Chapter 6 A Probe into Deep Time: Marcel Gauchet and the Problematic Exit from Religion

In: The Post-Secular City
Paolo Costa
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Conquering the Magic Mountain: The Weber Case

As I claimed in the introduction, the ease and speed with which the classical thesis of secularization has been transformed over time from an original, if not transgressive, interpretation of human history into a kind of tacit common sense depends on its tendency to merge with a narrative of change that has emerged (and spread like wildfire) to render intelligible a vague, but crucial, transition in the self-understanding of modern individuals. Such a staged transition has two essential characteristics: it is experienced by the subjects, first, as a revolutionary break with the past and, secondly, as an event that produces a liberating effect comparable to the experience of the end of a spell.

Such a narrative of breakthrough can only be successful in making sense of the perceived evolutionary leap if there is a prior consensus on a polarized portrait of the starting point and the end point of the changeover. Thus moderns have often succeeded in coming to terms with such (etymologically) ‘catastrophic’ change by understanding it, for example, as the shift from a communitarian form of life to one centred on individual rights, or from heteronomy to autonomy, from theocentrism to anthropocentrism, from enchantment to disenchantment, and so on.

Thus far we have seen how the linearity and terseness of the classical thesis provided the deconstructionists of the secularization theorem with a particularly favourable point of attack. Simplicity has also always been the major strength of the standard explanatory model. The latter, in fact, was able to make immediately intelligible a change that has been experienced by a qualified majority of European opinion makers as a both autobiographical and historiographical evidence in the last three centuries. From the new secular perspective, the ‘present’ is automatically diagnosed as a time shaped by worldly forces and causes, such as the market or technology, which are in principle devoid of mystery and ambiguity, while the ‘past’ appears as the dim background from which the new has emerged by subtraction.

From this angle, the concept of secularization has everything it takes to make regally sense of the drastic change of life and mentality insofar as it grasps it as the irreversible transition from a religious to a non-religious stage of human development. The force of this drive towards global recontextualization is recognizable even in an undisputed champion of sobriety, prudence and methodological refinement like Max Weber. In spite of his strong belief that “the fate of an epoch which has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must know that we cannot learn the meaning of the world from the results of its analysis, be it ever so perfect”, even the most sophisticated advocate of what Jean-Claude Monod has aptly described as a “sociological neutralization of the category of secularization” could not resist in the final stage of his career to frame his comparative research on the great religions within the meta-narrative of the Entzauberung der Welt – the disenchantment of the world.1

Despite the critical vigilance against any too hasty axiologization of the polarity between an ‘enchanted’ and a ‘disenchanted’ condition, which Weber tries as far as possible to keep separate from the insidious pair ‘rationality/irrationality’, the retroactive effect that the gloomy diagnosis of the times espoused by the German sociologist in the last years of his life has on the results of his comparative investigations into humanity’s religious past is evident in his writings after the First World War (I am thinking particularly of the two Munich lectures and the new edition of The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism). Such a drift stands out, for example, in the increasing emphasis on the, far from obvious, spiritual continuity between the rejection of the magical mentality in Jewish prophets and the anti-sacramental polemic typical of Calvinist Protestantism.

In these passages of Weber’s argument – which is often presented in the robes of an a posteriori stock taking – the contrast between being “stuck fast in a primitive sea of magic” and the effort of ethical rationalization of the great religions takes on tones that are anything but dispassionate.2 A demagified religion is for him, significantly, a spiritualized and disinterested religion, devoted to interiority and asceticism, rather than to an animistic and stereotypical understanding of natural phenomena and a utilitarianism focused on immediate needs. In Weber’s imagination, it should not be forgotten, renunciation (be it of “Faustian universality” or of a “religious, cosmic, or mystical” sense of community) is the necessary condition for professional success in modern society, where the “full and beautiful humanity” that was and can no longer be has no place.3 There can be no genuine alternative for those condemned to live in the shadow of a “nature shorn of the divine” – the “entgötterte Natur” deplored by Schiller – who are prisoners of the “tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order”, which “today determine[s] the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism […] with irresistible force”.4

It is no coincidence that this gloomy view of the present and future corresponds, in the late writings of the German sociologist, to a certain image of the morally straight personality, whose main endowment is the ability to “endure the fate of the [disenchanted] age like a man” and not retreat in the face of a “a polar night of icy darkness and harshness”.5 The silhouette drawn in these famous passages is that of a man who takes leave of “childhood” illusions and accepts to cope with the “experience of the irrationality of the universe”, thanks to a “trained ability to scrutinize the realities of life ruthlessly, to withstand them and to measure up to them inwardly”.6 The tone is well summed up in that page of the biography written by his wife Marianne in which Weber’s ideal of intellectual probity (intellektuelle Redlichkeit) is described in memorable words:

One day, when Weber was asked what his scholarship meant to him, he replied: “I want to see how much I can stand” (ich will sehen, wieviel ich aushalten kann). What did he mean by that? Perhaps that he regarded it as his task to endure the antinomies of existence and, further, to exert to the utmost his freedom from illusions and yet to keep his ideals inviolate and preserve his ability to devote himself to them.7

The attempt of religious ethics to rationalize the world in an “ethical-practical sense” has a noteworthy paradoxical outcome in Weber’s account. For it assumes the form of a detached, shielded and methodical conception of experience that ends up relegating religion, prophecy and enthusiasm to the “abstract realm of mystical life” (das hinterweltliche Reich mystischen Lebens), that is, to the sphere of those life choices that demand, in one way or another, a “sacrifice of the intellect”.8 Ultimately, Weber’s meta-narrative is, to use Charles Taylor’s jargon, the story of a subtraction (the “de-magification” of the world) whose product is a form of life (the proverbial “iron cage”) that appears unlivable or, at most, bearable in full consciousness only by virtue of a superhuman effort. In fact, the umbrella concept of disenchantment ends up encompassing both the overcoming of the magical mentality (the belief, that is, that one can influence the invisible powers that determine the destinies of people by casting spells), and the secularizing rationalization favoured by the religious rejection of the world and discussed in the famous Zwischenbetrachtung, as well as, finally, the more general loss of sense deriving from the primacy of the new forms of bureaucratic, economic and intellectual (primarily scientific) rationalization.9 In this way, however, disenchantment and disengagement, the disenchanted attitude and the detached, objectivizing stance, end up overlapping, and both fall under the master image of a general disembedding, i.e. the dis-encapsulation from traditional forms of life, which have been negatively selected in the relentless struggle of the ‘higher’ human civilizations (and the religious traditions underlying them) for global economic and political supremacy.

This also explains the centrality in Weber’s sociological investigations of the question about the historical primacy of Western civilization, which the most thoughtful among the children of modern European culture are sooner or later bound to ask themselves. “To what combination of circumstances”, Weber inquires in the introduction to his essays on the sociology of religion,

the fact should be attributed that in Western civilization, and in Western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared which (as we like to think) lie in a line of development having universal significance and value?10

The source of this question is not only the theoretical curiosity of a giant of modern thought. Rather, it is the Nietzschean doubt about the potential harmfulness of intellectualism for life. This personal bug justifies the persistence, even in the post-Kantian theoretical framework embraced by Weber, of slippery nouns of process such as ‘disenchantment’ and ‘secularization’ that systematically overstep the boundaries of value freedom. In spite of the effort to preserve the empirical results of his comparative research from the damaging influence of worldviews and subjective value endorsements, the alluring cumulative effect provided by the meta-narrative of the disenchantment of the world pushed even a champion of theoretical avalutativity like Weber to re-enchant the thesis of disenchantment, making it the centre of a sensemaking performance against which the recursive logic of cognitive disenchantment eventually capitulates, although, at least in theory, it should always aim at reaching the zero degree of personal involvement. With the benefit of hindsight, then, the lure of the metahistorical glance appears no less strong than the skeptical attitude of the Fachmenschen ohne Geist – the specialists in professorial minutiae, willing to give up the spirit of intellectual adventure in exchange for an academic equivalent of bourgeois decorum and reliability.

Marcel Gauchet as a Theorist of the Primacy of Politics

Keeping this exemplary theoretical trajectory in mind, one can read a classic of the contemporary debate on secularization such as Marcel Gauchet’s Le désanchantement du monde, as an attempt to openly come to terms with the scientific legacy and methodological aporias of Weber’s approach.11

Faithful to his view of philosophy as a discipline allergic to disciplinary frontiers, Gauchet, one of the most influential contemporary French thinkers, has tackled in his work the antinomies afflicting the modern trust in the unlimited potentialities of scientific investigation: unity or fragmentation of knowledge, situatedness or neutrality, essentialism or anti-essentialism, etc.12 His is, in essence, a deliberate and mammoth exercise in simplification, the aim of which is to expose the structure of historical becoming, that is, the processual logic and the “déterminisme de l’essence” on which the “événementialité foncière” (basic factuality) of the concatenation of historical events and the “liberté de l’existence” expressed in them are based.13 The term “post-Weberian Hegelianism” has rightly been used in his regard.14 This hybrid blend of modesty and intellectual ambition – “outrecuidance modeste” as the author once called it15 – is motivated by the belief that it is impossible to escape the risk of simplification and that, in the end, “this does not mean we should yield to the lures of speculation, but that we should respond critically to the need for meaning whose main victims are precisely those who naively believe they have freed themselves from that need”.16

Put otherwise, Gauchet does not shy away from telling a macro-story with the benefit of hindsight and a non-naive teleological shape. The driving force behind this myth-history, which is more concerned about the patterns of historical change than about its digressions, is a diagnosis of the present with a frankly political intent. Following the example of his teacher Claude Lefort, the advent of modern democracy is for him the phenomenon to be explained genealogically: the end goal, that is, which accounts for – in an anthropo-socio-transcendental perspective – a series of crucial and enigmatic historical discontinuities. Modern democracy represents, in particular, a revolution in the nature of social space. In brief, it is the triumph of the ideal of autonomy and self-determination or, in other words, “the consecration of the power of men to govern themselves”.17 It is not, however, a triumph without shadows. “What seemed to be the solution”, Gauchet recently observed, “has turned out to be the problem”. The end of the modern journey “is not really an end, nor could it have been”.18

But why does the democratic revolution deserve to be elevated to the status of key event of modernity and crux of Western originality? To answer this question, it is necessary to bring to light the foundations of Gauchet’s theory: the attribution, that is, of a “constitutive character to the political shaping of human communities” or, put differently, the proclamation of the anthropological primacy of politics, which may sound anachronistic in an era of increasing depoliticization.19 It is the political condition that brings us closer to our ancestors and defines our common humanity. But what exactly does this condition politique consist of?

In order to understand the gist of Gauchet’s argument, we have to fully assimilate the premise of his discourse. Politics, in his view, is not an accessory appendage of society. It is rather “one of [its] transcendental conditions”.20 It is the capacity of human communities to act on their own (factual) conditions of existence and, therefore, as the expression of an instituting power. The main political corollary of human freedom – that is, of the impossibility of humans “to entrench themselves and settle down, and steadfastly condemning them to a transformative nonacceptance of things”21 – is the looming over every human consortium of the spectre of division, and therefore of disorder and endemic conflict, as the “logical virtuality” of social life.22

Politics offers itself as “the structural objectification of the conditions of possibility of being together” by countering this structural threat to the ordered and meaningful coexistence of individuals.23 Since human societies are neither a fact of nature nor an artificial device under the full control of its creators, the power they exert over themselves occurs through a process of abstraction, self-transcendence, or rather “externalization”. For the French philosopher, “humanity is what it is precisely because of its capacity to establish a relationship of exteriority with itself”.24 Politics, in short, is a continuous exercise of mediation that shifts the internal structural dissent that represents a natural condition for human beings to the plane of ordinary life and that, on the level of society, manifests itself in the guise of a dialectical tension between being-self and being-together. As Gauchet observes:

Man is endowed with a self (humanity is composed of persons) because he lives in society, because his existence is unimaginable outside the social element. […] Man is the most social animal there is, and it is precisely this that identifies him psychically, that is, that pushes him beyond animality. The independence that makes him a person capable of self-determination is the basis of primordial sociality. Man is this social being who carries his society in the depths of his self, and it is for this reason that he can detach himself from it.25

Politics, in its minimal sense, is therefore the both internal (unity in plurality) and external (separateness in diversity) condition for the possibility of a common future.

The Religion of the Savages as an Escape from Freedom

Granting a transcendental status to the political condition means, in point of fact, that there can be no societies without politics. If this is true, then how do we explain the existence of what the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres described, with a memorable definition, as “societies against the state”?26 Given that political action has a privileged relationship with power, hierarchy, and status distinctions, and that the state is the way in which the authority differentials of its members have traditionally been institutionalized and crystallized through force, the existence of human communities that have realized (at least implicitly) their political nature in opposition to statehood is a phenomenon that demands explanation. The stumbling block here is the elucidation of the deep structure of a form of life to which the human species has adapted over a very long period of its history. Given that it is not simply a question of society without the state, but of society against the state, the origin and logic of such systematic resistance to political division and its dynamic potential (without which, in Gauchet’s perspective, human communities are precluded from ‘entering’ history) has to be investigated in depth.

The simplifying intuition behind Gauchet’s grand narrative stems from this basic perplexity. After all, modern democracy is an egalitarian political system based on regulated competition for power between individuals who do not exist as a function of society, but who take it for granted that the only compelling reason for forming a social bond is some kind of personal gain. In primitive or savage societies, on the contrary, horizontal solidarity between members is made possible by a generalized renunciation of the exercise of sovereignty. Where does such a bifurcation come from and how can it be explained? Gauchet’s concise (and full of implications) answer is as follows: it all depends on religion. In other words, if politics goes underground in primitive societies, “it is because its place has been occupied and neutralized by the religious”.27 Substantiating this claim, however, is no easy task. In order to do so, it is necessary to probe into the deep history of humanity, up to the threshold dividing the process of hominization from the cultural evolution of homo sapiens.28 In so doing, one comes across the decisive role played by religion, that ‘thing’ which is difficult to define but equally difficult to disregard, in giving shape and order to the human social world. The savages’ ‘choice’ to trade an almost universal condition of (personal) dispossession typical of state political domination for a more drastic (impersonal) dispossession on behalf of an inaccessible otherness that admits no exceptions whatsoever actually depends on it.

This elementary conjecture is at the root of Gauchet’s daring decision to draw up “a political history of religion” – i.e., the myth-history fleshed out by the French philosopher in The Disenchantment of the World – in which a millennial vector trajectory from the birth in the mists of time of archetype religion to its exit in the modern West is painted with broad strokes. It is a story, as I said above, told retrospectively, which aims to explain a contemporary condition that, albeit unreconciled, is clear in its world-historical pattern. The condition in question is the emancipation from that form of heteronomous life that has characterized human history since the dawn of time. “We can best observe”, Gauchet claims in the first short chapter of Le désenchantement du monde,

the same twofold affirmation, as varied in expressions as it is unvaried in content, in the remnants of societies existing prior to the State. We can see in all of them both a radical dispossession of humans in relation to what determines their existence and an inviolable permanence in the order bringing them together. The underlying belief is that we owe everything we have, our way of living, our rules, our customs, and what we know, to beings of a different nature – to Ancestors, Heroes, or Gods. All we can do is follow, imitate, and repeat what they have taught us. In other words, everything governing our “works and days” was handed down to us […] In short, the real kernel of religious attitudes and thought lies in accepting the external as the originating source and the unchangeable as law.29

Gauchet’s grand narrative’s starting point is thus a paradoxical but effective way of reacting to the nagging presence of otherness in the human experience of the world. Rather than delegating the burden of alterity to individuals in their everyday lives, stateless societies lighten the (anthropological) burden of intra- and interpersonal divisions, by reducing them in the light of the infinitely higher (religious) chasm that separates the invisible foundation of the immutable order of things from visible realities. In this way, by delegating to an inaccessible and opaque otherness the instituting power that in principle belongs to politics, entry into history is indefinitely deferred. By this Gauchet means deferral of the access to that space of common action where the possibility of self-determination of one’s own destiny is at stake. In a word: freedom.30

The Rise of the State and the Axial Turn

This is the opening scene of Gauchet’s grand récit. From here on, the story that is told is essentially the internal history of religion, the gradual departure from its original matrix through “a transformation that produces radical novelties while proceeding along the lines of the previous organization, which it overturns point by point”.31 The end goal, however, is not at hand and is preceded by a series of capital events whose sequence describes a zigzag trajectory that, although bounded from the outside by the range of possibilities opened up by the transcendental structure of human sociality, ultimately depends on the contingent actions of historical flesh-and-blood agents.

The first stage of this road to disenchantment is “the discontinuity par excellence of the human journey”, “the event that severs history in two”, namely the birth of the state.32 Gauchet’s choice of such a historical breakthrough is at first sight startling. Only apparently, however. If religion makes its appearance on the stage of history as a kind of structural alternative to politics – or at least as an ersatz of the more destabilizing aspects of the political condition – it is only from politics that the spiritual change can begin. This innovation puts an end to the primordial dispossession of savage peoples in a short amount of time if measured against humanity’s deep history. But while its beginning remains causally inexplicable – the only thing that can be said is that at some point in human history the change happens, in the same unexpected way that “catastrophic mutations”33 do – the general sense and scope of the political-religious transformation are clear. Gauchet sums them up effectively when he speaks of a “réduction pratique de l’altérité du fondement” (practical reduction of the foundation’s otherness).34 That is, with the rise of the state, “the religious Other actually returns to the human sphere”.35 In particular, the gods (or the numinous) are “entangled” in history not so much as a result of new beliefs, but rather (1) through power devices, such as hierarchy and domination, which radically change social relations, and (2) through the unleashing of the expansive and assimilating logic of the will to power and the resultant upheaval made possible by the historically unprecedented practice of war of conquest.36

The state, therefore, ‘secularizes’, i.e. it makes the religious more mundane and less enchanting, simply by releasing the instituting otherness from its condition of absolute opacity and indeterminacy. By anchoring religion in a systematic manner to ordinary social relations – that is, not to extra-daily events like rituals – the state opens up a channel of communication with the divine that lays the foundations for its localization, subjectivization and, no less important, its methodical thinkability (rationalization). Only in this way can the historical or “major” religions be born, which for a long time have been (at least, according to Gauchet) wrongly seen as

the true beginnings of a religious history leading to a more sophisticated representation of the divine, while the diffuse paganism of primitive peoples was simply regarded as a useful testimony to the universal nature of religious feelings in a rudimentary or undifferentiated state.37

The historical discontinuity produced by the appearance of the state – this “intrinsically religion-producing enterprise”38 – could be summarized differently by saying that it creates, in the archaic world, the conditions for an ‘Axial’ turn in the understanding and management of the sacred (i.e. invisible and separate) dimension of experience within profane time.39 And, in fact, this (potential) revolution is physically realized in different forms in the Mediterranean civilization, or in Persia, India, China, in the fateful first millennium BCE: in the centuries, that is, of the “total radical transformation of the religious under the sign of transcendence and of the care for the true world against this world”.40 The aspect of the dynamics of post-axial transcendence that attracts Gauchet’s attention is the structural tension between the dualism shared by the new worldviews that flourished almost simultaneously in Eurasia along the Silk Road and the existential urge to find a point of balance, if not synthesis, between the worldly and otherworldly poles of human experience from which derives the recurrent impulse to a monological recomposition (both in a theoretical and practical sense) of the Axial turn. The “économie de l’Un ontologique” (the economy of the ontological One), as the French philosopher calls it,41 is a form of resistance to the innovative potential of the Axial breakthrough that constantly resurfaces in the tangled history of attempts to institutionalize, in both secular and religious spheres, the new outlook based on the divide between the “here below” (ici-bas) and the beyond.

If, in the socio-political-anthropological perspective adopted by Gauchet, religion in its purest form is conceivable as a form of radical dispossession of the original instituting power of individuals on behalf of an otherness that is completely removed from human control, the departure from this condition of standstill must go through a process of determination or specification of the relationship between the visible and the invisible. In the history of the West, the transition from the order of things ‘in-itself’ typical of savage societies to modern constructivism takes place, for the author of Le désanchantement du monde, through the mediation of an unprecedented vision of the otherworldly which, among other things, personalizes the divinity, contrasting it with everyday reality as a supreme principle of activity that is no longer in-itself, but is for-itself.42 Just like in Weber, it is the historically astonishing emergence in the land of Israel of Jahvist monotheism that represents the decisive shift in the human theological imagination vis-à-vis the future disenchantment of the world. The genealogy is clear: modern Westerners are the fortunate and creative “heirs” of “Christian contradictions”.43 Christianity, in turn, is integrally inscribed in the history of Judaism, composing “a single and identical trajectory to be treated in a rigorous continuum”.44 Finally, Jewish monotheism stands out in the Axial nebula as a very special experiment with epochal consequences.

Given the conditions under which it took place, the rise of Jahvist monotheism confronts interpreters with “the enigma of a radical improbability”.45 Few basic facts are enough to be convinced of this. A small oppressed people, relegated to the margins of history, launches a project, at first sight unreasonable, to “dominate spiritually those who dominate them politically”.46 To this end, they construct the image of a unique God, supernatural and infinitely superior to any other divinity, who nevertheless establishes a privileged link with the nation of Israel, recognizing it as the chosen people – a partner in a covenant. The crux of the matter here is clearly the rigorous affirmation of an ontological duality from which an unprecedented metaphysical and ethical tension results, that is well illustrated by the enigmatic idea of the “presence of the transcendent” in history, ascertainable only in the form of signs and traces.47

Between the ‘for-itself’ (God) and the ‘in-itself’ (world) lies the human being, who has access to both. The point is to choose who or what to serve. The urgency of deciding one way or the other places the people of Israel before the burden of an unprecedented and in many ways unheard of responsibility. Promise and threat overlap in the relationship of absolute dependence that the individual establishes with his creator. The outcome is politically and spiritually ambiguous. In one respect, as Gauchet observes,

it increased human dependency since it encouraged embracing and internalizing the decrees of a living will. […] But in another respect, the all-powerful God became the one whose essence and aims will forever remain unfathomable. This in turn justified, if not demanded, our questioning the gap separating human achievements from his true will. This god opened up the infinite possibility of personal questioning, of inner dissent and spiritual challenge.48

The Western Bifurcation

Measured according to the binary logic of the loss or recovery of the instituting power of humankind, Jahvist monotheism thus appears singularly enigmatic. On the one hand, God’s absolute transcendence opens up a potentially infinite space of action for human beings. On the other hand, however, divine omnipotence is so disproportionate from an earthly perspective that the relations that creatures can establish with the creator only seem to admit of unconditional subordination and, given the inexplicable particularism of the covenant, even arbitrary and unjustifiable subordination.

It is in this non-peaceful, non-stabilized spiritual horizon that Christian messianism offers itself as a promising way out of the contradiction that obstructed the Axial turn of Judaism. The impasse, as Gauchet remarks, depends on

resolutely maintaining a religion of oneness where the prospect of a religion of duality appeared together with the divine uniqueness. By having chosen his people, the unique and separated god remained intimately tied to this world. His loss of immanence to the world does not matter since his indissoluble union with Israel kept him fundamentally connected to the human sphere and to the things of the ici-bas.49

If the problem is the mediation between the here below and the beyond, the answer of that “Jewish heresy” which Christianity originally is can be summed up in one word, ‘incarnation’, and in one name, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.50

Reducing a very intricate issue to a slogan, one could say that in Gauchet’s view “Jesus maximizes the effects of the monotheistic rupture”, creating the conditions for the rise of an unprecedented civilization.51 This claim is not immediately comprehensible and has provoked much debate.52 In short, the French philosopher reads the Christian dogma of the incarnation as a theological device that, instead of mitigating the disjunction between the two orders of reality, the ici-bas and the beyond, brings the split to its extreme consequences. His key idea, in essence, is as follows. By becoming incarnate in a flesh-and-blood individual, God simultaneously affirms his own absolute otherness: it is as if he admitted that in order to reveal himself in history he is forced to take on a fully human form. The mediation between the visible and the invisible thus becomes a singular, unrepeatable event, which is offered to the human race as a whole as a dynamic factor: as an opportunity, that is, for a radical transformation of its conditions of existence. The redemption takes place, however, in a paradoxical and unexpected way. By means of his embodiment in an ordinary man, destined to suffer the disgrace of crucifixion, Jesus disrupts the traditional messianic imagery. The promised salvation is transformed into an indecipherable riddle. On the one hand, the events narrated in the Gospels are there to demonstrate that redemption is not an affair of this world. On the other hand, however, the very fact that God chose to subvert worldly hierarchies by exalting humility and poverty to the detriment of power and luxury, opens up unprecedented possibilities for human action and a hitherto inconceivable sense of history: “Who would ever have believed”, Gauchet sharply asks himself, “that powerlessness could be the source of true power?”53

The Christian breakthrough is therefore to be sought in the inversion of the logic of Jewish messianism that results in a theological and spiritual conundrum that also operates as a propeller of the social imaginary. The key to the riddle lies in the dynamism of the new economy of salvation. There are many thoughts to articulate here. First, there is the mystery of a transcendent God who takes on a human form – the infinite concentrated in a finite existence. This short-circuit of incommensurable magnitudes is simultaneously epic and tragic, but it also conceals an ordinary, familiar, prosaic side. The idea of the Word becoming flesh assumes an entirely new meaning in the light of the episodes narrated in the Gospels, suggesting the paradoxical theological figure of a downward transcendence. Being an event of profane history, the incarnation then immediately launches the challenge of the custody of a supernatural gift through ritual and personal forms of reiteration. This is a task entrusted as much to individuals in their interiority as to the community of believers, in its more or less organized forms. Thus began the history of the Christian churches as institutions invested with the mission of stabilizing the mediating action between the two orders of existence. It is, of course, a history full of pitfalls, punctuated by compromises with the everre-emerging economy of the ontological One, but at a certain point, around the year one thousand, it takes a particular turn in the West. This shift marks the beginning of the long and winding process that would lead to the “new world” – the fully disenchanted world – whose puzzle we struggle to solve today.

There is not enough space here for a detailed presentation of the story told many times and from different angles by Gauchet in his writings since The Disenchantment of the World. Here it is sufficient to list the main stages of this surprising trajectory that made Latin Christianity the religion of the definitive exit from the primordial religion or, restating the same idea in a positive key, of the reappropriation by humanity of its instituting power, in a word, of its autonomy. The ultimate meaning of the story is quite simple. Human freedom can only assert itself if the logic of ontological oneness does not prevail, if the “for-itself” is not flattened by the “in-itself”, or, put otherwise, if otherness enters into a dialectical relationship with identity.54 From a religious perspective, therefore, the affirmation of ontological duality is an inescapable condition for the legitimation and enhancement of ici-bas. And this is the direction in which, according to Gauchet, Christianity in Europe moved after the gradual crumbling of the Carolingian synthesis, developing in an original way a potentiality inherent in the Axial turn. From the point of view of the history of the church, the crucial junction of this “western bifurcation” was the investiture controversy.55 Gregory VII’s political-ecclesiastical programme in fact initiated a long-term reform process that would have two main outcomes. On the political front, it would lead to the rise of the modern nation-state and the definition of a new concept of political sovereignty, independent of any source of external (even religious) legitimation. On the spiritual side, it was the Protestant Reformation that took the decisive step towards the definitive break with the economy of the ontological One through the iconic claim of the five “solae” (sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria) and the simultaneous sanctification of ordinary life.56

In La condition historique, Gauchet recapitulated the great modern transformation that led to the reabsorption of religious otherness in the “ici-bas”, dividing it into three ideal-type stages: the theological-political moment (ca. 1500–1650), the theological-legal moment (ca. 1650–1800) and, finally, the “passage to conscious and deliberate historicity”57. The first stage consists of the political revolution leading to the recognition of states (in the plural) as the ultimate instance responsible for the existence and welfare of the community. In the new perspective, the primary function of the state is no longer to embody a transcendent principle of order, but to represent the vital interests of the individuals who have established it by contract.58 The second moment, on the other hand, has to do with the emergence, firstly, of legal culture and, subsequently, of the civilization of individual rights. The novelty represented by the triumph of the idea that society is in essence an aggregate of independent individuals goes hand in hand with the claim of the primacy of civil society over politics, now conceived as a social subsystem characterized by well-defined functions and purposes. This claim of independence of society against the state is, in turn, a symptom of a historically unprecedented confidence in the possibility of determining one’s own destiny, which pushes moderns to prioritize orientation towards the future above all else. It is thanks to this faith in human perfectibility that modern historical consciousness is born. Not surprisingly, it is the ideologies and philosophies of progressive history that shape the public discourse and self-understanding of post-Enlightenment societies. This faith in humankind’s ability to self-determine in profane time has in some cases – think only of twentieth-century totalitarianisms – gone so far as to arouse in the masses the dream of an escape from the ceaseless dynamism of modern sociality to restore, in a completely different historical landscape, the economy of the ontological One.

A Non-triumphalist Farewell to Religion

This phase too, however, has come to an end and the world around us is, for Gauchet, a world in which the shift from heteronomy to autonomy, from religion to irreligion, has been definitively accomplished. “From a precise moment in the 1970s”, as we read in La religion dans la démocratie (1998),

without us even realizing it, that force of attraction which, even from afar, continued to keep us in the orbit of the divine, has disappeared. None of us can any longer see ourselves, as citizens, as being bound to the beyond. The City of Man is the work of man, to such an extent that it is blasphemous, even in the eyes of the most zealous of our believers, to mix the idea of God with the order that binds us and the disorder that divides us. To sum up the concept in one sentence, we have become metaphysically democratic.59

“Metaphysically democratic” is an odd expression. The concept, however, is clear. With la sortie de la religion, otherness (and its seemingly insoluble conundrum) has shifted from outside to inside, from high to low, from the metaphysical to the anthropological plane of existence. If the bewilderment by which the human condition is constitutively afflicted was once projected into an extra-quotidian domain, in the modern West otherness has installed itself in everyday life: in the drama of knowledge (distinction between appearance and reality), in the theatre of social relations (the other as a condition of belonging to a community of affection or destiny), in the comedy of personal identity (the other who inhabits us and makes our relationship with ourselves painful). This permanence of the invisible in the visible also explains the survival of the ‘religious’ after the departure from religion as a mode of organization of collective existence.

Gauchet has dwelled on this aspect of the question both in the epilogue to Le désenchantement du monde and in the long and articulated debate sparked by its publication.60 Particularly illustrative is a passage from his dialogue with Luc Ferry, author of the best-seller L’Homme-Dieu ou le sens de la vie.61 The paragraph deserves to be quoted in its entirety because it clarifies the distinctive blend of history and anthropology on which Gauchet’s Zeitdiagnose is based. “Even if we reject the idea of a religious nature of man or of a natural disposition to metaphysics”, begins Gauchet’s argument,

there must be something like an anthropological substratum from which human experience can be established and defined under the sign of religion. No political or social logic can explain how religion, that is, the human investment in the invisible, will unfold. What in man gives meaning to that diversion through the other? Because the cardinal phenomenon consists in this: it lies in those dimensions of invisibility and otherness that inhabit us constitutively. Man is a being who, in every case, is turned towards the invisible or claimed by otherness. These are axes of which he has an original and irreducible experience. He is not driven by the need for knowledge or rational understanding of natural phenomena, as a certain enlightened explanation of religion would have it. It is not the effect of a causal investigation that would commit the spirit to going back to the first causes beyond the visible ones. It is an immediate ‘given’ of consciousness, I dare say. Man speaks and encounters the invisible in his words. He tests himself, irreducibly, under the sign of the invisible. He cannot but think that there is more to him than what he sees, touches and feels. He imagines and immediately his thought is projected beyond what is accessible to him; and he presents himself to thought. What is more, he relates to himself and does so in order to discover that he can dispose of himself with a view to something other than himself. It is with this primordial material that religions are built. They are not produced automatically and linearly. They need something else entirely to define them. But this material makes them possible. There is, otherwise said, an anthropological structure that ensures that man may be a religious being (qui fait que l’homme peut être un être de religion). He is not necessarily so. He has been able to be so historically, for the longest part of his journey. He may cease to be so, but even in that case, that potential for religiosity is destined to remain.62

The “ineliminable subjective stratum underlying the religious phenomenon” manifests itself in the form of a (living, rather than fossil) “remnant” in almost every corner of contemporary human experience. And it is, so to speak, continually solicited by the malaises afflicting late-modern societies, particularly those arising from the culture of narcissism, denounced by Christopher Lasch in an influential book.63 Think only of the disagreements caused by references to truth or a common history in today’s public discourse. Or consider the almost idolatrous relationship that many people have with artistic experience these days, and how this cult is intertwined with a profound confusion about the nature and meaning of personal identity. No less relevant is the structural fragility of moral resources when people are publicly or privately called upon to decide one way or the other in the face of dilemmas that test their inclination to adopt a detached or ironic stance. These kinds of ordinary experiences led Gauchet to acknowledge, perhaps reluctantly, that “even if we assume that the age of religions has been definitively closed, we should not doubt that, between private religious practices and substitutes for religious experience, we will probably never completely finish with the religious”.64

Beyond Secularization

At this point we have everything we need to assess the quality of Gauchet’s effort to revise and maintain the standard thesis of secularization. On the one hand, the inspirational core of the classical theory remains essentially unchanged even in the new perspective. Modernity is in fact understood in the simplified terms of the transition from a condition of expropriating hegemony dictated by the religious (heteronomy) to its subversion in favour of a historically unprecedented primacy of the ici-bas (autonomy). However, continuity of inspiration is not enough to attribute to Gauchet an endorsement in the strict sense of the ‘theorem’ of secularization. In fact, significant theoretical innovations derive, on the one hand, from his efforts at explicating the content of the classical thesis and, on the other hand, from his careful reflection on its implications of method and merit. Discontinuity manifests itself in at least three different ways: as terminological caution (1); as an impulse to complexify the theoretical framework (2); as prudence in the diagnosis of the present time (3).

In this way Gauchet can distance himself from the overly offhand uses of both the term ‘secularization’ (or laïcisation) and the less popular but still vague notion of ‘disenchantment’, preferring what he sees as the more precise concept of the “departure or exit from religion” (sortie de la religion).65 What worries him in the Wirkungsgeschichte of the two concepts is the inability to “intelligibly articulate the continuity and discontinuity at work simultaneously in this crucial process”.66 To do justice to this basic intuition of a discontinuist metamorphosis of the religious – “neither laïcisation nor secularization, but metabolization in a new form of what previously passed through religion: this is the truth of our world”67 – requires a more sophisticated theory and narrative than those employed by classical secularization theorists. This constraint explains both the methodological originality of the meta-narrative set up by Gauchet in The Disenchantment of the World and his endeavor to combine historical reconstruction with a reflection on the transcendental conditions of human subjectivity and sociality. Such theoretical complexity also accounts for the open character of the diagnosis of the times espoused by the French philosopher. The departure from religion is in fact an ambiguous, both liberating and aleatory, in some respects even alarming, historical event. As far as can be deduced from the overall tenor of Gauchet’s grand narrative, the real risk for humanity does not lie so much in religion, but in the expropriating and paralyzing effect of the economy of the ontological One. Human history’s conundrum, hence, is how to live with the ultimately unhealable schism that characterizes human beings’ experience of themselves, society and nature, without paying too high a price in terms of loss of autonomy or, on the contrary, narcissistic complacency and renunciation of any possible existential centre of gravity.

As it was the case with Weber, the disenchantment of the world is for Gauchet a historical process that is both reasonable and ambivalent. That is, the process follows its own internal logic, but this logic neither denies historical contingency nor saturates the task of justification (I mean, it is not ‘rational’ in every possible sense of the term). It is this awareness of the uncertain character of what Adam Seligman famously called ‘modernity’s wager’ that led the French philosopher to take the transversal (and recursive) path of a ‘secularization’ of the secularization thesis.68 On balance, his ideal theoretical option looks like a sophisticated explanatory monism that aims to remedy “the inadequacy of the concept of secularization with respect to the breadth and depth of a process whose surface appearance is all it understands”.69 “Je ne suis pas un Aufklärer naïf”, Gauchet declared a few years ago, duelling with Régis Debray.70 And what he had in mind by proposing this miniature self-portrait he made quite clear once faced with Charles Taylor’s rival position:

Far from the emancipation announced and hoped for by the Enlightenment, which should have enabled humanity to be reconciled with itself by overcoming religious alienation, the world that has emerged from religion has turned out to be more problematic than ever. One could speak in this regard of a “disenchantment of disenchantment”.71


Cf. Weber, Max, “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy”, trans. by E.A. Shils/H.A. Finch, in Max Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Glencoe (IL): Free Press 1949, p. 57; Monod, Jean-Claude, La querelle de la sécularisation, ch. 2. A meticulous reconstruction/deconstruction of Weber’s uses of the concept of disenchantment can be found in Joas, Hans, The Power of the Sacred, pp. 110–153, and chapter 6. On the Protestant matrix of Weber’s meta-narrative see Carroll, Anthony J., “Disenchantment, Rationality and the Modernity of Max Weber”, in: Philosophical Forum (16/2011), pp. 117–137; Carroll, Anthony J., “The Importance of Protestantism in Max Weber’s Theory of Secularisation”, in: European Journal of Sociology /Archives Européennes de Sociologie (50/2009), pp. 61–95.


Cf. Weber, Max, “Introduction to The Economic Ethics of the Great Religions”, in Weber, Max, The Essential Weber: A Reader, edited by Sam Whimster, London: Routledge 2004, p. 65.


Cf. Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. by T. Parsons, New York: Scribner 1930, p. 180; Weber, Max, “Science as a Vocation”, p. 30.


Cf. Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 181. On Schiller’s lament see Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age, p. 316 et seq.


Cf. Weber, Max, “Science as a Vocation”, p. 30; Weber, Max, “Politics as a Vocation”, in Max Weber, The Vocation Lectures: “Science as a Vocation” “Politics as a Vocation”, p. 93.


Cf. Weber, Max, “Politics as a Vocation”, pp. 86 and 118.


Cf. Weber, Marianne, Max Weber: A Biography, trans. by Harry Zohn, New Brunswick (NJ): Transaction Publishers 1988, p. 678. See also Mommsen, Wolfgang J., “Universalgeschichtliches und politisches Denken bei Max Weber”, in: Historische Zeitschrift (201/1965), p. 575; Mommsen, Wolfgang J., “Die antinomische Struktur des politischen Denkens Max Webers”, in: Historische Zeitschrift (233/1981), p. 39. Mommsen is particularly good at bringing out the specific combination of reasonableness and chutzpah that characterizes Weber’s thinking and at reconstructing the intellectual background of his “ethics of decision-making responsibility” and of his “heroic pessimism” reformulated in a rationalistic key (cf. Mommsen, Wolfgang J., “Universalgeschichtliches und politisches Denken”, p. 568; Mommsen, Wolfgang J., “Die antinomische Struktur des politischen Denkens Max Webers”, p. 39).


Cf. Weber, Max, “Intermediate Reflection on the Economic Ethics of World Religions”, in Max Weber, The Essential Weber: A Reader, p. 244; Weber, Max, “On Some Categories of Interpretive Sociology” (1913), in Max Weber, Collected Methodological Writings, trans. by H.H. Bruun, London: Routledge 2012, p. 277; Weber, Max, “Science as a Vocation”, p. 30 et seq.


On this stratification of Weber’s account cf. Joas, Hans, The Power of the Sacred, pp. 133–153.


Cf. Weber, Max, “Author’s Introduction”, in Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 13.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, trans. by O. Burge, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press 1997. The best introduction to Gauchet’s thought was produced by the author himself in the form of articulated response to François Azouvi’s and Sylvain Piron’s questions in La condition historique, Paris: Gallimard 2005. An excellent overview of Gauchet’s trajectory is offered in Bergeron, Patrice, La sortie de la religion. Brève introduction à la pensée de Marcel Gauchet, Outremont (Québec): Athéna 2009 and in Lingua, Graziano, Esiti della secolarizzazione, ch. 3.


To get an idea of the methodological awareness (and coherence) with which Gauchet has developed over the years his project of a philosophy of history innervated by a transcendental anthropo-sociology, see Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, pp. 39–42; Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, Paris: Les Éditions de l’Atelier/Éditions Ouvrières 2004, ch. 2; Gauchet, Marcel, La condition politique, Paris: Gallimard 2005, ch. 3; Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 85–87; Gauchet, Marcel, “Vers une anthroposociologie transcendentale”, in Jacques Arènes et alii, L’anthropologie de Marcel Gauchet: analyse et débats, Lethielleux: Collège des Bernardins 2012, pp. 219–236; Patrice Bergeron, La sortie de la religion, pp. 24–36.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 166. To fully appreciate the intricated dialectic between the ‘fundamental’ and the ‘historical’, see the engrossing dialogue between Paul Ricoeur and Charles Taylor in Laforest, Guy/de Lara, Philippe (eds.), Charles Taylor et l’interprétation de l’identité moderne, pp. 19–49.


The formula was exploited by Jean Greisch in a multi-voice debate published in Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 83. Hans Joas quoted it with approval in The Power of the Sacred, p. 183. Carlo Augusto Viano also spotted a “Hegelian tendency to see under the facts the weave of general concepts, which interact by contrasting and distorting themselves” in his preface to Gauchet, Marcel, La religione nella democrazia, trans. by D. Frontini, Bari: Dedalo 2009, p. 14.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition politique, p. 185.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 41. The value of Gauchet’s synoptic effort has been stressed by Charles Taylor in his foreword to the English translation of Le désenchantment du monde. See Taylor, Charles, “Foreword”, in Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World, p. IX.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La révolution moderne. L’avènement de la démocratie I, Paris: Gallimard 2007, p. 9.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Le nouveau monde. L’avènement de la démocratie IV, Paris: Gallimard 2017, p. 635. On the crisis of contemporary democracies as a “tendency towards the dissolution of politics”, see Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 399–407.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition politique, p. 10. For an excellent reconstruction of the biographical and thematic background of Gauchet’s political thought, see Davide Frontini’s afterword to Gauchet, Marcel, Un mondo disincantato? Tra laicismo e riflusso clericale, trans. by D. Frontini, Bari: Dedalo 2009, pp. 203–241.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 97.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 46.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 97.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Vers une anthroposociologie transcendentale”, p. 229.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Vers une anthroposociologie transcendentale”, p. 229.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Vers une anthroposociologie transcendentale”, p. 224 et seq.


Cf. Clastres, Pierre, Society against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology, trans. by R. Hurley/A. Stein, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press 2020. On the decisive role played by Clastres’s ethnographic investigations in getting Gauchet’s theoretical project off the ground, see Gauchet, Marcel, La condition politique, pp. 11–16; Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, ch. 3 (“La leçon de l’ethnologie”).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition politique, p. 13.


For a similar attempt to re-read the deep history of humankind in the light of its religious evolution, see Bellah, Robert N., Religion in Human Evolution. A comparison between the parallel theoretical trajectories of Bellah and Gauchet is sketched in Latré, Stijn, “The Axial Age and the Dynamics of Transcendence”, in Stijn Latré/Walter Van Herck/Guido Vanheeswijck (eds.), Radical Secularization? An Inquiry into the Religious Roots of Secular Culture, New York: Bloomsbury 2014, pp. 190–206.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, pp. 49 and 56.


On the idea of a “society that is produced in time, as a totality”, see Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 307.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Sécularisation ou sortie de la religion?”, in: Droits (14/2014), pp. 3–10, here p. 6.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 107; Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 64.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 107.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 63 (translation modified).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 26.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 67–76.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 62 (translation modified).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 79.


Gauchet speaks in this regard of a “latent possibility”; cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 120.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 78 (translation modified).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, pp. 116 and 102 (translation modified); Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 168–172, 287; Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 163.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 281–291.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 186.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 131.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 167; Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 121–125.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 122 (italics mine).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 173.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 180.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 182 (translation modified).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 124.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 44.


Two of the most debated topics since the publication of The Disenchantment of the World are Gauchet’s original Christology and his theological underestimation of the Trinitarian doctrine. In this regard see Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, ch. 1, and, for an overview of the discussion, Bergeron, Patrice, La sortie de la religion, pp. 69–74.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 132.


Stijn Latré has rightly stressed the affinity between this cornerstone of Gauchet’s thought and Sartre’s existentialism in “The Axial Age and the Dynamics of Transcendence”, p. 191.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, ch. 6.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Réforme et modernité, in Marcel Gauchet, Un monde désenchanté?, pp. 161–182.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, p. 293.


For a clear formulation of the epoch-making significance of this transition see Gauchet, Marcel, De la théocratie à la démocratie, in Marcel Gauchet, Un monde désenchanté?, pp. 143–160.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, La religion dans la démocratie. Parcours de la laïcité, Paris: Gallimard 1998, p. 10 (italics mine).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, pp. 309–320; Gauchet, Marcel, La condition historique, pp. 394–398; Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, ch. 8 and 10; Gauchet, Marcel, La démocratie contre elle-même, Paris: Gallimard 2002, ch. 2; Debray, Régis/Gauchet, Marcel, “Du religieux, de sa permanence et de la possibilité d’en sortir”, in: Le Débat (24/2003), pp. 3–17.


Cf. Ferry, Luc/Gauchet, Marcel, Le religieux après la religion, Grasset: Paris 2004; Ferry, Luc, L’Homme-Dieu ou le sens de la vie, Paris: Grasset 1996.


Cf. Ferry, Luc/Gauchet, Marcel, Le religieux après la religion, pp. 60–62. Reducing Gauchet’s argument to a slogan, one could say that, after la sortie de la religion, we “can believe in the afterlife without having to obey it” or, in a slightly different key, that our world “is not without God but only outside his grasp” (cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, pp. 215 and 170).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 309; Lasch, Christopher, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, New York: W.W. Norton 1979.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World, p. 309 et seq.


In the debate that followed the publication of Le désenchantement du monde Gauchet was, from the outset, explicit and consistent in expressing his distrust of the category of secularization. Several claims along this line can be found at different stages of Gauchet’s thought. See in this regard Gauchet, Marcel/Manent, Pierre, “Le christianisme et la cité modern”, in: Esprit (55/1986), p. 97 (“‘laïcisation” ou ‘sécularisation’ – categories que je rejette absolutement”); Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 165 (“As far as I am concerned, I avoid the terms secularization, laïcisation and even disenchantment, a term I do not even use in the book which does contain it in its title and which I chose only because of its poetic force and relative neutrality”) and p. 73 (“‘secularization’ or ‘laïcisation’, to say nothing of ‘de-Christianization’, all categories which, incidentally, I do not appreciate very much”); Gauchet, Marcel, “Sécularisation ou sortie de la religion?”, p. 3 et seq. (“The concept of secularization has the advantage of having entered the scientific vocabulary. It is convenient, it has sufficient descriptive pertinence to enable agreement on the global phenomenon to which it refers. Its comprehensive scope, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. It does not, it seems to me, allow one to grasp the intimate nature and real scope of the phenomenon it designates. […] As soon as one delves beneath its uses, its limitations emerge. It is plagued by an insurmountable misunderstanding”).


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Sécularisation ou sortie de la religion?”, p. 4 et seq.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, Un monde désenchanté?, p. 47.


Cf. Seligman, Adam, Modernity’s Wager: Authority, the Self, and Transcendence, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press 2000.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Sécularisation ou sortie de la religion?”, p. 10.


Cf. Debray, Régis/Gauchet, Marcel, “Du religieux, de sa permanence et de la possibilité d’en sortir”, p. 7.


Cf. Gauchet, Marcel, “Le désenchantement désenchanté”, in Sylvie Taussig (ed.), Charles Taylor. Religion et sécularisation, p. 82.

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