Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kraynak: Christianity vs. Modernity II

By Robert P. Hunt

The following is a short excerpt of this essay:

"In Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, Robert P. Kraynak challenges many of the assumptions made by both liberal secularists and committed Christians regarding the proper intellectual and moral foundations for constitutional government. He rejects the liberal assumption that some variant of "moral autonomy" can serve as a foundation for contemporary "rights talk," and, more broadly, questions whether the liberal intellectual tradition contains within itself the resources to sustain its own commitment to democratic self-government. Less persuasive is his argument regarding the inherent conflict between Christianity and democracy--especially to someone who, like myself, shares with Kraynak a commitment to the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism but who, I suspect, parts company with him regarding the intellectual vision and categories that might best inform the effort to sustain a Christian view of man and society.
 And, while he believes that a more full-bodied religious sensibility that goes beyond a form of "Be Nice" Christianity is needed to sustain constitutional government, he wonders whether any principled commitment on the part of Christians to "modern democracy" might not constitute a surrender to liberal modernity. His arguments regarding the inadequacy of liberalism’s view of man and society are forceful and persuasive.
To his credit, Kraynak is by no means sanguine regarding the contemporary effort on the part of many Christians, and especially of Roman Catholics in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, to effect a rapprochement between Christianity and liberalism. On the contrary, Kraynak rejects these efforts and provides the reader with a thorough critique of the effort to ground constitutional government in the premises of philosophical liberalism. Understanding that every form of government is grounded in some view of human nature and of the goods that make for human flourishing, he argues that the variety of liberal efforts to ground constitutional government in a Kantianized defense of "moral autonomy" (a la David Richards) or "equal concern and respect" (a la Ronald Dworkin) cannot be sustained. These efforts undercut the matrix of institutions, virtues, and convictions that sustain the temporal common good. He endorses a teleological view of human nature, or, as he describes it, a spiritual, political, and social "hierarchy of ends" under which our obligations and rights as human beings are derived from the goods that are the goals of human nature. In so doing, he supplies a scathing critique of the liberal project: of the tendency of secular rationalist liberalism to create a culture of disbelief and of the trajectory of liberal rights talk toward statism rather than toward truly limited, constitutional government. "Unless the rights of persons are clearly specified from the outset as serving the true hierarchy of ends, those rights will be seen in contemporary secular terms and will weaken subsidiarity by increasing demands to expand the centralized bureaucratic state."(bold face is mine)

In the first text in bold face above, we see Kraynak's larger thesis that is premised on his worry that Christians are making unholy alliances with modern liberalism. In the second bold faced text, we see the roots of his argument that there are higher and lower human beings that appears here. I also found it interesting that he seems to agree with Dr. Hall that the modern liberal(Enlightenment?) view of man leads to a centralized bureaucratic state.

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