A Confident Pluralism (Inazu)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Apr 26, 2019.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Inazu, John D. Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

    (Reviewer's note: I am not advocating an ultimate pluralism, a belief that all religions have the same right to practice their rituals. Much to the contrary. My point in this review is that we live in a society where enforcing the Solemn League and Covenants or Institutes of Biblical Law isn't going to happen soon. To insist otherwise is LARPing)

    John Inazu identifies two key elements that a confident pluralism must embrace if it is going to be successful in a complicated society today: inclusion and dissent. By inclusion he doesn’t mean the trite “Coexist” bumper sticker. Rather, we are “continually reshaping the boundaries of our political community” (Inazu 15-16). Further, we allow marginal groups to dissent from established norms.

    All of this sounds good and indeed some form of it functioned (more or less successfully) throughout American history. The problem is obvious but really examining it is hard to put into words. It isn’t simply that some “don’t wanna play by the rules.” Rather, our system is supposed to not let them play by the rules. That’s a recipe for an unstable society, but that’s really not the problem, either. The obvious problem today–and one that won’t be resolved amicably–is who wins when religious liberty and “muh feelings” collide? I don’t think Inazu really answers that question.

    On the surface I agree with what he is saying. We all have dignity and we should value “the Other” even in the difference. But why should we do that? As a confessional Christian I say because of natural rights or image of God or something. But that is grounding pluralism on a divine basis, which seems to defeat the whole point.

    Inazu dodges the natural rights question, though he seems to acknowledge it in a throwaway quote from Alasdair MacIntyre: “”[T]hese concepts [equality, justice, morality, and dignity] abstracted from a particular tradition have no limiting principle–they can be deployed to any political end” (30).

    That’s not to say that Inazu’s project is built on a foundation of sand. He offers a number of cogent insights that can slow down (but not stop) the encroaching power state. Contra John Rawls, Inazu advocates mediating institutions and structures (enshrined in the first amendment). While acknowledging that the Constitution is only paper, with Madison he notes that it still confers a degree of gravitas.

    And while the power elite do spend most of their time attacking Christians, Inazu notes other faith groups’ struggles. Take the problem of “nesting,” when a group in one legal category overlaps with another legal category. Take the Nation of Islam’s Twitter account. The Nation of Islam forbids interracial dating and urges strict standards from women. Twitter, on the other hand, prohibits those prohibitions. So whose First Amendment right takes precedent? Twitter, being a business, seems to have the upper hand. Yet, when groups like Twitter and Facebook receive tax breaks, then they aren’t purely a private enterprise, either.

    Maybe we can’t give a complete answer to solve the problem of liberty vs. my feelings. As Niehbur notes, we might only just be able to give proximate solutions to ultimate problems.

    The second part of the book focuses on “civic practices” which strengthen a “confident pluralism.” I largely agree with him. In fact, much of it sounds like Augustine. True tolerance means I don’t water down my beliefs. At most I not use demonizing language. Fair enough. And he is mostly fair to all sides, but I don’t think he has fully come face to face with the Deep State’s agenda. He quotes law professor Susan Stabile: “failure to obseve one’s religion is not persecution” (102). That’s obviously correct, but it isn’t liberal Episcopalians who are being brought to trial for their views on traditional morality. Umm, Oregon.

    The book is very well-written. I found myself engaged in it without realizing it. Leaving aside whether this can work in the long run (I doubt it), it is a fair model for detente for the here and now.
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