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The Utopian Eleven Theses


Against Habermas
29-37 minutes

By Paolo Flores d'Arcais.

Translated by Giacomo Donis.

The temptations of faith and the democratic necessity for


a radical, egalitarian and libertarian Enlightenment
(preferably atheist and materialist - perhaps).

1. For some years now Habermas has been proposing a


squaring of the circle: upholding liberal-democratic
principles according to a demanding republican scheme
(rigorous neutrality of the State with respect to faiths,
ideologies and world views; the real -
delegated/participatory - sovereignty of one and all;
deliberation through universally accessible rational
arguments; the necessity for a widespread - practically
all-pervasive - constitutional ethos) while, at the same
time, recognizing religious reasons as such (the
argumentations and the political motivations that have
recourse to God) not only as legitimate but, indeed, as

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useful and, ultimately, essential elements of liberal-


democratic sociality.
Such recognition, for Habermas, entails nothing less
than the duty, for nonreligious citizens, to translate into
secular terms the intuitions and the reasons that
religious citizens are able to express only in
comprehensive terms of their experience of faith. Without
this cooperative attitude, religious citizens - compared to
secular citizens - would shoulder the burden of the
tolerance toward competing world views asymmetrically.
They would, in short, be discriminated against.
What is more, citizens without religious faith are required
to recognize the potential truth also of religious world
views (118). Indeed, such citizens are required to open
themselves up to this potential truth (138). In
Habermass escalation of his civic-democratic encomium
on faiths, not only must the religious communities be
paid public recognition for the practical contribution they
make to the reproduction of desirable motivations and
attitudes (116). No, there is more: modernity must be
normatively experienced by nonbelievers as a
complementary learning process (116), in which the
citizen insensitive to religion is obliged to define the
relation between faith and science self-critically (118),
thus abandoning traditional atheism. And all this within
the sphere of a more general practice of a self-reflexive
relation with the limits of the Enlightenment (117-118)

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that concludes in the self-reflexive overcoming of a


secular hardening and exclusive self-comprehension of
the modern (145).
The incessant reaffirmation of constitutional patriotism -
where sociality is regulated autonomously and rationally
with the instruments of positive law [Rechts] (126),
which means, inevitably, etsi Deus non daretur [as if God
did not exist] - is no less incessantly reversed.
Habermas, that is, transforms his constitutional
patriotism into the self-critical Lenten asceticism into
which the culture, political practice and existential
experience of the Enlightenment are forced, as
atonement for the asymmetrical affliction with which they
have, allegedly, vexed the believers for a number of
centuries.
We can well understand why another highly influential
German, Joseph Ratzinger, looks with such favor upon
this Habermasian post-secular reason.

2. In what sense, then, does the believer shoulder the


heavy burden of an alleged asymmetry on the part of the
State, whose traditional secular neutrality is thus,
allegedly, by no means impartial? In the first place
because the right of religious citizens to contribute to
public discussions in religious language is unjustly
contested (118). In other words, the clause etsi Deus
non daretur is, allegedly, persecutory, since it compels
the believer to renounce the God-argument. This, for the

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believer, is a heavy burden indeed, while for the secular


citizen it is, obviously, no burden at all.
In fact, the deliberative character of liberal democracy,
i.e. the obligation of a public argumentation that
produces reasons accessible to all (125) - a
commitment, Habermas insists, that is constitutive and
inalienable (democracy itself is at stake) - demands the
same self-limitation of all citizens, be they believers or
not: namely, that every peremptory principle of authority
be banished. It is inadmissible to reply to the
unimpeachable request for argumentation - why? - with
the absolutism of the just because! (Perch? Perch s!
Pourquoi? Parce que! Dla czego? Dla tego! etc.). For
this very reason the democratic constitutional State
represents a demanding form of government (150).
It is not true, then, that the believers alone have to
renounce their just because. The public use of reason
excludes the fideistic It is Gods will (and it is always
ones own God) exactly as it excludes any other
ideological assumption, be it agnostic, pagan or atheist:
from the predatory naturalism of land and blood to
radical pacifist nonviolence, from the morals of
all-pervasive hedonism to the ethics of a self-sacrificing
solidarity. All citizens - believers and nonbelievers alike -
have to renounce their own value assumptions.
As Habermas tells us, the assumption of a common
human reason is the epistemic foundation (125) of the

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democratic constitutional State, which is threatened by


the potential of conflict still unchanged between
the existentially significant convictions of believers, of
nonbelievers, of the followers of other religions (125) if
the public space is not guaranteed as a common
argumentative dimension precisely by excluding the
various value assumptions. Except, of course, for that
egalitarian civic ethos (144) that constitutes the very
foundation of the democratic constitutional State and is,
indeed, an integral part of it. At the same time, however,
this ethos is problematic; as we shall see, it is not to be
taken for granted.

3. Habermas articulates his Kantian republicanism


(107) with a contradiction: even though every religion is
originally a comprehensive doctrine that claims the
authority to structure a form of life in its totality (117),
believers have to obtain the guarantee to express and
justify their convictions in a religious language even
when they find no secular translations for them (136).
But religious language without secular translations is
characterized essentially by the diriment nature of the
resource It is Gods will! and, therefore, precisely by the
demand (perennially lying in ambush) to structure a
form of life in its totality by adjusting the laws of the
State to its dogma.
So glaring is this contraddizion che nol consente* that
Habermas has to uphold the contrary as well: the

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inclusion of religious justifications in the legislative


process violates the very principle of the separation
(Trennung) of Church and State, which he reaffirms to be
inalienable. He thus logically deduces that religious
citizens can express themselves in their language only
with the reserve of translation (137-138).
Habermas, then, legitimates the religious argument only
if and when it is translatable into nonreligious terms:
disregarding the God-argument, and thus in the common
and binding dimension of the etsi Deus non daretur.
This, accordingly, means that the religious argument is
valid only if and when it is superfluous. Habermas
attempts to rectify his first contradiction with a further
contradiction.
The believers, moreover, can also elude the burden of
translation. For Habermas, this is a burden that the
nonbelievers (asymmetrically) must shoulder: it is the
secularized citizens who are expected to participate in
initiatives designed to translate significant contributions
from religious language into a language that is publicly
accessible (118), a practice by which religious reasons
emerge in the changed form of universally accessible
argumentations (138).
And what if, in spite of all secular endeavor, such
translation proves to be impossible? In the name of God
one can impose norms that no rational argumentation
can render compatible with the values that Habermas -

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rightly - considers to be constitutive of a democratic


constitutional State ( and therefore inalienable). There
are so many of these anti-democratic norms that their
name is legion. And such demands are not things of
the past, but are ever more impending.
The diktat of the cooperative operations of translation
(138) with which Habermas wants to burden the
nonbelievers therefore conceals the decisive
circumstance: namely, that the expected translation - in
secular-democratic terms - is often impossible. Such
expectation is nothing but wishful thinking. For that
matter, all the current polemics - all this talk of a clash of
civilizations - stem from the impossibility of translating
crucial religious demands into secular-rational terms.
Even Cardinal Tattamanzi, today Archbishop of Milan,
and, like his predecessor Martini, a prelate who is very
much open to the secular reasons of the last two Roman
Pontiffs, had to admit in a dialogue with me that only on
the basis of an anthropological conception that
contemplates the reality of God - of the Christian God -
can one say absolutely no to euthanasia (MicroMega,
1/2001).

4. It is thus the case - also for Habermas - that the


existential convictions rooted in religion, thanks to their
reference - rationally defended if need be - to the
dogmatic authority of an inviolable core of infallible
revealed truths, elude that type of discursive discussion

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without reserve to which other life orientations are


exposed (135). To put it bluntly: the believer as believer
is unable to dialogue rationally.
Habermas attempts to escape from this spiral of
contradictions in which he is entangled by distinguishing
the strictly state and political sphere from that of public
opinion. The imperative of secularity, of etsi Deus non
daretur ought to hold rigorously and without exceptions
only in the first-mentioned sphere. The principle of the
separation of Church and State obliges politicians and
bureaucracies in the domain of state institutions to
formulate and justify laws, judicial decisions, ordinances
and provisions exclusively in a language that is equally
accessible to all the citizens (127-128, my italics).
Habermas, however, dispenses citizens as such and
their political organizations (in addition to those of the
civil society) from this obligation, because extending this
principle from the institutional plane to the choices of
organizations and of citizens in the political public
sphere would be a secularistic excess of
generalization (134). But this assumes two separate
universes of communication, supported by opposite and
incompatible rules. Paradoxically, Hillary (a member of
the Senate), when shes asking for votes, ought not to
bring up God, while her husband Bill, asking for the
same votes for her, has every right to do so.
Yet Habermas reasserts absolutely that the discursive

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character of the consultations that precede a legislative


decision ranks as an essential and inviolable component
of the democratic constitutional procedure (140). How is
it possible, then, to preserve this bond for those who hold
elective office, and nullify it for candidates, opinion
makers and citizens? Not even the most rigid
institutionalization of the doubleness would do the job. In
representative democracy, the elective/legislative
process is in fact a circular continuum of public
opinion>political association>institutional power>public
opinion.
Habermas attempts to escape from his theoretical
antinomies with an unfeasible pragmatic solution. He
conceals a non sequitur with a mirage. The reality,
moreover (and the drama of the problem), is that in the
public sphere everyone (or too many at any rate, and
more all the time) is invoking the name of God.

5. Nevertheless, Habermas insists on the alleged


persecution of believers: the burdens of tolerance are
not distributed symmetrically between believers and
nonbelievers, as the more or less liberal abortion
regulations demonstrate (117). But in fact it is the other
way around. There is not one single Western abortion
law, even if inspired by the most abominable (for a
believer) permissiveness, that compels one single
woman. Not one. Every law leaves her free to choose. It
is Ratzinger, by contrast, who wants to impose a

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criminally sanctioned prohibition on women who are not


believers, or who follow other faiths.
The asymmetry is even more evident - and opposite to
the one Habermas laments - if from abortion we go on to
euthanasia. In this case there is not even the excuse of a
second person (the fetus), whose rights need to be
protected. In assisted suicide (this is what euthanasia is,
certainly not the Nazi euthanasia - murder of the
NON-consentient - dragged in by the Church in a spirit of
indecent polemical fakery) there is only the right of
terminally-ill (and innocent) persons to shorten their
torture (and, in countries where capital punishment is still
in force, even the worst criminals are granted the right to
an execution not preceded by torture!).
In sum, once again: the alleged secular asymmetry
leaves the believer free to make use of a right or not. By
contrast, the imposition of the believers viewpoint
through law compels the nonbeliever, who is barred from
doing everything the Pope holds to be sin, on pain of
incarceration.
What does it mean, then, that a State cannot impose
upon citizens whose religious freedom it guarantees any
obligation that is incompatible with their life as believers
because this would mean asking them the impossible
(131)? Does it mean that it cannot ask them to practice
compulsorily abortion (euthanasia, contraception, etc.) or
that it cannot ask them to renounce imposing upon

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others (followers of other faiths or atheists), with the


force of the secular arm, their own lifestyles, even when
they represent the overwhelming majority?
The first thing is never asked by any nonbeliever, while
the second right is inalienable for a liberal democracy
and, indeed, is indivisible from the definition of
constitutional patriotism.
But Habermas means just the opposite, when he insists
that the liberal State must not transform the due
institutional separation between religion and politics into
a mental and psychological burden for its religious
citizens (135).

6. Let us pay close attention. Not imposing mental and


psychological burdens or, indeed, any obligation that is
incompatible with their life as believers does seem fair
and reasonable, but it can open up a Pandoras box of
vicious intolerance. It depends, in fact, on what their life
as believers demands. If it demands the stake for
heretics (or even for the authors of satanic cartoons),
then the State not only can but must impose on the
believer the mental and psychological burden of
renouncing this eminently religious drive. If it demands
the sexual mutilation of girls, then the State non only can
but must punish (with pitiless severity).
It is unquestionably and tragically true, in fact, that for
many believers their concept of justice founded on
religion tells them what is or is not politically right, so that

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they are unable 'to discern any pull from any secular
reason (133). But Habermas fails to realize that
accepting toto corde [wholeheartedly] this "objection of
Weithmanns as in my view decisive (133) ends up by
potentially legitimating all religious intolerance.
The kamikaze believer, in fact, is precisely the one who
less than any other discerns the 'pull of a secular
reason. The same is true of the believer who demands
the stake for an offensive page, or holds his daughter
prisoner because she is tempted by the Western
lifestyle, or beats her to a pulp (and sometimes kills her)
if she refuses to adapt to an arranged marriage, or as a
good Jehovahs witness lets his son who needs a
transfusion die. And why not polygamy, cannibalism,
pedophilia, the exposition of newborn babies or ritual
human sacrifice, since for millenary and grandiose
religions such practices have represented duty and
pietas?
The liberal State that protects all forms of religious life
equally (135) is therefore liberal only in this anti-secular
idiosyncrasy of Habermass. The liberal State cannot and
must not protect all the forms of life but exclusively the
constitutional freedoms of all the citizens, and therefore
forms of life (religious or otherwise) only if they are
compatible with republican democracy.
Hence, to guarantee citizens symmetrically, liberal
constitutionalism must impose an asymmetrical mental

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and psychological burden upon each of them. Whether


or not it is perceived as a burden (and a more or less
heavy one) for one who holds a certain religious or
philosophical conviction is nothing other than a measure
of the distance, the conflictuality, or possibly the
incompatibility between those convictions and the liberal
State.
This learning and adaptation effort required of religious
citizens is, to be sure, by no means spared the secular
citizens (142). It is absolutely essential for democracy,
and thus it is required also of an atheist who considers to
be a law of nature a predatory vitalism leading to
racism, or homosexuality a disease, or to advocate the
elimination of the handicapped. The fact is, such an
effort can never be spared those who are against
democratic values, lest democracy renounce itself.

7. Hence the public sphere will be public, a space


symmetrically open to all citizens, only if it is kept free
from any God-argument.
It is totally false, in fact, that fair rules can be formulated
only if the interested parties learn, time and again, also
to adopt the perspectives of others (125-126). Why in
the world should we learn to adopt - to make our own -
extremely anti-democratic perspectives? To adopt the
viewpoint of the Nazi, the racist, the fundamentalist? On
the contrary! We need to banish all the claims of any
just because, expressions of mere and totalitarian will

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to power, incompatible with democracy (even in the


most minimalist sense of the word). And the
God-argument is a particularly pernicious just because,
followed like a shadow by the temptation of God with us
(recently: Gott mit uns).
Obviously, renouncing the God-argument cannot be
imposed by law. One can, nonetheless, render it socially
indecent and psychologically insurmountable to involve
God in matters of law, just as racial superiority, sexual
inferiority (or preference) and other diversities are
taboo subjects today, but only yesterday were utilized
liberally and efficaciously.
Why do we have priests and rabbis, pastors and imams,
in civil ceremonies? And why is their presence obligatory
on TV whenever morals are discussed, as if religion
entailed some privileged ethical importance? And if they
are considered a necessary comfort in the armed forces
and in prisons, then why is provision not made for
agnostic and atheist spiritual advisors, of every
school?
But above all, Darwinism in the schools from the very
first grades (with teaching instruments adapted for the
pupils age, a va sans dire), and the plurality of faiths (or
of the atheist rejection of religions) - that is, the relativity
of the family cultures of origin - made to come alive for
the children as the wealth of our human adventure. And
laws that allow no objection to or abuse of the rights of

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others. A democratic State cannot tolerate (see the case


now in England) the fact that a pharmacist, in the name
of his God, refuses to give a young woman the day-after
pill, or that a doctor refuses to examine a patient of the
opposite sex. At this rate, a football player will soon be
able to refuse to play against a team of negroes or of
infidels, or simply of Israelis. Indeed, we have seen
such things already.
Basically, it is just a question of the first commandment:
you shall not take the name of God in vain. Because
utilizing it on the public scene means exposing the
conflict of opinions and the democratic dialectic to the
risk of an interminable ordeal.

8. On the cognitive plane, this obligation equal for all


citizens - whether sensitive to a religious faith or not -
means renouncing omnilaterally any claim to ethical
Truth. The determinate cognitive premises that
Habermas rightly demands as conditio sine qua non so
that the obligation of the 'public use of reason can be
fulfilled (142) lead to the rigorous application of Humes
principle that a value can never be obtained from a fact,
a prescription from a description, an ought from an is,
a moral law from a scientific law.
Moreover, Habermas emphasizes that the competition
between world pictures and religious doctrines, which
claim to explain the position of human beings in the
entire world, cannot be settled at the cognitive level

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(141). In other terms, familiar to philosophy but today


out of style, values are not rationally decidable. To
affirm a value one must have recourse to another value.
And the first (or ultimate) value, which grounds the
entire chain of our deontic reasoning, is itself definitively
ungroundable.
It is not true, then, that weak assumptions on the
normative content of the constitution communicating
socio-cultural forms of life (107) are sufficient for us to
rid ourselves of Kelsens defeatist rationality. Highly
differentiated, communicatively complex and
technologically extremely modern socio-cultural forms of
life are, indeed, perfectly compatible with radically
anti-communicative and illiberal political practices and
constitutions. China docet, today, as the Fhrerprinzip
did yesterday.
That (capitalist) development and technology bring
democracy is an illusion peddled by the establishment
ideologies. Democracy value presupposes the choice-
for-democracy. From communication fact one cannot
obtain communication value (the ethics of
communication); that is, from communication as a
techno-social necessity one cannot deduce
communication as a symmetry of rights-freedoms-
powers, exactly as from the scientific assertions of
Darwinism one cannot obtain the prescriptions of
predatory vitalism (social Darwinism).

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Relative to the public sphere, then, as far as values are


concerned we have to limit ourselves to the democratic
least common denominator of constitutional patriotism
(as we shall see).
All the other ethico-political Truths have every right to be
professed, and to motivate existences and behaviors, but
cannot rank as argument.

9. This also holds for scientistic truth, of course, which


is Habermass true bugbear. For him, hard naturalism,
which is to be understood as a consequence of the
scientistic premises of the Enlightenment (8), also
betray a secret complicity with the advocates of
religious orthodoxy (8), such that fundamentalist and
secularist mentalities (151), full-fledged opposing
extremisms, endanger the stability of the political
community with their polarization of world views (8).
Khomeini and Dawkins united in the struggle? Come on
now!
The cognitive assumption that can save democracy
against the scientistic drift is, for Habermas,
multidimensional reason, not fixed exclusively on the
relation with the objective world (148). Kant and Hegel
are its tutelary deities (149).
The philosophical defect of radical naturalism is, for
Habermas, the reduction of our knowing to the throng
[Menge] of statements that represent the 'state of the
sciences at various times (147). While its ethico-political

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defect lies in the substantially nihilistic conclusion of a


naturalization of the mind that calls into question our
practical vision of ourselves as persons who act
responsibly and leads to demands for a revision of
criminal law (148).
This caricature of naturalism constitutes, for Habermas,
a convenient butt; polemizing with it he restores his own
version of ethical cognitivism and wrests democracy and
secularity from the cognitive premises of Humes
principle.
Science tells us only that the neocortex releases the
evolved ape we all are from the compulsoriness of the
instincts and compels us to replace them with a norm. It
does not tell us (and does not claim to do so, as long as
it remains science) what norm. Any norm is fine, as long
as it works. Thus it declares us lords and masters of the
norm, absolutely responsible to it. Far indeed from a
scientifically objectivized self-conception of persons (7).
Rather, the Hegelian Reason to which Habermas burns
incense is not reason, it is theology. What is more, it is
the all-pervasive restoration of theology against the
conquests of modern critico-empirical skepsis. In fact the
more-than-ever metaphysical fantasies of intelligent
design are pure Hegel: the empirical and contingent
events of the evolution of the cosmos, of the earth and of
human history, recounted as res gestae of the Spirit,
finalistically oriented.

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Thus the possible speculative elaboration of scientific


information (118), i.e., the illicit ideologization of science
into a world view (rara avis, in fact), which presumes to
obtain the human ought from the mapping of neuronal
connections, can be coped only with the rigorous
application of the separation between fact and norm. The
very rule that Habermas rejects.

10. Disenchantment is, however, for Habermas also (and


today perhaps above all and for the most part) waste
land.
The progress of cultural and social rationalization has
contributed to the production of abysmal destruction
(13) and a secularizing 'derailment of society as a
whole (106) that dries up the sources of solidarity
among citizens. And on this solidarity the democratic
State must totally depend, without being able to impose it
by law (11-12).
This is why, to aid democracy, the religious communities
must be paid public recognition for the practical
contribution they make to the reproduction of desirable
motivations and attitudes (116). In short, they are the
inviolable pillars of the republic ethos.
What is more, only religions, with their expressive
possibilities, can redeem us from social pathologies,
the failure of what we have planned for our lives, and the
deformation of what makes our lives cohere (115).
Ratzinger has already translated Habermass secularity

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into the language of Catholicism: if democracy is not to


plunge into nihilism, everyone - believers and atheists
alike - must behave sicuti Deus daretur. Modernity
completely turned upside-down.
But the contribution of religion is inextricably double
faced. In the hands of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (or of many
street priests who contribute to MicroMega) it is
certainly a great force for freedom. In the hands of
infinite other - and more widespread - hermeneutic
constellations, it is a sure and permanent temptation to
confessional abuse against democracy. And the support
of religious communities, once aroused, can no longer
be controlled at will.
Then again, there is no need for this threatening aid
since, as Habermas recalls, it is not true that the liberal
State is incapable of reproducing its motivational
assumptions out of its own secular existence (110). He
is right: the political virtues essential for the existence
of a democracy (110) can be preserved and encouraged
iuxta propria principia [on their own], without having to
learn anything from religious faiths.
For the principles of justice to penetrate the
closely-woven fabric of the cultural orientations of value
(111) - without which, as Habermas rightly affirms,
democracy is jeopardized - it will suffice that the
democratic constitutional State, in its substantive
policies, remain faithful to the common denominator of

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values logically deducible from the minimum procedural


principle one head, one vote. This, at least, is a
principle that not even the most extreme conservative
contests. And, what is more, it is not so minimum, if
reasoned in earnest. As we shall see.

11. Liberal democracy is autos-nomos, sovereignty of


the citizens to lay down the law on their own. And we
refer here to concretely existing citizens, to one and to
all, not to an abstract, unfindable general will, bordering
on the totalitarian. But a free and equal vote
presupposes material and cultural conditions of
autonomy for each and for all. The vote is not free (one
head, one vote) in a climate of mafia-style intimidation
(one bullet, one vote), or of corruption (one kickback, one
vote); but neither is it free if need dominates the citizens
existence or the lack of critical tools and of information
pre-judices their choice. Or if the disparity of resources
among them pre-judices the results (one dollar, one
vote), or if advertising takes the place of argumentative
debate (one spot, one vote).
Substantive policies of radical welfare (independence
from need), television impartiality and pluralism,
egalitarian schools and permanent education - these are
pre-conditions of a free and equal vote. As such, they
are to be guaranteed in the Constitution, free from the
hazards of majorities. Substantive policies that promote
participation, movements, the non-bureaucratization of

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political parties, truly equal treatment in the judicial


system and, more generally, the ethos of the dissident
against homologation, conformism, unfreedom of thought
- all of these are inalienable for democracy.
The list would be a very long one. Hyper-libertarian and
hyper-progressive permanent measures are the
transcendental of a liberal Constitution, because this
throng of substantive policies - socially and culturally
highly demanding and radical - constitute the conditions
of possibility of the procedural minimum one head, one
vote. Without socio-cultural conditions of autonomy, the
vote as an instrument of democracy fades and dies away
(as all populisms and plebeianisms know).
Habermas, instead of tackling the problem of
present-day democracies - i.e., the democratic deficit
produced by policies that are anti-libertarian and/or
un-egalitarian and/or culturally and socially conformist,
i.e., anti-democratic even if majority - calls on religions to
help out with a supplement of soul, of sense, and of
solidarity. But in this way he begs the question: the
struggle for democracy within democracy, against the
forces of privilege and of conformism that reduce it to
flatus vocis.
The secret of the waste land risk is not
disenchantment, the relativism of values and the alleged
secular barrenness of democracy, but is incomplete
democracy - legally, socially, culturally, politically

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incomplete. There is no faith that can save it, in fact, if


democracy does not live daily on policies of equality-
for-freedom and freedom-for-equality.
Thus it is not with the self-criticism of the Enlightenment
but rather with its completion, not with the fear of
disenchantment - i.e., of the autos-nomos of human
beings, which Ratzinger with anti-Enlightenment
coherence blames for the totalitarianisms of the last
century and for the ills of this one - but with its
radicalization into radical democracy, that modernity can
face up to the contradictions, injustices and risks it
generates, fundamentalisms and nihilisms included.

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