Philosopher Charles Taylor joins Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz for a two-part conversation about what's gone wrong with our democracies and finding common moral understanding. They discuss Christian nationalism, authoritarian government, the future viability of Christian faith and practice, the chaos of the post-truth epistemic crisis that’s rampant in political dialogue today, the role of social media in that crisis, and Taylor's most recent thinking about the growth of common ethical understanding in a world that often fails to live up to those shared moral principles of respect, dignity, and care.
(Part 1 of a 2-part series)
This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
Introduction: Ryan McAnnally-Linz
The human world today is not the same as it was three hundred years ago. Far from it. Technology, economics, politics, art, culture—all have seen transformations, even revolutions, around the globe. Thirty years ago, a triumphalist narrative of these changes was in vogue: “modernity,” it was said, had solved humanity’s perennial problems, broken through our narrow-minded ethical traditions, and set us towards a future of comfort and perpetual peace after, in Francis Fukuyama’s phrase, “the end of history.” Even three years ago, we thought the world was different. I mean, I did.
No wonder so many of us are trying to understand the revolutions and mechanics of human society. If you’re paying attention, you’re driven to understand. And so columnists and talking heads—academics and public intellectuals—not to mention your radicalized high school friend on Facebook—we all have these theories about ideal human society and culture, and, like how the hell we wound up here. Unfortunately, our desire to know and understand often exceeds our abilities to perceive and explain.
Charles Taylor is our guest for the next two episodes of For the Life of the World. He sees human life and action not as something to be explained, but to be elucidated, lived with, and made sense of. Over 7 decades, he's produced an astonishing and magisterial body of work, spanning social theory, religion, epistemology, history, politics, the self, aesthetics, science, technology, and more.
But you might be surprised to know that 30 years ago he described himself as a "monomaniac"—he meant that his ultimate concern is really singular: human life. The one issue that motivates his entire body of work is "philosophical anthropology." But answering the questions of what human persons are and what it means to live a life worthy of that humanity, he says, requires thinking along the borders and intersections of the massive diversity of human society and culture.
He has a long history of political engagement as well. As an undergraduate at Oxford in 1955, he launched one of the first campaigns to ban nuclear weapons. During the '60s he ran several times for Canadian parliament as a major-party candidate, but fell short by a small margin each time. The result for us, of course, is gratitude for the incredible body of work that came in the wake of his attempts to gain office, including Sources of the Self, The Ethics of Authenticity, A Secular Age, The Language Animal—all the way up to his 2020 book, Reconstructing Democracy: How Citizens Are Building from the Ground Up.
Taylor graciously joined Miroslav and me this summer for a long conversation about what's gone wrong with our democracies and finding common moral understanding. We cover a lot of ground, discussing Christian nationalism, authoritarian government, the future viability of Christian faith and practice, the chaos of the post-truth epistemic crisis that’s rampant in political dialogue today, the role of social media in that crisis, and Taylor’s most recent thinking about the growth of common ethical understanding in a world that often fails to live up to those shared moral principles of respect, dignity, and care.
We'll run this conversation in two parts, this week and next. Special thanks goes to many of you listeners and friends who responded with thoughtful and important questions. Those questions helped to frame this conversation. Thanks for listening.