Charles Taylor in A Secular Age

In his new and awesome book, Charles Taylor the famed canadian philosopher has this to say about the virtues of medieval carnivals in which the order of all of society was turned upside down for a day, so as to let off some steam:

it was the eclipse of this sense of necessary complementarity, of the need for anti-structure, which preceded and helped to bring about the secularization of public space. The idea that a code need leave no space for the principle that contradicts it, that there ned be no limit to its enforcement, which is the spirit of totalitarianism, is not just on e of the consequences of the eclipse of anti-structure in modernity. That is certainly true. But it is also the case that the temptation to put into effect a code which brooks no limit came first. Yielding to this temptation is what helped bring modern secularity, in all its senses, into being. (pp. 50-51)

As usual, Taylor’s analysis is deep and insightful. I don’t know how many predecessors he had in this particular matter, but he puts the point very well. This naturally leads one to the thought that our current societies need some mechanism that would  emulate the defunct carnivals.

Taylor points to the division of powers or Mai 68 as such ersatz. But in keeping with or times, i would suggest that what would best replace this old “anti-structure” would be continuously changing societies, societies and governments that were set up specifically to include structural change in them. We are not very far from this, but still not there. Our constitutions still claim to set up governmental structures that should stay as they are. We need flexible constitutions instead. We’ll see.

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3 Comments to “Charles Taylor in A Secular Age”

  1. It seems we humans need some terra firma beneath our feet; thus, constitutions that are seldom revised.
    Amendments always (in the U.S. anyway) require a long struggle. When I agree with the amendments (equal-rights) I lament; when I disagree (a ban on same-sex marriages), I am grateful for the high bar that must be leaped.

  2. eduardo – i agree that constitutions are very important, esp. in certain countries in our day and age. What my laconic musings were getting at was that constitutions need to be re-worked in order to be dynamic. i.e. the failsaves (i know thats not a real word) need to themselves become dynamic so as to reintroduce some “higher-order” anti-structure to serve as a positive dynamic.
    Back in the heyday of modernity, when the Rousseaux and Hobbeses of the time were thinking up cool contracts by which we might live, we were stepping out of autocracy and generalized mayhem into good, stable structure. However, two hundred and some years down the road, as this oftentimes implacaple structures is moving to cover the world or at least large multi-national conglomerates (the EU), i get a sense that people are afraid of falling under the rule of a single incredibly powerful world government. The solution to me seems not to lie in properly dividing up the areas of power amongst different levels of government (subsidiarity, which is nevertheless a good if insufficient move), but rather in breaking up these governments into small moving pieces. Instead of overlapping layers of government, id rather see flexible governments that are directly controlled by the people, so that we can quickly change certain institutions as they grow overly powerful/incapable. I worry that the world is going to turn into one gigantic, immovable bureaucracy. But ill grant you i’ve got a negatively skewed view of the matter: i live in germany!

  3. “… I’d rather see flexible governments that are directly controlled by the people, so that we can quickly change institutions as they grow overly powerful/incapable.”

    What type of “small moving pieces” are you envisioning? Are you thinking of the direct democracy of referendums?

    I’d rather see this too IF citizens were well educated and well informed, rather than reacting on a superficial level, usually without enough data or deep/wide consideration. In America informed thoughtful citizens are a scarce breed; perhaps citizens are more responsible in Germany.

    The danger of irrational mob rule is why these layers were put in place in the first place. That said, bureaucratic gridlock is very disheartening when change is obviously necessary.

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