Why Conservatism Needs the Religious Right
In his book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, legal theorist Steven D. Smith coined the term “secular cage” to describe the Enlightenment ideal of a value-neutral public square where religious and philosophical beliefs are off limits. The construction of the cage originally had an elegant rationale: if everyone were to lay aside their subjective opinions and commit only to objective, verifiable facts, then the age of ideological religious wars could be left behind and universal consensus about the common good could be achieved at last.
After centuries of effort, this promised consensus remains as elusive as ever. The cage is rusty, and its inhabitants are restless.
Smith persuasively argued that the project was destined to fail from the start. As it turns out, the ideas of secular public discourse, whether embodied in quasi-religious expressions like “individual dignity,” “equality,” and “human rights,” or in mountains of purely scientific data, are not as objective as we might have supposed. The empirical data and the high-sounding terms alike are, he demonstrates, empty vessels into which public intellectuals, academics, pundits, politicians, and journalists pour their own meanings—meanings underwritten by the very sort of metaphysical orientations the cage was meant to exclude in the first place.Continue reading at www.firstthings.com