Intervju med Charles Taylor

Philosophy Now har en intervju med Chrales Taylor.

If you’ve lived through a transformation you understand something of how you got to where you now are. But further generations may lose sight of history, and they take the mental landscape they’re in as being totally natural. They therefore miss something about the nature of that landscape, about the nature of their reference points of identity. They take them not as adopted possible reference points, but as the obvious ones you can’t avoid. So they’re living their identity, but in a way which hides very important dimensions and features of it. So it is a matter of retrieval – retrieving the trajectory that brought you to where you are. I think that should be a very important part of philosophical work.


[Intervjuaren] I was thinking about your recent book A Secular Age this morning and a bus passed by with an atheist (or more correctly, agnostic) slogan “There’s probably no God: now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

I heard about that! It’s hilariously funny. It’s very odd, isn’t it? I’m trying to figure out why this is happening in our time. This new phenomena is puzzling – atheists that want to spread the ‘gospel’, and are sometimes very angry. I think it may be rather like the response of certain bishops to Darwin in the 19th century. The bishops had a sense that the world was going in a certain direction – more and more conversion, and so on – and then they find they’re suddenly upset in their expectation and they get very rattled and very angry. Similarly, we’re seeing this now among the secularising intelligentsia – liberals who felt that the world was going in a certain direction, that it was all going according to plan – and then when it seems not to be, they get rattled. So you get these rather pathetic phenomena. Putting things on buses as though that’s going to make people somehow change their view about God, the universe, the meaning of life and so on. A bus slogan! It’s not likely to trigger something very fundamental in anybody.


You make the point in your work that liberal democracy is confused when it holds itself up as neutral. You say, in fact ‘liberal democracy’ is itself a value, which sometimes comes into conflict with other values, as it should, and we should recognise that this is inevitable.

Yes. I think that there’s no such thing as total neutrality, particularly in terms of what the good life is. For instance, the notion of participating, of being a citizen, taking part in determining the future of yourself and your society – I think this is not an ‘optional virtue’, as it were (laughs): it’s very close to the health and lifeblood of liberal, democratic society. We should be upfront about that.


So is the hope that we can strive towards some higher level in which the fundamental conflicts of culture are resolved a pipe dream?

Yeah. That’s a pipe dream. It’s a beautiful dream, but it’s not something we can possibly hope for. It’s a pipe dream in the kind of sense that Marxism in its original form contained. This means that Marxism’s a tremendously interesting philosophy to read, because it holds out an important definition of the main cultural contradiction – as opposed to its error of thinking that we can resolve it. It’s just as bad not even to see the contradiction – to have this bland neo-liberal view that there are no major cultural contradictions at all, and things will all go swimmingly, that we’ll all just globalise. This is the absolute nadir of blindness. Those neo-liberals have to be put to read Marx – and if they totally convert to Marxism, then maybe they’ll have to be corrected by a dose of reality!

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