A third problem with a completely secularized society, in addition to (i) conceptual incoherence and (ii) performative impossibility, is the problem of community. Given the highly individualized and fragmentary nature of late modern life, the communities which moderns seek to create are ones which are never ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ (Bauman, In Search of Politics, p. 47). That is, these so-called communities is that they never rise to level of a truly public agora where a common life with common political interests drive the polis. Rather, they only give its members a sense of false solidarity, consisting in ‘privatized’ projects done simultaneously but never truly collaboratively – the late modern ‘community’ is a collection of private endeavours which, though at times visible, are never truly public.
All that these individualized projects require is the promise and deliverance of ‘law and order’: that is, protection of one’s physical possessions (namely, one’s body and home) from the intrusion and harm of others. Consequently, ‘crime is no longer stigmatized and resented for being a breach of the norm’; rather, criminality is calculated in terms of ‘threat to safety’. (For more on this point, see (Bauman, In Search of Politics, pp. 51-52).
Furthermore, with the onset of modern mass media and culture consumption which helped to forge a pervasive consumerist culture, members of late modern society have come to express themselves in what may paradoxically be termed ‘a conformity of individuality’. (See Jürgen Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, pp. 159-75; and Bauman, Liquid Modernity, pp. 63-88.) Living private lives in alleged public spaces, individuals leave the work of the public sphere to political professionals and personalities, yielding what the famed social theorist Jürgen Habermas calls an ‘industry of political marketing’ (Structural Transformation, pp. 189-95 and pp. 211-22). Thus, both the market economy and the business of politics result in a decline of public life.
Thus, the globalizing multiculturalism of late modern societies reduce social collectives to locales where, as Bauman puts it, ‘the aliens become neighbours and the neighbours are cast as aliens’ (Bauman, In Search of Politics, p. 53). There is no longer a robust sense of fighting a cause together, ‘as common and in common’ (pp. 53-57). Modernization has brought about an individualism to life’s meaning; globalization has brought about a fragmentation to communal existence; and together these social processes helped to create a multiplicity of solitudes, a separated aggregation. Is there some way to achieve the communal bonds necessary to engender and encourage a kind of sociality necessary for human flourishing?
Peter Berger observes that in premodern society ‘most human beings have lived in small social settings marked by a plenitude of ongoing face-to-face contacts and by intense solidarity and moral consensus’; by contrast, late modern ‘homelessness’ – marked by ‘anomie’ and ‘ambiguity’ – is characteristic of modern persons who want ‘both individual autonomy . . . and communal solidarity’ (Berger, Facing up to Modernity, pp. 91-92 and 107, emphasis original). But to have this sort of dual social existence, what is needed is an objective ‘good’ or ‘end’ of ‘telos’ in virtue of which it can be said that human persons and societies flourish.
In my next post, I consider a further crucial implication of a completely secularized society, drawing on Taylor’s idea of ‘ordinary life’.