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A Secular AgeCharles Taylor Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2007, x + 874pp (hardback £25.95) ISBN: 978-0-674-02676-6

  • Richard Mullender (a1)

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5 Céline, L-F, Journey to the End of the Night (London, 1988), 71.

6 Ibid, 265.

7 Ibid, 265 and 313.

8 Ibid, 319.

9 Taylor, C, Sources of the Self: the making of modern identity (Cambridge, 1989).

10 Macedo, S, Liberal Virtues: citizenship, virtue, and community in liberal constitutionalism (Oxford, 1991), 67.

11 Rawls, J, Political Liberalism (New York, 1993), xviii. (While political liberalism commits those who embrace it to fashioning a secular state, this state cannot sponsor ‘secularism’. For that would be to breach political liberalism's commitment to the principle that the state is neutral as between comprehensive doctrines: ie, conceptions of the good (of which secularism is an example). I am grateful to Cécile Laborde for alerting me to this point. (We might contrast this political liberalism with ‘the militant and essentially illiberal antireligionism’ that Hayek associates with the French Revolution. See Hayek, FA, The Constitution of Liberty (Abingdon, 2006), 351.))

12 See also Taylor, C, Hegel (Cambridge, 1975), 541.

13 See Sartre, J-P, Nausea (London, 1962), 171 (where the author captures nausea thus: ‘[i]f anyone had asked what existence was, I should have replied in all good faith that it wasn't anything’).

14 Cf Oakeshott, M, Experience and its Modes (Cambridge, 1933), 295 (emphasis added) (arguing that ‘[r]eligion differs from other forms of practical activity, not in kind, but in degree; it is characterised everywhere by intensity and strength of devotion and by singleness of purpose’).

15 While ‘fragility of meaning’ is, on Taylor's analysis, a problem that is growing more acute (due to the ‘nova effect’ he describes), some explain it by reference to other (and sometimes highly specific) causes. For example, Richard Overy has recently noted the way in which the Great War (1914–1918) undercut (for many who endured it) the ‘pre-war assumption that civilisation was permanent and progressive’. This, he argues, caused many to experience an ‘undifferentiated sense of malaise’. See Overy, R, The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars (London, 2009), 36. See also 13 (discussing the views of John Beevers and Cyril Joad).

16 See also C Taylor, Hegel, 543–544 (on, inter alia, Friedrich Nietzsche's notion of ‘pitiable comfort’ (ërbarmliches Behagen)).

17 Klug, F, Values for a Godless Age: the story of the United Kingdom's new Bill of Rights (London, 2000), 201 et seq.

18 Ellis, B Easton, Rules of Attraction (London, 1987), 18 and 20.

19 Ibid, 76, 84 and 101.

20 Ellis, B Easton, Less Than Zero (London, 1985), 114 and 205.

21 So too are those offered in Coupland, D, Life After God (London, 1994), 177–178, 273, 345 and 359, and Coupland, D, Girlfriend in a Coma (London, 1998), 59,and 124, 154 and 281.

22 Scruton, R, Modern Philosophy: a survey (London, 1994), 458 (quoting Jean-Paul Sartre and drawing on Martin Heidegger who argued that nothing ‘noths’ (Das Nichts nichtet)). While we cannot pursue the point in detail here, we might see a transfiguring religion as one response to ‘nothing’ and its malign effects (as described by Heidegger). See Overy, The Morbid Age, 40 (noting that Arnold Toynbee took such a view when he stated that Christianity enables its adherents to overcome a ‘schism in the soul’ arising from loss of spiritual certainty).

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