Looking back over the century just ended, it is not easy to assess the status and prospects of secularism and the secular ideal in the United States. As is so often the case in American history, when one sets out in search of the simple and obvious, one soon comes face to face with a crowd of paradoxes. The psychologist Erik Erikson once observed that Americans have a talent for sustaining opposites, and he could hardly have been more right. Such Janus-faced doubleness, or multiplicity, is virtually the American specialité de la maison.
Uses Adrian Peperzak's (1993) interpretation of Emmanuel Levinas's indictment of Western philosophy to identify the religious dimension of modern liberalism. At issue for Levinas are the Platonic elements of the Other & the Same, where in the case of modern liberalism, the Same represents everything in the framework of capitalist society, & the Other is everything outside of it. Levinas contends that Western philosophical tradition's idea of modernity, developed from Machiavellian & Hobbesian notions, mistakenly & arrogantly addresses Otherness through the language & mechanisms of the sameness framework (liberalism). By overcoming the limitations of this traditional philosophical approach, Levinas exposes the religious elements of modern liberalism, first in an ethical examination of the Other, & second by locating Western liberalism's metaphoric surrogate for God. Using this sort of negative theology, the liberalized concept of the sacred is exposed, & parallels are drawn between the liberal notion of totality & the religious concept of infinity. D. Bajo