Robert Bellah on Charles Taylor and Durkheimianism

Much of this is over my head, but compelling stuff nonetheless. Link.  Quotes to follow:

I would like to compare Taylor’s typology to one of Andrew Delbanco’s that I commented on in the Epilogue to my Festschrift in 2002. Delbanco organizes his small book, The Real American Dream, into three chapters entitled God, Nation, and Self. These he sees, using Emersonian terminology, as “predominant ideas” which have successively organized our culture and our society, providing a context of meaning which can bring hope and stave off melancholy. In speaking of God as the predominant idea that first organized our culture Delbanco is thinking primarily of the New England Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nation became the predominant idea from the time of the Revolutionary War until well into the twentieth century. Most recently Self seems to have replaced, or if not replaced, subordinated, God and Nation as the predominant idea of our culture.

Delbanco does not argue for strict chronological epochs, seeing many overlaps. Nor does he emphasize quite as much as I would or Taylor would the continuing centrality of Nation as a “predominant idea” in the United States, but who can doubt that, especially among the educated classes, Self has become a powerful focus. With some problems of whether the Puritans were paleo- or incipiently neo- (indeed in my piece I argue that all three forms are incipient in Puritanism) Delbanco’s typology maps rather easily onto Taylor’s.

Yet there is still another, more ominous aspect of the world today that must inhibit any undue optimism about wonderful ideas that have been around for a long time in the great religions and in modernity at least since Kant’s essay on universal peace. That is the stern Durkheimian warning that ideas cannot float too far from a viable social base if they are to be effective.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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