People of goodwill can best nurture civility and proper discourse in public life by being courageous, taking risks and bearing burdens for the sake of goods greater than themselves.
Courage – in the public square – is the “absent virtue” for many people of goodwill today, said US Professor Robert George, in a Facebook interview with New Zealand’s Brendan Malone of Left Foot Media on September 7.
Professor George, who is director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, discussed a range of topics with Mr Malone in a “watch party” titled “The American Crisis, Morality and Law , Restoring Civil Public Debate”.
Given the current culture in which we live, Professor George sounded a warning that “this battle for civility, for decency, for our common humanity, for the sanctity of human life, for the dignity of marriage and the family – this battle may not be winnable in the end. That is up to God”.
“I myself think it is winnable, but it can’t be won without courage. And it is not a battle that will be won without casualties.
“Which means that anybody worth his or her salt has got to be willing, has to have the courage, to be one of those casualties. We need courage, and we need to stand courageously for each other when we come under attack.”
What people of goodwill, including many religious believers, are up against is a “pseudo-religion”, variously known as secular progressivism or expressive individualism.
“It functions like a religion,” Professor George said, “it is a source of meaning, it has got a set of dogmas, indeed it has a lot of the other indicia of religions. Saints and demons and holy days . . . “
But, as with militants and fundamentalists in any religion, it brooks no dissent.
“They can’t allow for freedom of conscience or freedom of speech or any other basic civil liberties. They want conformity, they want ‘group-think’.”
One of the dogmas of this pseudo-religion is that “competing ‘comprehensive views’, be they secular or religious, certainly religious ones like Christianity, Islam, Judaism . . . must be restricted to the private precincts of the home or house of worship”.
“Now why should anybody of any competing faith accept those terms?” Professor George asked.
“We compete fairly in the public square with you [secular progressives] . . . you have no authority to shut us down.”
“You make your arguments, we will make our arguments, and then we are going to use the processes of deliberative democracy to resolve the questions until they get opened back up in the ordinary institutions of democratic governance for reconsideration, if, indeed, they do.
“This idea that secular progressive ideology counts as neutrality is deeply foolish.”
Professor George argued for a genuine political dialogue, citing a point made by his friend and colleague Professor Cornell West from Harvard University, who is more at the liberal, socialist part of the political spectrum, but who is a “true civil libertarian”.
“Cornell makes the point that, if you are going to enter into a political dialogue, you first need to get to know each other as human beings, because friendship is not reduceable to politics,” Professor George said.
“The first question is not – are you Labour or Tory . . ., the first question is – where do you come from? Tell me about your mum and dad, do you have brothers and sisters, what traditions did you grow up with or did you grow up in, what is important to you, what do you think about when it is just you and you are all alone, what is in your mind, what are your hopes and fears for yourself and your country and for the world?
“When we start out that way, we get to know each other, and we will find that we are fellow human beings and we have common ground and common concerns.”