Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Reaping windiness
Voices cry out with fair regularity against the vapidness of contemporary public discourse. Lots of voices. Enough for a quorum, if not a consensus.
Less consensus is evident when those voices attempt to explain the causes of this situation. Bad education? Video games? TV? Talk Radio?
Steven D. Smith (The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse) offers a deeper explanation: Public discourse is shallow by design: Citing Rawls, he says, “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the very point of ‘public reason’ is to keep the public discourse shallow – to keep it from drowning in the perilous depths of questions about ‘the nature of the universe,’ or ‘the end and object of life,’ or other tenets of our comprehensive doctrines.” Public discourse is prescriptively secular discourse, and that excludes controverted, mysterious depths.
Yet we still have to ask the big questions, and they are constantly implied in our public discourse. What to do? We can attempt to translate our basic convictions into terms that the secular public sphere acknowledges, but then we feel that we’re violating our core convictions. Alternatively, we can reject translation and “then it is awkward finding within secular discourse the words and concepts to say what we really want to say and to articulate what we really believe.”
We end up relying on “smuggling.”