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Habermas’ Wrapped Reichstag: Limits and Exclusions in the Discourse of Post-secularism

  • Aakash Singh (a1)

Abstract

Jürgen Habermas’ recent work attempts to find ‘inspiring energy’ in the religious traditions, but without disturbing the rationality and freedoms of enlightenment modernity. Rather, the secular would assimilate the religious like a blood infusion, becoming more vibrant and stronger, but not losing its hard-won advantage. For Habermas, the post-secular problem lies in how best to preserve the secular democratic institutions, and keep them from being ‘violated’ through religiously motivated politics. Habermas criticizes Nicholas Wolterstorff, who would allow the religious to overrun the political, potentially violating vulnerable democratic institutions such as the parliament. Habermas suggests use of an ‘institutional filter’ to protect parliament from violation. Throughout his post-secular writings, he persistently employs Victorian-like innuendo bestowing masculine ‘inspiring energy’, ‘vitality’, and danger onto religion, which runs the risk of ‘violating’ effeminate democratic institutions symbolized by the parliament; thus the prophylactic device, the ‘filter’, which protects her virtue. One is reminded of Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's ‘Wrapped Reichstag’: in contrast to the Bundestag of today, with its glass dome (representing transparency) open to the public, we find in Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's work an enclosed, protective environment, a filter or prophylactic. In this vein, this paper will attempt to tease out from the language, word-choice, metaphors, and discourse of Habermas’ (post)secular dialectics that the religious enters solely on terms set by the secular, and plurality solely on terms set by stability/security.

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2.Christo, (2006) Christo and Jeanne-Claude Unwrapped, Interview by Cathy Newman. National Geographic, 11.
3. There is no shortage. See, for example, Panero, J. (2005) Christo or Thomas Kinkade: the quiz. The New Criterion, February 14.
4. The ‘turn’ becomes undeniable in numerous talks and papers given between the publication of two major works on the theme: Habermas, J. (2003) The Future of Human Nature (Cambridge: Polity Press) and J. Habermas (2008) Between Naturalism and Religion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
5.Hoelzl, M. and Ward, G. (eds) (2008) The New Visibility of Religion: Studies in Religion and Cultural Hermeneutics (London: Continuum) Also see: T. Banchoff (2007) Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
6.Losonczi, P. and Singh, A. (eds) (2010) From Political Theory to Political Theology: Religious Challenges and the Prospects of Democracy (London: Continuum).
7.Ingelhart, R. and Norris, P. (2004) Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
8. This new development of Habermas’ thought is succinctly sketched in Harrington, A. (2007) Habermas and the ‘post-secular society’. European Journal of Social Theory, 10, 543560. Also see A. Braeckman (2009) Habermas and Gauchet on religion in postsecular society. A critical assessment. Continental Philosophy Review, 42, 279–296.
9. Also cf. Rorty, Richard (1987) Posties. London Review of Books, 9, 1112.
10.Habermas, J. (2006) Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy, 14(1), 17.
11. Habermas often employs the phrase, Die Vitalität des Religiösen; see, for example, Habermas, J. (2008) Die Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 4, 3346, and in English, J. Habermas (2008) A ‘post-secular’ society – what does that mean? Reset DOC. Source: http://www.resetdoc.org/EN/Habermas-Istanbul.php.
12. The central idea of ‘linguistification of the sacred’ first takes shape in: Habermas, J. (1989) The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System. Vol. II (Boston: Beacon Press) 77–111. Among the secondary literature, see: L. E. Hahn (ed.) (2000) Perspectives on Habermas (London: Opencourt), and A. Harrington (2007) Habermas's theological turn? Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 37, 45–61 and the references therein.
13. See, Harrington, A. (2007) Habermas and the ‘post-secular society’. European Journal of Social Theory, 10, 543560; N. Adams (2006) Habermas and Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); H. Joas (2004) Religion post-säkular? Zu einer Begriffspragung von Jürgen Habermas, in his Braucht der Mensch Religion? (Freiburg: Herder Verlag), pp. 122–128; and, H.-J. Hohn (2007) Postsäkular. Gesellschaft im Umbruch – Religion im Wandel (Paderborn: Schöningh).
14. For a comprehensive discussion, see: Maffettone, S. (2010) Rawls: An Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press).
15.Habermas, J. (1994) Postmetaphysical Thinking (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) p. 15.
16.Schmitt, C. (2006) Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
17. See Bill Martin's chapter entitled ‘Eurocentrically distorted communication’ for a further range of problems arising from Habermas’ focus on what I have epitomized through Habermas’ phrase, ‘we … Europeans’, in: Hahn, L. E. (ed.) (2000) Perspectives on Habermas (London: Opencourt), pp. 411420.
18. For this debate, see The Journal of Philosophy 92 (March 1995), and Rawls’ subsequent reply.
19.Habermas, J. (1962) Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit was translated into English as (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
20. Again, ‘Some religious traditio,ns would appear, even if they at times take the stage as the opaque Other of reason, to have remained present in a more vital manner than has metaphysics’ (Ref. 10).
21. Habermas’ micro-management of parliamentary procedure in Religion in the Public Sphere is especially peculiar when contrasted with his scepticism regarding formal political institutions in his earlier work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
22.Ungureanu, C. (2008) The contested relation between democracy and religion: towards a dialogical perspective. European Journal of Political Theory, 7, 405429.
23.Lacroix, J. (2009) Does Europe need common values?: Habermas vs Habermas. European Journal of Political Theory, 8, 141156.
24.Habermas, J. (1996) Between Facts and Norms (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
25. See Lacroix, J. (2009) Does Europe need common values?: Habermas vs Habermas. European Journal of Political Theory, 8, 141156. Also see A. Baumeister (2007) Diversity and unity: the problem with ‘constitutional patriotism’. European Journal of Political Theory, 6, 483–503.
26.Habermas, J. (2009) ‘The political’: the rational sense of a questionable inheritance of political theology. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2009/11/02/rethinking-secularism-audio.
27.Habermas, J., with Derrida, J. (2003) February 15, or what binds Europeans together: a plea for a common foreign policy, beginning in the core of Europe. Constellations, 10(3), 15.
28. As A. P. Martinich (2005) writes in his entry on the ‘Ten Commandments’: ‘Hobbes casts his discussion of the Ten Commandments in such a way that it becomes part of his general design to secularize certain religious concepts. For example, he transfers various divine attributes to the sovereign. Just as God is omnipotent and the judge of all, the sovereign has overwhelming power and is the judge of all facts and events. Also, just as eternal salvation from the ravages of sin comes from God, worldly salvation from the wretchedness of the state of nature comes from the sovereign. Similarly, the Ten Commandments are reinterpreted within a secular, political framework. Hobbes interprets the first four commandments, which are usually thought of as applying distinctively to God, as analogous to what is required of any civil sovereign: “the first [table of stone] contains the law of sovereignty” ’. Hobbes Dictionary (London: Blackwell).
29.Espejo, P. O. (2007) Does political theology entail decisionism? On the relation of the concept of Sovereignty to different conceptions of God in Christianity. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p210995_index.html.
30.Foucault, M. (2004) Naissance de la biopolitique: cours au Collège de France (1978–1979) (Paris: Gallimard).
31. ‘Unlike the indifferent stance of a secular or unbelieving person, who relates agnostically to religious validity claims, secularists tend to adopt a polemical stance toward religious doctrines that maintain a public influence’.Habermas, J. and Ratzinger, J. (2005) Dialektik der Säkularisierung: Über Vernunft und Religion (Freiburg: Herder).
32. ‘Political theology might well become the discipline of studying and eventually mastering such “escalation”, that is, the excesses of sovereignty and their violence, as well as the rhetorical overdrive with which they are accompanied, ideologically justified, and irresponsibly spiced up’ – p. 20 of H. de Vries and L. E. Sullivan (eds) (2006) Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham University Press).
33. R. Williams (2008) Civil and religious law in England: a religious perspective. http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1575.
34. ‘Multiform pluralism’ is a term used by W. E. Connolly (1999), in Why I am not a Secularist? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
35. See, for example, The Birmingham Law School's Journal of Legal Pluralism, or Mark Tushnet's CLS and deconstructive experiments.
36. The architecture and layout of the buildings on Islamabad's Constitution Avenue beautifully capture the parallel juridical system of Pakistan, where the Federal Supreme Court stands face to face from the Supreme Shariat Court across the street. On the plural system see: H. Khan (2001) Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press).
37.BBC News (2008) ‘Sharia law in UK is “unavoidable” ’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7232661.stm.
38.Habermas, J. (2009) ‘The political’: the rational sense of a questionable inheritance of political theology. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2009/11/02/rethinking-secularism-audio, Minute 13, SSRC website – 22 October 2009. He moves on from China to the September 11 attacks, then to Bush and Afghanistan.
39. Cf. Dallmayr, F. (1987) The discourse of modernity: Hegel and Habermas. The Journal of Philosophy, 84(11), 682692.
40. This is not to say that Habermas equates the post-metaphysical and the post-secular; he clearly does not. As he laments in a recent interview, ‘It seems I should have prevented the misleading equation of “postmetaphysical” with “postsecular” ’. J. Habermas (2010) A postsecular world society? On the philosophical significance of postsecular consciousness and the multicultural world society. An interview with Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta. Source: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/A-Postsecular-World-Society-TIF.pdf.
41.Stark, R. (1999) Secularization, R.I.P. Sociology of Religion, 60(3), 249273. H. de Vries (1999) Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press). P. Berger (1996/7) Secularism in retreat. The National Interest, Winter, pp. 3–12. P. Blond and G. Ward (1997) The Postmodern God (London: Blackwell). J. D. Caputo (1997) The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, Religion Without Religion (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
42.Zizek, S. and Milbank, J. (2009) The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). P. Badiou (2003) Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press). Also worth mentioning are the influential works of M. Foucault (1999) Religion and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press), J. Derrida (2002) Acts of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press), and R. Rorty and G. Vattimo (2005) The Future of Religion (Cambridge: Polity Press).
43.Habermas, J. (1981) Modernity versus Postmodernity. New German Critique, 22.
44.Habermas, J. (2006) Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy, 14(1), 19. Habermas refers to J. Milbank (1990) Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (London: Blackwell).
45.Habermas, J. (1987) The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press), p. 52.
46.Singh, A. and Mohapatra, R. (eds) (2008) Reading Hegel: The Introductions (Melbourne: Re.Press), pp. 6, 8, 35ff. Also see A. Singh and R. Mohapatra (eds) (2011) Hegel's India (London and New Delhi: Routledge).
47.Habermas, J. (1997) Modernity: an unfinished project. In: M. Passerin d'Entreves and S. Benhabib (eds) (1997) Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
48. Bill Martin's work is an exception. See Bill Martin's chapter entitled ‘Eurocentrically distorted communication’ for a further range of problems arising from Habermas’ focus on what I have epitomized through Habermas’ phrase, ‘we … Europeans’, in: L. E. Hahn (ed.) (2000) Perspectives on Habermas (London: Opencourt).
49. ‘I think what I and most other sociologists of religion wrote in the 1960s about secularization was a mistake. Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization. It wasn't a crazy theory. There was some evidence for it. But I think it's basically wrong. Most of the world today is certainly not secular. It's very religious.’ P. L. Berger (1997) Epistemological modesty: an interview with Peter Berger. Christian Century, 114, p. 974. Also see: Berger, P. L. (1999) The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
50. Indeed, Habermas himself has begun to question the link between modernization and secularization (see Habermas, J. (2006) Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy, 14(1), p. 17; J. Habermas (2008) Die Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 4, pp. 33–46, and in English, J. Habermas (2008) A ‘post-secular’ society – what does that mean? Reset DOC. Source: http://www.resetdoc.org/EN/Habermas-Istanbul.php.); however, we speak of modernity as an era, and not modernization in general. Berger conflates the two, as visible in the previous note. On the concept of ‘modernity’ vis-à-vis ‘modernization’, see S. Kaviraj (2010) Outline of a revisionist theory of modernity. In: A. Singh and R. Mohapatra (eds) (2010) Indian Political Thought (London & New York: Routledge).
51.Nandy, A. (1990) Science, Hegemony and Violence: A Requiem for Modernity (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).
52.Habermas, J. (1997) Modernity: an unfinished project. In: M. Passerin d'Entreves and S. Benhabib (eds) (1997) Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). It is of course not necessary to rehash here the debate kindled by this notion between Habermas and Lyotard, who forcefully concluded his position, saying, ‘My argument is that the modern project has not been abandoned or forgotten but destroyed, liquidated’. J.-F. Lyotard (1984) The Postmodern Condition (Manchester: Manchester University Press) p. 111.
53. W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2, lines 179–180.
54. Cf. Metz, J. B. (1994) Suffering unto God. Critical Inquiry, 20, 611622.
55. ‘Storming of Parliament’, Dawn, 15 December 2001.
56. The latter, for example, allegedly occurred at the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947, where India's ‘tryst with destiny’ miraculously transubstantiated a hundred million oppressed illiterates into liberated citizens – there is of course a reason Prime Minister Nehru's historic speech was broadcast in English. Although the formerly unfree were now formally free, substantially and socially they remained, in Frantz Fanon's words, Les Damnés de la Terre (the wretched of the earth).
57.Chatterjee, P. (2004) The nation in heterogeneous time. In: The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World (New York: Columbia University Press).
58.Arnold, D. (1994) The colonial prison: power, knowledge and penology in nineteenth-century India. In: D. Arnold and D. Hardiman (eds) Subaltern Studies VIII (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).
59. The echo with Derridean differance is clear.
60. ‘The typical citizen of a liberal democracy was a “last man” who, schooled by the founders of modern liberalism, gave up prideful belief in his or her own superior worth in favor of comfortable self-preservation. Liberal democracy produced “men without chests,” composed of desire and reason but lacking thymos, clever at finding new ways to satisfy a host of petty wants through the calculation of long-term self-interest. The last man had no desire to be recognized as greater than others, and without such desire no excellence or achievement was possible. Content with his happiness and unable to feel any sense of shame for being unable to rise above those wants, the last man ceased to be human’. Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man (Glencoe, IL: Free Press).
61. On ‘dialectical self-mediation’, see Desmond, W. (1995) Being, determination, and dialectic: on the sources of metaphysical thinking. The Review of Metaphysics, 48.
62.Singh, A. (2005) Eros Turannos: Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve Debate on Tyranny (Lanham, MD: University of America Press).
63.Johnson, P. (2004) Are our utopian energies exhausted?: Habermas's radical reformism. European Journal of Political Theory, 3, 267291.
64. Contrast Emmanuel Levinas, who takes the ‘immeasurable’ gravely, without the self-mediating dialectics of Habermas, capable of measuring the immeasurable. See Losonczi, P., (forthcoming) Groundless fundamentalism: reading Levinas as political theologian. In: P. Losonczi, M. Luomo-Aho and A. Singh (eds) The Future of Political Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate).

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