Colin Jager projects the virtues of his own reading of me onto my essay when he describes it as possessed of “care, patience, and generosity.” I feel distinctly ungenerous, therefore, in focusing (as, alas, I must in replying to a relatively large number of commentators) on the very few points where I think he gets me wrong.
If and when there are contexts in which one judges secularism—as understood by my characterization of it in (S)—to be a normative necessity, questions arise, as I have said above, of how best to justify (and implement) it to those who are recalcitrant. I had argued that, if in these contexts, there was real resistance to (S) among sections of a society, the ideal in justification and implementation must be a) to seek internal reasons, reasons that appeal to some of the moral and political commitments of the very people who are resisting (S), in order to persuade them of (S) and bring them around to accepting its implementation; and b) if such reasons could not at a particular point in time be found among their moral and political commitments, then one should take the position that history might inject internal conflict into their thinking and this may, in turn, help to provide the necessary internal reasons to persuade them.
What (b) adds to the idea of internal reasons, I argued, is a certain modified (non-deterministic) Hegelian understanding of the relevance of History to human subjectivity, thereby radically transforming “the subject” from the purely synchronic terms in which it has been viewed by a great deal of current philosophizing about society, politics, and moral psychology, to a more dynamic conception.
Jager describes (b) as expressing a philosophy of “hope”. It is his term, not mine, though I am happy to accept the term as capturing something of what is at stake in (b).
Jager, then, puzzlingly adds:
Yet the historical record certainly offers plenty of examples of unchanged minds, or of minds that change and then change back, or of minds that change for the worse rather than the better, becoming more entrenched, more dogmatic, and so on. These possibilities don’t register very strongly in Bilgrami’s paper.
But these possibilities do get registered very strongly and explicitly in the paper. At a pivotal point in the argument, here is what I say:
This point is crucial. After all someone else may see history as having a rather depressing record in resolving conflict between groups, and resist my repudiation of relativism, a repudiation which has the default lie in the view that it is always at least possible that new conflicts internal to an individual or group will—via internal reasoning—help resolve conflicts between individuals or groups. Such a person will simply not find the record in history sanctioning this default position. The default says that when there is an intractable value-disagreement between two parties, history may always inject in one of the parties, the sort of internal conflict necessary for the other to provide internal reasons to it. The interlocutor here will deny this, saying that the record of history, does not justify this to be the default position.
It is precisely because I make so much of these possibilities that I construct a considered response to them, a response which gives to what I call the “default” position an unusual status—that of an evaluative stance about history’s significance rather than a mere metaphysical argument derived from the evidence of history’s efficacies in such matters. Thus, the nested modality that I think History must be seen as offering (“it is always at least possible” or better, “it is necessary that it is possible” that History will inject internal conflict into the point of view one opposes) is something that is an ethical stance about the relation between subjectivity and History. So the passage I cited from my essay admits, just as Jager thinks I should, that there is plenty of evidence of unchanged minds in the historical record. (I am only addressing the possibility of “the unchanged mind” that Jager mentions. The other possibilities that he mentions merely complicate what the historical record delivers, and would proportionately complicate the nature of the evaluative stance to be taken, but they don’t change the principle behind it.) It is because that is so that the rest of that section of the paper goes on to offer an argument for an evaluative stance to face up to the fact to which the historical evidence points. The stance makes a normative demand on us. It asks us to hold sturdily to the default I favor, the particular form of nested modality I think crucial, even in the face of what History suggests in any particular case.
I would not and could not say, as I just did, that I agree with Jager that “hope” is an apt description for the particular way I read the Hegelian subject, if it were not for having acknowledged the possibilities that he presents. However, he attributes hope to me by contriving to suggest (falsely, as I said) that I don’t seriously acknowledge the possibilities in history that he raises, and therefore I must be given to hope almost unconsciously, as it were. But that is not at all the reason why I don’t mention hope explicitly. I don’t do so because I think that, whenever one is taking a view in any seriously committed way (whether it be secularism or any other), the emphasis must be not on a psychological disposition such as hope but an evaluative stance that positively guides our actions—in this case a stance that determines the search for arguments in the conceptual vernacular and the internal reasoning of those whom one is seeking to persuade. One can’t merely hope that they will reason their way out of the view one opposes. One has to seek internal arguments from within their moral-psychological economy, and for that one needs to emphasize in one’s own moral psychology a commitment, a more thoroughgoing evaluative attitude. Hope, as a tendency of mind, no doubt, nests within this overall ethical stance. But it is the stance, not the hope, which is the main thing to stress. That is the only reason why I didn’t mention “hope” explicitly.
There is a second curious misinterpretation in Jager’s comment. I say “curious” because he himself so well summarizes the very reasons why it is a misinterpretation. He rightly points out that for me the relevance of secularism or (S) depends wholly on conditions that were reared in religious majoritarian tendencies in European history and, as Mahatma Gandhi said, secularism should not be imposed on parts of the world where no such conditions are present. But he seems to think in addition to this accurate understanding of my views, that I also have a rather sedentary understanding of the nature of religion. I am actually not sure that I even understand what this means, but to the extent that I do, I find no evidence in my paper (to say nothing of my mind and thoughts) for it. Here is what Jager says in his report of my view:
…history is…dynamic. Religion, by contrast, seems quite static. In Bilgrami’s schema, secularism points out to religion (or waits for history to do the pointing out) that its picture of things is full of internal tensions; it thereby hopes to convince religion to sign on to (S)’s lexical ordering for reasons that remain religious (that’s the overlapping consensus part of the argument) but have now been pluralized (that’s the moral psychological part of the argument). I don’t get any sense that for Bilgrami the arrow might sometimes point in the other direction.
This is all very puzzling. For one thing, I am not sure what it means to say that history is dynamic. What I said is that the concept of the subject or subjectivity is dynamic because it is constituted by history. That is, the self or the subject should not be viewed in synchronic snapshots at given times, but should be seen as dynamic and open-ended. This does not make history dynamic (which is almost as odd as saying that time is dynamic) but it makes dynamic anything we care to say is constituted historically—such as the very concept of a subject, as I insisted. Moreover, I don’t see how, given what he accurately presents me as saying, I could possibly think religion is static. It is I, after all, who say that prior to nation-state building exercises, religion within territories with scattered loci of power (i.e. before nation-states of a very specific formation emerged) had a natural, syncretic form of pluralist presence in the lives of diverse people, and it transformed itself as a result of European forms of nationalism and centralized statehood, to something quite else –a force of modern majoritarian domination and minoritarian backlashes to these. Does this not register a transformation of religion, thereby making it dynamic? Perhaps Jager thinks that because this transformation in religion accompanies other changes (and is even caused by these other changes; e.g. the rise of a certain modern form of nationalism), religion itself is not really dynamic. But I don’t know if any change is so purely self-standing that it is unaccompanied and uncaused by other changes; surely Jager is not demanding that for something to be genuinely dynamic, its transformation must emerge like an isolated nugget. Historical events are always holistically inter-linked with other historical events.
But, worst of all, Jager’s last sentence in the passage I have just cited simply fails to notice something I discussed and denied very plainly. In this he is not alone. This misreading is also doing much work in Jeremy Webber’s comment, which I’ll respond to separately. For now, let me just cite something I say in the paper that directly contradicts that offending sentence in Jager. After I present my account of how a Hegelian and historically constituted subject can always be susceptible to new forms of internal conflict that might lead to deliberating one’s way towards accepting (S), I go out of my way to say that this should not be understood as a Whiggish complacence about secularism being the end to which we are (or must be) all moving.
…there is no Whiggish guarantee of a consummation of the historical process in a secular liberal outcome. That is not pessimism, it is just a recoil from a deterministic historicism.
What I point out in this passage is that if one does think that (S) is a good thing in some context, one need never succumb to relativism so long as one took the right view of History’s relation to subjectivity. From the point of view of someone who finds secularism necessary in some context, the recalcitrance of religious identitarian positions (whether majoritarian or minoritarian), need not cause one to succumb to a relativisitic pessimism regarding either the correctness of one’s secularism or its achievability through internal reasons. From within such a point of view, the Hegelian ideal of the Subject-in-History rules out this pessimism regarding the possibilities for secularism. And I point out that what would wrongly be thought of as pessimism should instead rightly be described as something else—which is that there is no reason to think that secularism is how things will end up. That last predictive attitude (things will end up our way) is Whiggishness regarding secularism. I disclaimed it in so many words. To take a stance that one should persevere for the search for internal reasons to remove the recalcitrance in one’s fellows is perfectly compatible with the non-Whiggish position that I avow explicitly and Jager urges on me, missing the passage where I avow it.
I have deliberately and repeatedly italicized words expressing conditionalities in the previous paragraph. The point of this emphasis is that if one were to think of secularism as necessary in some context, then from within the point of view of that commitment, the idea that there will be no Whiggish end in favor of secularism, does not discourage the search for that end via the construction of internal reasons to change the minds of others who oppose that end. The confidence that drives one’s search is due to a normative stance that one takes, not because one smugly expects History to favor the secularist point of view one has adopted in taking the stance.
Thus, the passage from my essay that I cited strictly implies that I would allow what Jager thinks I should allow—that, as he puts it, “the arrow might move in the opposite direction” from what one’s ethical stance urges upon on. The point is that if two sides take opposing positions on some political issue (secularism, as it might be), then each side, from within its point of view, would take a certain normative or ethical (not predictive) stance on how History should be viewed when seen as constitutive of the subjectivity of those one is opposed to. No side should be complacent about how things will end up on the basis of any historical evidence they summon. But each side must press its position as a normative or ethical stance against relativistic readings of the evidence to which history may point. And I, given the topic of my paper at that stage of its argument, was describing what it looked like from one of the two sides, the point of view of someone who thought that in a particular context secularism was the right view to take of the polity. It is missing the point, therefore, to read this as an assertion that the arrow of history moves or must move only in the direction of secularism.
All this is so central to and so explicit in the last third of my paper that I feel at a loss as to how to improve things so that I should not be misunderstood in the way that both Jager and Webber have misunderstood me. Perhaps I should simply have repeated these points in the paper so that it would be impossible to fail to notice them. In any case, I am glad of this chance to repeat them here.