Reading Charles Taylor Again

Grant Havers writes to say logic is not Charles Taylor’s long suit. It bothers Havers that Taylor argues for the superiority of Christianity while clinging to the idea that other cultures/beliefs are equally worthy of “recognition” and worthy of the political rights and privileges that go with recognition. It leaves us without means to defend ourselves against the intolerant. I agree. Taylor’s soft tolerance detracts “intolerably” from the sense of right and wrong.

We find a similar indifference to logic in Modern Social Imaginaries (Duke University, 2004). Taylor argues persons living in an “imaginary” (a “culture,” perhaps – he speaks of the European Enlightenment as an “imaginary”) are more or less unable to comprehend other “imaginaries,” especially previous ones. Thus he argues that we in the modern age cannot enter fully into the pre-modern, and indeed are now seeing the “modern” slip away. Locke and the Enlightenment are becoming incomprehensible.

But – here’s the contradiction: to make this assertion, he must describe past “imaginaries.” If he is to convince us that we are losing the Enlightenment he must show it to us. Thus we learn that the past is not entirely closed to him. Why may we not conclude that insofar as we understand Taylor, the past is not entirely closed to us?

Now I’m re-reading Taylor’s “Shared and Divergent Values.” It’s one of the selections in Peter Russell’s Essential Readings in Canadian Government and Politics (forthcoming from Emond Montgomery Publications).  Here’s how I once put the argument in this famous essay: “Taylor supports the building of a Québécois way of life to distinguish the citizens of Quebec from other populations on the North American continent but hopes at the same time that Quebec will not differ from other jurisdictions in its adherence to broad principles of liberal-democratic justice. In all his writings on Quebec, Taylor is looking for the half way house” (The Once and Future Canadian Democracy).

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