ).18 Eliot, Celan, and others were to follow him in this. We are obviously dealing with the absence of the object: (sur les crdences, au salon vide: nul ptyx)19 But one only reaches this first absence by means of another, namely disappearance in other words the death of the subject (Car le Matre est all puiser des pleurs au Styx / Avec ce seul objet don't le Nant s'honore).20 There is a strange parallel with previous religious traditions, albeit one that is essentially a radical negation of transcendence. Death, and the moment of death, have an ineradicable place in more than just one religious tradition: death as the ultimate giving up of the self, and thus as decisive moment (pray for us now and at the hour of our death). Something similar is to be found in Buddhism. In the Christian tradition the place of death, the greatest loss of self, is also that of the greatest union with God, and therefore, paradoxically, the richest source of life. In Mallarm's new perspective, the place of death has renewed paradigmatic status. The Christian paradox disappears: death is no more the source of new life. But it is replaced by another paradox: what appears to be a new affirmation of transcendence, in the sense of a definite goal beyond life, is in fact grounded in a decisive negation of all transcendent reality. There is only nothingness. This confusing conception of a, so to speak, immanent transcendence is a significant aspect of what I term the immanent Counter-Enlightenment. In a certain sense death, as the place where life collects and centres itself, grants us a privileged perspective. This perspective keeps returning in our culture and not only as in the example of Mallarm. Heidegger's Being toward Death is a well-known example of this, but this theme is taken up in different ways by Sartre, Camus, and Foucault, and one hears weak echoes of it in the fad of the Death of Man. Let us now turn to the second axis. If we note on the first axis primarily a revolt against life itself as restriction, on the second it is more that one insults everyday contentment, which is seen as contemptible. One refuses to recognise the primacy of ordinary life in the name of greatness, the extraordinary, the heroic. One sees in the equality of all claimants to the ordinary life the levelling that extraordinary, eccentric be16 'As into Himself, at last, Eternity changes him.' 17 'Everything that, as a result, my being suffered during that slow death was hilarious, but happily I am perfectly dead, and the most impure region where my Spirit can venture is eternity, my spirit, that habitual Recluse of its own Purity, which even the reflection of Time no longer obscures'; letter of March 1866 to Henri Cazalis, reproduced in Propos sur la posie (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1946), 66. 18 'abolished knick-knack of sonorous inanity'; Plusieurs sonnets, IV, 6. 19 'On the credenzas in the empty sitting rooms: no ptyx.'' ibid, 5. 20 '(For the Master has gone to draw tears from the Styx / With this object, the only one in which Nothingness takes pride).' ibid, 7 - 8.

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ings, who are greater than the average, wish to ridicule. Instead of privileging the ordinary life as peaceful prosperity, one sees in it rather the rejection of the warrior ethic, of courage, heroism, and risking one's life. One experiences the moral order of modernity as another kind of limitation. Here it is not so much that one strives for death (although there are deep affinities between the two axes), but rather that one sees it as an attempt to reduce the goals of human life to the core of a strict and abstract morality. Many have experienced this morality as repressive, as a refusal of all that is noble and weighty in human beings. Tocqueville, who can hardly be regarded as an enemy of equality and democracy, feared precisely this kind of loss of greatness, especially of that which gives human life a greater meaning. To show this, we need merely refer to the well-known chapter on modern despotism, in which one finds the following extraordinary passage: I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.21 It is interesting to note that Tocqueville sees a connection between greatness and the political freedom of modernity on the one hand, and despotism and pettiness on the other. In this remarkable passage written by a man who, at least in his youth, was a conventional Christian, and who did not want to reject Christianity as an ideal completely, one sees an extraordinary anticipation of Nietzsche. I think in particular of the lines on the subject of the last man taken from the Foreword to Zarathustra, which make a similar kind of point. Instead of Tocqueville's petty, vulgar, pleasure, Nietzsche writes of a miserable ease.22 Nietzsche rejects the idea that the highest goal of life could lie in the preservation and improvement of life and the reduction of suffering. He rejects not only the privileging of the ordinary life, but also the egalitarianism that goes with it. But his rebellion remains, nevertheless, internal in a certain sense. Life itself, according to Nietzsche, implies cruelty, domination, and the elimination of the weak and the misbegotten, and it drives us in these directions in precisely the moment of its most effusive self-affirmation. Nietzsche therefore remains, to a certain extent, within the modern affirmation of life. For him there is nothing higher than the movement of life itself the will to power. But this movement tolerates benevolence, universality, harmony, and orderliness only with difficulty. All of this acts as a brake on its aspirations to greatness, to the extraordinary, to that which goes beyond the human and reaches out to the bermensch, the Superman. The true movement of Life wishes to rehabilitate destruction and chaos. In other words, it wishes, in the course of its self-affirmation, to impose suffering and exploitation. The reflective life also affirms death and destruction. Claiming the opposite means restricting it, oppressing it, taming it, locking it in, and robbing it of those higher manifestations which alone make the bermensch's affirmation of life worth anything. Nietzsche endorses, by a roundabout route, the warrior ethic, which was the target of both Plato and Christianity, and which praises courage, greatness, and the virtues of the elite. And here also one finds that death is allocated a paradigmatic place. Not death as the negation of life, but rather the courage to look death in the face, to estimate life as less valuable than honour and status. This has always been the mark of the
21 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (tr. Gerald Bevan). London: Penguin, 2003. p 805. 22 Friedrich Nietzsche Thus spake Zarathustra (tr RJ Hollingdale) London: Penguin, 1961. p 43.


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warrior, and of his superiority over ordinary mortals. Modern humanism generates faintheartedness. This accusation returns frequently in the culture of the Counter-Enlightenment. It is unnecessary to emphasise the immense influence of Nietzsche's anti-humanism on the culture of the last century. It has left its mark above all in France: think of Bataille, Foucault, and Derrida. In the early part of the twentieth century it was associated with anti-democratic reaction. There is a certain elective affinity between the cult of heroism and risk associated with Nietzsche and the political reaction against the established disorder which manifested itself at the beginning of the twentieth century. One is seduced by the ideal of a hierarchical order, in which the higher beings give the orders, and the ordinary people are led to great heights. The Counter-Enlightenment of the faithful meets that of the unbelievers. Maurras is one of the points at which these two streams meet. Later, after the war, the Counter-Enlightenment of the unbelievers would find political expression exclusively in fascism. I do not say this for the purposes of discrediting it. On the contrary, we need to understand why thinkers who abhorred fascism from the depths of their beings were nevertheless attracted to antihumanism. This is possible because the moral order of modernity can always be experienced as a prison. And this on many levels. James Miller's book on Foucault shows the power of this rebellion against the cramped, suffocating cell of humanism.23 The antihumanism articulated by Nietzsche has subsequently been strengthened by our consciousness of living in a universe, as opposed to a cosmos, to use the concepts I introduced earlier. For the Darwinian universe is the site of a brutal struggle, of nature red in tooth and claw. An ethic that integrates struggle and destruction into the good life finds itself seamlessly connected with the nature of things. Nietzsche, who saw in the will to power a universal force, himself called for just such a grounding in the natural. And one sees something similar in the youthful Ernst Jnger, as well as the American poet Robinson Jeffers, not to mention many others. In a strange inversion of things, the universe plays, for modern antihumanism, the role that was allotted to the cosmos in traditional morality. Traditional morality understood itself to be supported by the cosmos; modern antihumanism grounds itself in the complete absence of a plan in a universe devoid of meaning. This demonstrates the extent to which this kind of grounding in the real remains necessary for modern people. On another level, the warrior ethic, which Nietzsche rehabilitated the machismo of the warrior still echoes in modern liberal society above all amongst young men. We need to accept that this ethic still has a certain resonance for us, and ask what its meaning is. How are we to understand it? How are we to live with it? All traditional religions found a way of living with this. Ren Girard writes of a decisive difference between the understanding of violence in the Judeo-Christian religions on the one hand, and religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other. I find his theory profoundly interesting, even though it is also possible to take this difference into account in other ways. From a Christian viewpoint, such as we see in Girard as well as others, there is a particular way of recognising this dimension of humanity, whereby we hope to transform it from within into something else. This does not mean simply repressing it, nor believing that cultural progress will destroy this powerful human instinct, nor that progress, discipline, or the good liberal society will neutralise it sufficiently for us no longer to be threatened by it. One sees, or so I think,
23 James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

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in the current fashion of political correctness, particularly as practised in America, how this process results in a dead end, because the chief weapon of the warrior ethic, namely shame, is turned against itself. The aim is to get people to feel ashamed of themselves, and by doing so to render every reflex of exclusion, violence, and discrimination absolutely unacceptable, invalid, impossible. It strikes me that this way of proceeding reveals itself with time as ever more of an obvious cul de sac. This indicates a deficiency that is implicit in the moral psychology of this understanding of morality. Once more its imprisoning tendencies are shown. And here one sees how complex the relations between belief, unbelief, and morality are. I have spoken above of Christianity squared and Christianity lite, but one cannot take only the dialogue between liberalism and Christianity into account. There is a third player, or series of players, whom I have termed the immanent Counter-Enlightenment. They have turned away from the transcendent, but are nevertheless critical of liberalism and the moral order of modernity. In doing so they lay claim to being more consistent in their rejection of the transcendent than liberals, whom they accuse of advocating a neo-Christian morality. But despite these differences, their objections to the moral order of modernity often resemble closely those of believers. In fact, there is a strange triangular relationship between believers, modern humanists, and antihumanists, whereby each pair can make common cause against the third on some issue, but remain at odds on other issues. To this extent both forms of opposition to transcendence meet each other. Christians and antihumanists agree in certain ways on the failings of the moral order of modernity; but beyond this critique Christians recognise the claims of their own faith in the fundamental values of the modern order, and in this sense they are closer to the humanists.

This triangular perspective, as well as the history of the origins of unbelief that underlies it, leads us to another understanding of modernity. It gives us, first of all, a different perspective on the classical goals of the development of modernity. If the subtraction story is correct, and it means that we are moving in the direction of the complete disappearance of religion (or at least its disappearance within a certain range, in that people are always likely to be somewhat irrational: let us rather say, the diminishing importance of religion) and a harmonious world beyond it, I would say rather that the direction it is leading us in, if it is indeed leading us anywhere, is more likely to be that of an ever more highly developed pluralism. I do not mean by this pluralism on a normative level, but rather an ever more fragmented spiritual pluralism, whereby many different varieties of living the spiritual life, both within and outside of Christianity, will arise. One sees in the creation of immanent forms of Counter-Enlightenment that the power to construct new ethical perspectives has not waned with the birth of modern humanism. This power is in fact stronger than ever; spiritual families are splitting and multiplying in our post-Durkheimian age. A consequence of this is the reciprocal weakening of these families. The fact that one lives with others who, despite being of good will and just as intelligent and astute as oneself, choose profoundly different spiritual options, cannot remain without effect. The crucial fact is that today one lives next to these others, in contrast to certain traditional societies in which spiritual families lived in ghettos, insulated to the extent that they had no contact with each other. In contrast, we live in a thoroughly mixed society. The spiritually other might turn out to be one's brother, sister, son, or daughter.


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It sometimes seems as if generations alternate between different sets of spiritual values, for which we have the tendency of children to react against their parents to thank. In certain families it seems that sons change course from their fathers, and daughters from their mothers. One thinks here of the English Evangelicals, whose children at one time joined the camp of the unbelievers. In the next generation, Virginia Woolf, ne Stephen, rejects the moralism in which she was brought up. She is one of the founders of the attempt, which we call Bloomsbury, to break open the prison. And so it continued, although it had not in fact begun there, as the Evangelicals had adopted and renewed the religion of their grandparents in reaction against the libertine generation of Gibbonians. It seems to me that the pattern established in the enclosed world of the elites of eighteenth century England anticipated what has become the rule in modernity. We are dealing here with a kind of pluralism that is not static, but rather in continual motion, and whose final goal is in fact to establish that there is no final goal, but rather a set of spiritual paths that cross and branch out from each other. All of this makes clear is that any attempt to re-establish Christendom, including those that take the form of an ersatz, non-religious form of Christianity, are doomed to complete failure. This world of difference will bring about new ways of living with difference. We should perhaps recognise that it will not suffice simply to pursue a negative politics of non-discrimination. What is in fact required is a genuine coexistence of differences, which goes beyond simple tolerance. This is not to disparage tolerance, that is a valuable achievement in comparison to the intolerance and exclusion which has been the rule in most of human history. But if one wants to move in the direction of an ever more human exchange, one needs to do more than just respect those who are different, but in fact to help them find their voice or path, to the extent that this is both necessary and possible. The idea of genuine transformation is that these different voices genuinely have something to say and something to give one another; but for this to happen it is necessary that others find their voices or their paths. It is sometimes insufficient to remove all that discriminates against and bars the way to those who are different. It is also sometimes the case that they must have, or must be given, the necessary means. Of course it is very complicated and difficult to apply this kind of ideal. And nor can it be the only applicable principle, for it also has the potential for excesses and deviations. I am unable to summarise the somewhat disjointed set of remarks that comprise this paper without defining what the relations between Christianity and all those moral and ethical visions that I have detailed ought to be. It is clearly not possible for Christianity to reduce itself to a particular morality, or to see itself as satisfied or completely expressed by one of these moralities. We can therefore draw the following lesson: it is certainly the case that the moral order of modernity does pose certain problems for Christianity. But this is not an accident, a simple contingency, or a problem that arises only with this particular model it arises with any given model. There are parallels in the New Testament, which make this clear: for example that of the workers who are invited to work in the vineyards, and where those who worked only an hour receive the same wages as the others. This policy, of course, would contradict any policy the government of a decently administered country would be able to justify. But the message is not that we have here a general and fundamental principle which could serve as the basis for a well-ordered society. We could never conceive of a human society in which one could assume that those who work one hour are to receive the same wage

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as those who work ten hours. What this parable expresses, however, is rather that there are considerations that go beyond any possible moral order for the world of human beings, and that there will be constant tension between the demands of faith, the relationship with God, and the demands of morality. This history of the moral order of modernity and its tensions with Christianity is not an exception; on the contrary, it is absolutely foundational. But it is not because of any failings in the moral order of modernity that these tensions exist. On the contrary: it is perhaps one of the best that has been established in the history of humankind. It has certain problems, some of which I have noted, but when one compares it with any such order that has previously existed, then I would say that it is infinitely superior. The moral order that recognises democracy and the universality of rights has to date not been equalled. I do not say that it is not possible for a superior conception to arise at some point in the future, but to date there has not been a better one. This fact is not unimportant. Bibliography Bellah, Robert, et al. 1985. Habits of the heart. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bnichou, Paul, 1952. Morales du grand sicle. Paris:Gallimard. Buckley, Michael. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1987. De Tocqueville, Alexis. 2003. Democracy in America. (tr. Gerald Bevan). London: Penguin. Diderot, Denis, 1966. D Alembert's Dream in Rameau's Nephew and D Alembert's Dream, translated by Leonard Tancock. Penguin Books. Gauchet, Marcel, 1983. Le Dsenchantement du monde. Paris: Gallimard. Heft, James (ed). 1999. A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kant, Immanuel, 1949. Critique of practical reason. (tr Lewis Beck White) Chicago University Press. Kantorowicz, Ernst, 1957. A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Mallarm, Stphane, 1984Plusieurs sonnets, ouvres compltes, Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothque de la Pliade. Miller, James, 1993. The Passion of Michel Foucault. New York: Harper Collins. Mounier, Emmanuel, 1947. Feu la Chrtiennet. Paris: Gallimard. Nietzsche, Friedrich, 1961. Thus spake Zarathustra. (tr. RJ Hollingdale) London: Penguin. Rossi, Paolo, 1984. The Dark Abyss of Time: The History of the Earth and the History of Nations from Hooke to Vico. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Taylor, Charles, 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Taylor, Charles, 2003. Die Immanente Gegenaufklrung: Christentum und Moral in Religion nach der Religionskritik, Akadamie. Ludwig Nagl (ed.) Verlag: Berlin. Trevelyan, Sir George, 1996. Festival for Mind, Body and Spirit in The New Age Movement. Paul Heelas. Oxford: Blackwell.