Democratic Structures and Democratic Cultures: A

Democratic Structures and Democratic Cultures: A "Response" to Paul Hanson and David Novak (Report)

By Cross Currents

  • Release Date - Published: 2009-06-01
  • Book Genre: Education
  • Author: Cross Currents
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Democratic Structures and Democratic Cultures: A "Response" to Paul Hanson and David Novak (Report) Cross Currents read online review & book description:

Paul Hanson and David Novak raise arguments both helpful and profound in thinking about the changing complexities of religious voices speaking in the public sphere. (1) Thinking as I do that Hanson and Novak get things basically right--that religious voices speak not from nowhere but from particular religious traditions; that though those voices have played an important role in U.S. history, the forces of cultural secularism over the last half century tended to restrict their speech in the public sphere; that those forces are in retreat and religious voices are getting a greater hearing in that sphere; and that these changes ought to drive religious voices not primarily toward celebration but toward critical, charitable, responsible, and (above all) particularistic engagement with the public sphere--I do not intend to rehearse Hanson and Novak's respective arguments here. Instead, I want to take up the challenges they have laid before us to think as a Christian who is in conversation with Jews about both why and how Christians should be interested in the public sphere. The focal point for both Novak and Hanson is the structures of the democratic systems that make an active public square both viable and necessary. Almost 175 years ago, Alexis De Tocqueville highlighted the importance of broad public engagement on political matters in making the American democratic experiment work. Assuming that Tocqueville's claims in Democracy in America (2) still pertain, it would follow (at least to the extent that they believe in the benefits of such a democratic experiment) that Christians, Jews, and other citizens ought properly be interested in two sets of questions toward shaping a sustainable public square. The first of questions has to do with the structures of the public square and their relation to democratic governance. Such questions include at least the following: Who gets to speak? What language(s) are allowed or prohibited? With whom should we speak? Who should be listening? And how should the listeners carry their discoveries back into their various projects of governing faithfully, gathering privately, and growing individually? It is these questions, especially, that Hanson, Novak, and a host of other religious and non-religious political philosophers have so helpfully pursued of late.

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