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New Left Review 62, March-April 2010



Since 1848, discussion of the democratic republic in Europe has been grounded in secular reason. Politically, its legitimation has been based on appeals to popular sovereignty; normatively, it rests on the rule of law. The will of God plays no part. If any one figure has embodied this discourse over the past half-century it has been Jürgen Habermas, who has long argued that the constitutional state must embody universalizable principles, whereas religious precepts are accepted only by that particular religion’s believers. [1] Jürgen Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion Polity Press: Cambridge 2008, £18.99, paperback, 361 pp, 978 0 74563 8256 Indeed, writing in the 1990s he argued that, given the slow but steady secularization of society, religious reason would survive in the West only ‘as long as no better words for what religion can say are found in the medium of rational discourse’. It was the task of secular philosophy to translate the moral and intellectual riches of religious thinking into earthly terms, as Kant had carried over the distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ from Christian ethics.

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Paolo Flores d'Arcais, ‘Democracy on the Cross’, NLR 62: £3

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