“If we are so troubled and perplexed, if we search for the right words and bite our tongues, this is because these three elements are constitutive parts of our situation and the great fact of Islam that is at the center of our struggles, for Muslims and for non-Muslims, together or separately.” Pierre Manent, Beyond Radical Secularism
Manent, in his book Beyond Radical Secularism, suggests that the Islamic phenomenon presents three distinct and yet interdependent elements which must be addressed by Europe and, I suggest, ultimately by the U.S.: Muslim immigration, Muslim settlement and mosques financed by Gulf States, and Islamic terrorism.
How do we as a nation begin to address the three elements? Do we call others “Islamaphobic” or “Xenophobic” and content ourselves with pointed fingers and huffing? Do we act like a certain Jesuit I know and parse out isolated Scripture from the Bible to push the Progressive notion that to be a good country one must have Open Borders and welcome all comers with no conditions placed on refugees/immigrants while hoping things will all work out, while not taking into account the unintended consequences for both parties and without accruing any personal cost? Or, do we as a people living within the Kingdom of God on earth address the complex issue at hand? Do we acknowledge who we are as a nation and our Christian heritage and also acknowledge Muslims?
I suggest Manent’s Beyond Radical Secularism is a good place to begin looking at the matter before us.
Several months have passed since I read though Pierre Manet’s twenty essays, essays encapsulated in his book Beyond Radical Secularism. Before too much more time passes I wanted to record what I learned from the essays along with my reflections.
This is not a book review. Rather, this post is me trying to understand the Islam situation facing the U.S. and doing so through the eyes of French academic and political scientist Pierre Manent whose own country of France is having to come to terms with the Muslims. My thoughts are interspersed with Manent’s words.
From the book’s Introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney:
“In this, his latest book (originally published in France as Situation de la France), Manent brings together his considerable theoretical and practical concerns with rare spiritual depth. He reveals the failure of Europe’s humanitarian civil religion and pleads for a restoration of prudent judgment, rooted in a searching exploration of the theological-political problem. He reveals just where the de-politicization and de-Christianization of Europe has led the continent and his native France. Refusing to despair, and not content with literary politics and facile criticism, Manent lays out a practical philosophy that shows Europe and the West that deliberation and action remain as available to us as they were to Pericles and St. Paul.” (Emphasis mine)
As noted above, Manent writes from a French perspective. Yet, his home turf insights can provide significant direction for U. S. immigration policies addressing the “three elements” noted above.
In Manent’s assessment of the current political situation, he sees both France and the West looking weak:
“As rich as we still are in material and intellectual resources, we are politically without strength. Doubtless this has not escaped the attention of those who now attack us.” (From the Preface)
France and the West, Manent points out, are capitulating to radical secularism–a stripping of the national landscape of political and Christian milestones, earmarks and boundaries. Both are refusing to either fight their enemies or to love their enemies. Both are handing out subjective rights which further divide the nation state into individuals against one another. In so doing, the political regime
“…makes every constraint appear to be useless and arbitrary, in a word vexing, whether civic or in private life. As each letting go justifies and calls forth the next, governments are motivated to tout themselves no longer by the guidance and the energy they give to common life, but by the “new rights” they grant to individuals and to groups.” (From the Preface)
Though not mentioned by Manent in his book, it seems to me that the French philosopher Foucalt’s deconstructionism has gone a long way in educational circles toward emptying words and historical narratives of the meaning they once held. This vacating of meaning has led to intellectual and moral paralysis. We no longer know what to do because we no longer know what to think, Manent posits.
At the end of his Preface, Manent elaborates:
“Our irritated and vacant souls are full of a jumble of historical references, positive or negative, which our experience no longer shifts or orders, and of which we make use in the most frivolous or self-interested manner.”
Later, in essay seven, he writes about France,
“The major fact of our situation, one that has important consequences in all domains that concern us, is the radical loss of authority by the main and decisive instrument of modern politics, that is, the State, or if you will, in the specifically French context, the Republic. One might say, in the language of political physics that the republican State no longer has the power either to reduce the constituent groups of France to citizen-individuals, those primordial elements of modern politics, nor to offer these individuals something to hold in common substantial enough to allow them to be true citizens, that is, members of a larger whole…we tend to return to the pre-modern situation… One of the distinctive features of the situation was the absence of any border between the interior and the exterior.”
Here in the U.S. Barack Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of America was by many accounts a proclaimed and implied look-down-his-nose disdain for America’s history, its Constitution and its ways of life. Obama even apologized to other nations for America’s ‘faults’ as he saw them. As we are finding out, Obama’s administration didn’t just disparage America it also colluded against America and its ally Israel with a South American drug cartel to help Iran advance their nuclear program. Obama along with the likes of Noam Chomsky and a host of “intelligentsia” sought to shame and deconstruct America and to remake it in their own Progressive promise-of-the-future image. Enter a carnival mirror reflection.
Donald Trump comes along and promotes an uber-nationalist fundamental retransformation after his own ribald image. But neither administration has addressed the Muslim situation other than making polarizing comments.
Manent, as he views France, sees their common life dissipating from the loss of State authority due to the people’s lack of faith in government’s trustworthiness and also a loss in faith in Providence, a special concern for a nation with a Christian mark. Add to these weakening influences globalization–the absence of borders within and without, the purposeful loss of historical meaning and context, the placation of individuals and groups with subjective rights by the government, and the neutralizing of the mark of Christianity on a nation. All such effects of degeneration on the common life undermine “a stable and coherent disposition” toward Muslim immigration. You shouldn’t welcome someone into your common life if your common life is on life support. More degeneration occurs.
Our own common political life is being redefined as the ‘indeterminate and limitlessness of individual rights” and interests, just as Manent described France’s political life. Our nation, already fragile, is questioning its identity as it sees itself through the media lens of “fundamental transformation” pushed by Progressives. Our education systems, Progressivism’s training grounds, focus on identity politics and refuse to reinforce a national common life, seeing it as a formulation of power structures from the past that must be done away with.
We are weak and getting weaker and we are inviting in a people, some of whom are at war with us.
Manent talks about the effects of the transformative “equality”, values” and “secularism” criteria in his own country:
“I have emphasized repeatedly… — that our political regime has progressively brought about its own paralysis by the ever narrower and more unilateral way it has understood its principles. The rights of man have been separated radically from the rights of the citizen and, instead of freeing members of society in order to make them capable and desirous of participating in what is common, they are now supposed to suffice to themselves, and public institutions are nothing more than their docile instrument. We are probably the first, and we will surely remain the only people in history to give over all elements of social life and all contents of human life to the unlimited sovereignty of the individual.”
A solution and warning;
Manent writes that France has the tools to deal with the influx of Islam: a history of a neutral secular State coupled with a people with a “Christian mark.” Yet, France and the Europe Union are in depoliticizing mode with their eager acceptance of globalization and open borders. Even more debilitating, they are negating, via radical secularization, all religion from public life and particularly Christianity. Manent warns that these divesting actions will cripple and paralyze any proper response France must take in accepting Islam into the common life of France.
Manent talks of a “politics of the possible” between French Muslims and the civic body. Two principles would apply. First, Muslims are to be accepted “as they are” without seeking to modernizing them or conforming them to others in the society.
Second, preserve and defend the sanctuary of secular government and the characteristics of its regime which holds them as citizens first, Muslims second.
For a shared life Manent suggests that acceptance of Muslims into French society would need to be balanced by elements of France’s “ancient constitution” in order to prevent a Muslim transformation of France. And this acceptance must not advance as “secularism.”
There is a need to address who we are when speaking to those who a seeking to live with us. There is also a need to address Muslims as who they are and then to go forward together, each recognizing the other.
Beyond the foundation and bulwarks of an “ancient constitution” Manent suggests that France (rightfully) impose two restrictions on entering Muslims: no polygamy and no burqa. Such parameters, he posits, would protect the social fabric of the nation and the political freedoms in place.
For the U.S. I would impose the same restrictions along with not allowing sharia law to become law. Muslims immigrants must submit to the laws of our republic. They must not ‘rule’ themselves separately in opposition to a common life. They also must understand that we are a nation with a Christian mark and one which does not impose its Christian beliefs onto others via the government. Here, the individual is self-governing within the full extent of the law. Here the Christian influences government but is not authoritarian, despite Leftist characterizations to the contrary.
As I see it, we must define our relationships beyond individual rights. We must define who we are in common. A neutral secular State will support groups which support the common life of the State. It will respect each group and allow each group to function on its own without imposing laws specific to a particular group.
A Radicalized secular state, on the other hand, will, by its vacuous nature, delegitimize its people and their religion. But don’t expect Muslims to become secular and that tensions will float away. They won’t (though many Progressive Christians have) and the tensions won’t magically dissolve because you opened your borders. Radical secularism pretends that we are just citizen-individuals with nothing to offer but our individuated ‘diverse’ presence. The State only has authority and powers we give it. If we give it nothing but demand only rights we suck the life out of our common life.
An open border de-politicized nation will continue to splinter off. A de-Christianized nation will have no means to influence and support the neutral State. And, Christianity has for centuries fostered and supported secular authority. But Islam, as you know, is theocratic in its politics. To live in common, Islam must separate political and religious life in its citizen contract with the State.
And that State? I see the government’s primary responsibility as promoting the common good by maintaining the rule of law, and preserving basic duties and rights. A neutral secular government offers protection, security and the motivation for the common good. A radicalized secular nation has nothing but individual ‘rights’ to offer a people who then become increasingly alienated.
With more than just rights to offer, a shared life in the U.S. is possible–and desirable–if we remember and “they” learn who we are and why we are – a nation with a Christian mark seeking a common and secure life. It is within this context that the Islamic phenomenon’s three distinct and yet interdependent elements must be addressed.
I recommend Manent’s book, Beyond Radical Secularism to you.
Pierre Manent is a French political scientist. Or, as they say in France…
Pierre Manent est directeur d’ etudes a l’ Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, membre fondateur de la revue Commentaire.
English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton also has something to say about the above: