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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great antidote to cynicism
Connolly once again provokes and inspires. This leading political theorist and recent winner of the prestigious Lippincott Award for his classic Terms of Political Discourse shows in this book why the impasse between secularists and theistic thinking can best be overcome through a cultivation of a new kind of pluralist enagement with others. This is a breakthrough...
Published on 16 Aug 1999

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pluralism and Secular Society
This is not a book about religious belief but an examination of the secular in the sphere of public discourse. Connolly argues that secularists try "to seal public life from religious doctrines" while trying to determine "a set of non theistic orientations to reverence, ethics and public life that deserve to be heard". This he regards as conceited because, "the secular...
Published on 25 Nov 2009 by Neutral


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great antidote to cynicism, 16 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Connolly once again provokes and inspires. This leading political theorist and recent winner of the prestigious Lippincott Award for his classic Terms of Political Discourse shows in this book why the impasse between secularists and theistic thinking can best be overcome through a cultivation of a new kind of pluralist enagement with others. This is a breakthrough we've all been waiting for. "Heaven is a place, a place where nothing ever happens."
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pluralism and Secular Society, 25 Nov 2009
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Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Why I am Not a Secularist (Paperback)
This is not a book about religious belief but an examination of the secular in the sphere of public discourse. Connolly argues that secularists try "to seal public life from religious doctrines" while trying to determine "a set of non theistic orientations to reverence, ethics and public life that deserve to be heard". This he regards as conceited because, "the secular wish to contain religious and irreligious passions within private life helps to engender the immodest conceptions of public life peddled by so many secularists". By contrast Connolly is an advocate of a deeper, thicker, pluralism with room for competing ideas, including those with a religious basis, which will permit the political stalemate between theists and secularists to be overcome.

Although Connolly is seeking to redefine the secular in a manner which removes it from its historical opposition to religion he seems to miss the crucial point that politics and religion prior to Kant were indistinguishable aspects of the same political phenomenon. Although he acknowledges the politics of becoming, i.e. the development of groups and ideas as meaningful pieces of changing democracies and their discourse, he separates liberal theory, secular practice and the role of religion in public life in a manner which fails to recognise their integrated nature.

To demonstrate the applicability of changes in the manner in which political problems may be resolved Connolly takes two issues - the drugs/culture wars and capital punishment. His argument is that empirically, "endemic pressures such as changing patterns of immigration, the acceleration of speed in cultural communications, the globalisation of capitalist economic relations" and their effect on "racial, sexual, religious and ethnic identities" is maintained by invocations of a past that never existed. He denies that such identities are sufficient to explain political stances. He suggests that "multidimensional pluralism has the best chance to flourish when the constituencies constituting it overcome nostalgia for the innocence of a nation lost". In other words politicians' pronouncements are prejudicial, have scant regard for the truth and do not positively contribute to removing deeply held prejudices. So, what's new?

Connolly also deals with the question of capital punishment. He argues that Christian teaching was translated into a more punitive doctrine by later adherents who separated the disciplinary practices from the exercise of the will. In time capital punishment became a moral obligation. He argues that capital punishment is rooted in historic circumstances based on non existent paradigms of certainty and instability. Yet rather like the answer to the question, "How can I get from here to London?" evokes the response, "If I was going to London I wouldn't start from here," so Connolly's ethics fail to appreciate that social values only arise in existing historical contexts. Post modernism has provided criticism of the assumptions and structures of philosophy but Connolly's new pluralism fails to provide new foundations for understanding contemporary society. In seeking to distinguish between knowledge and ignorance Connolly is simply perpetuating an updated form of ignorance.

Thirty years ago political theory was considered to be dead. Connolly is often praised as having revived it. In practice all he has done is to muddy the waters by introducing layers of abstraction which seek to explain elements of the American political culture while undermining the main elements which created that culture in the first place. Context is everything and Connolly's context is destructive postmodernism which undermines the ethos of engagement he is seeking to promote. Theoretical modeling is no substitute for practical experience. Sociology is no substitute for practical politics. Affirmation is no substitute for analysis and no amount of cynicism will be removed by his theory.

Although Connolly differs from Charles Taylor, in some respects he shares Taylor's preference for the obscure and abstruse at the expense of simple statements of fact, even when discussing practical questions. Pluralism is not a negotiation of risk but a balance of forces, determined less by ideology as by power. The engagement of groups at different societal levels is a myth. Obama may have succeeded but the conservative order remains at the heart of American and democratic politics.
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Why I am Not a Secularist
Why I am Not a Secularist by William E. Connolly (Paperback - 1 May 1999)
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