Andrew Sullivan deems this his "Quote of the Day":
"Politics turns into virtue what religions often see as a vice—the
fact that we do not all think alike, that we have conflicting
interests, that we see the world through different eyes. Politics knows
what religion sometimes forgets, that the imposition of truth by force
and the suppression of dissent by power is the end of freedom and a
denial of human dignity. When religion enters the political arena, we
should repeat daily Bunyan's famous words: 'Then I saw that there was a
way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven.'" - Rabbi Sir Jonathan
Sacks, reminding us of something vital that today's
Republican leadership has forgotten.
This typifies why I increasingly
find Andrew's blog unuseful for obtaining insight on important matters;
he views nearly everything through spectacles colored by the
gay-marriage issue, and propounds everything through that narrowed
Had Andrew actually thought about this for over a fraction of a
second, he would no doubt realize how absolutely idiotic a statement
Rabbi Sacks has made here.
He'd realize that politics is (indeed) all about imposing
truth by force. That is, in fact, the only thing it's good for;
we want, for example, slavery to be prohibited, by force
when and if necessary.
The best outcome
for which we can hope is that the sphere of the political
world be severely limited to the classical liberal vision.
The institution that does the best job of satisfying varying
values, interests, and modes of thought is neither
politics nor religion, but the free market, of course.
Rabbi Sacks and Andrew do not see fit to mention that. Politics,
by its nature, is a one-brand, one-size-fits-all, top-down monopoly.
Political winners don't just decide for their customers; they decide for
everyone under their domain; this is irrespective of their (hopefully
or (hopefully benign, if not noble) motives.
Andrew is peeved at Republicans because at least some, maybe
most, of their opposition to his pet issue
comes from folks operating
under (presumably) religious motives. And he sees Rabbi Sacks'
essay as another hammer he can use to pound that particular nail.
Fine. But you can make
your argument about that without erroneous generalization.
Illiberal incursions into modern American politics are bad, not
because they're religiously-motivated, but simply
because they're illiberal.
The primary mass-murdering regimes in recent history have (of course)
been illiberal, but also pretty much irreligious. While Islamic
religious fundamentalism is clearly dangerous, that's not a lesson
Republicans particularly need to learn, and it's clearly not
the lesson Rabbi Sacks is trying to teach.
The problems with a simplistic focus on banning
religious insights from the political sphere are the ones you
might expect. You throw out good ideas and alienate
possible allies, simply because of their beliefs and motives;
you throw the door open to bad ideas simply because they've passed your
secular litmus test. Why?
That said, parts of
Rabbi Sacks' article contain good (if pedestrian)
arguments for classical
liberal democracy. His off-kilter focus and inability
to make relevant distinctions, however, are fatal flaws.
There are at least a few thousand better explications of
the brief for liberal democracy; go read them instead.