A horizon of beauty?
The starting point of this substack is my previous monograph. That is titled Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom. To Be Fully Human and was published by Routledge in 2017.
This book was the fruit of a Research Fellowship in Legal Studies at the Center for Theological Studies in Princeton, NJ, during the 2014-2015 academic year. During that year, I was part of an interdisciplinary team of 12 ethicists, lawyers, and theologians from different parts of the world.
One of the discussion points was the criticism of the so-called ‘new critics of religious freedom.’ This criticism implies that even though the United States has, for example, the so-called First Amendment, it is well-nigh impossible to realize religious freedom. That is because ‘religion cannot be coherently defined for the purposes of American law, because everyone has different definitions of what religion is.’
In response to this criticism, I developed the argument that if religious freedom cannot be realized, then neither can liberal democracy.
After all, liberal democracy exists by the grace of beliefs among the population that it cannot generate itself. As the German jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde put it,
‘the liberal (German “freiheitlich”), secularized state lives by prerequisites which it cannot guarantee itself.’
That did not mean that I took contemporary liberal democracy for granted. The Acton Institute published a podcast last month of a talk about my book that I gave in Washington, DC, in late 2017. In it, I distinguish liberal constitutionalism rightly understood from post-World War II modern constitutionalism.
My point was that original liberalism allowed more space for civil society. In doing so, mindful of the Böckenförde paradox, it also potentially increased its legitimacy.
Also, more generally, this pluralistic liberalism constituted a ‘horizon of beauty,’ as the title of the concluding chapter of my book reads. One reviewer thought that was ‘a very intriguing,’ even a ‘mysterious,’ title.
However, that is somewhat of an exaggeration. During my fellowship at Princeton, a colleague made me realize the value of aesthetic philosophy and art in creating support for, in her case, international law.
Moreover, in a footnote, I referred, in free association, to Pope Francis’ encouragement of Christians to come across ‘as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and invite others to a delicious banquet.’
To be continued (in September).
What I still wanted to say:
I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest in this substack. As a token of my gratitude, I am giving away three copies of the paperback edition of my book to whoever emails me the main title I originally suggested for it.
What I wrote:
On the blog Nederlandrechtsstaat.nl, I explained to a Dutch audience why, just as Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism was in a sense ‘the public law book of the moment’ four years ago, given the renewed attention to the concept of sovereignty, Conservatism: A Rediscovery is, in my view, in 2022. That does not automatically imply agreement.