In his response to my concern about whether “post-Durkheimian” is a viable category, Charles Taylor goes part way in answering my query, but, in my view, not far enough. When he writes “I don’t think it’s possible to have a successful, modern democratic society without some strong sense of what unites us as citizens,” he is conceding my basic Durkheimian point, that a society without common values is not a viable society. It is his next move that gives me pause. That is, “How to define what holds us together, while specifically abstracting from any particular religious affiliation, but also from any over-arching ‘lay’ philosophy.” If there is to be no religious aspect to the sense of what unites us as citizens, how can that sense avoid being in some sense a “lay” philosophy, even if different from the inherited lay philosophy of Jacobin republicanism? In short, what Taylor offers us sounds, when he speaks of “abstracting from” previous particularisms, very close to what Jürgen Habermas calls “abstract constitutional patriotism.” I guess I just don’t believe that anything abstract, lacking in symbols drawn from either the religious or the political ideological past, can ever provide enough energy to succeed in “holding us together.” Though such an abstract common commitment is still, in my sense, Durkheimian and not post-Durkheimian, which would imply the lack of any common agreements whatsoever, it is still such an eviscerated Durkheimianism that I doubt it can do what it is supposed to do.
While I agree with Taylor that what we need at the moment is neither paleo- nor neo-Durkheimianism as he defines them, I would argue for a more substantive and less abstract alternative. For one thing, I think symbols drawn both from the religious and the ideological past can, if phrased properly, help us move from the past into the future. In my initial discussion of Taylor’s use of the idea of “post-Durkheimianism” I suggested that Durkheim himself, in his religion of the individual or religion of humanity, was already moving into a new phase that would transcend both the old established church ideology and modern nationalism. He did so not by rejecting, but by redefining inherited symbols. He spoke of the inherent rights of individuals, in principle immune to state interference, but also of communion and solidarity that would provide a social basis for individual rights. He was thus drawing from both Enlightenment and Christian symbolic vocabularies.
In my view, both Taylor and Habermas, however each uses the word “abstract,” are using quite concrete and historically grounded symbols for the kind of common consciousness they are advocating. Habermas speaks of “obligatory cosmopolitan solidarity,” and Taylor has long affirmed the international human rights regime. What I think is happening here is that both of these extraordinarily influential thinkers are implying that the common consciousness that must undergird any viable society can no longer be limited to the boundaries of that society. So if one is to describe an inclusive Canadian citizenship that will include all Canadians regardless of ethnicity, religion or ideology, it can only be a sense of Canada as embodying ideals that now transcend Canada or any particular nation and that are, in principle, global. Durkheim’s effort to think of France not as a particular nation but as the embodiment of universal values was phrased too narrowly given the limitations of his time, but he was on the right track. If we are to give up religious exclusivism and barbaric nationalism, then we must move to a next higher level of global solidarity and human rights. This level will not be “abstract” but can be phrased in quite powerful symbolic terms. It can legitimate any group, including any nation, that adheres to it, while it also affirms that none of these particular groups can claim absolute allegiance or solidarity, for the only allegiance and solidarity that have a claim to ultimacy today must be global. I am aware of how easy it is to claim universalism for some limited particular position, and particularly the danger of Western nations using universalism to legitimate imperial claims, so the global universalism of which I speak must involve the full participation of all the great world cultures and will have symbolic contributions from many of them. But though I think the great cultural transition we are presently experiencing will not be easy or free from conflict, I would still argue that what must replace paleo- and neo-Durkheimianism is a global Durkheimianism.