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Toward A New Political Humanism

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Toward A New Political Humanism

Toward A New Political Humanism, edited by Barry F. Seidman, Neil J. Murphy

The past decades have witnessed a resurgence of the power and influence of religious fundamentalism. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and more have increasingly turned to religious fundamentalism for answers to political issues that divide their societies. Humanist philosophy can be used against fundamentalism, but can humanists develop a political humanism that competes with the intrusion of religious fundamentalism into politics?

Summary

Title: Toward A New Political Humanism
Author: edited by Barry F. Seidman, Neil J. Murphy
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1591022711

Pro:
• Launches a necessary conversation about humanism and politics

Con:
• Many questions left unanswered
• How should we translate humanist principles into practical, political agendas?

Description:
• Collection of essays exploring the relationship between humanism and politics
• Argues that a humanistic perspective on political issues is necessary today
• Exploration of how humanists can approach politics

Book Review

Traditionally, humanist groups have tended to be more philosophical and educational rather than overtly political. Tax considerations have surely played a role in this, but attitudes have been changing in recent years and more humanists are thinking that it’s worth getting involved in politics not merely as individual citizens, but also as part of an organized humanist movement with coherent goals, agendas, and principles.

In Toward A New Political Humanism, editors Barry F. Seidman and Neil J. Murphy explore the possibilities and promises that political humanism might hold. Twenty-five essays from philosophers, scientists, and political activists address the various ways in which humanism can contribute to political dialogue, even assisting in the promotion of liberty in society. As Joe Chuman explains in his contribution, humanism is “ineluctably political” because it is based upon philosophical principles which cannot be ignored in any political debate:

    “Naturalistic humanism philosophically covers a broad range of values that characteristically resist doctrinal formulations. As a product of the Enlightenment, humanism emphasizes the primacy of reason in the process of problem-solving, underscores the autonomy of the individual, cherishes democracy, recognizes the social character of human beings, appreciates (though some would argue not sufficiently) our dependence on and interaction with the natural world, and eschews determinism of any sort as it projects a future that is open to human development on cultural evolution. Humanism also posits a strong emphasis on ethical values — the foundational commitment from which a humanist politics emerges.”
Toward A New Political Humanism

Toward A New Political Humanism, edited by Barry F. Seidman, Neil J. Murphy

Defined this way, humanism challenges religious politics on the right as well as relativism or identity politics on the left. Humanism upholds standards of human rights developed out of the Enlightenment against challenges from both authoritarian religious leaders as well as cultural relativists. Is there, however, enough there to constitute a political movement?

The Christian Right in America likes to treat humanism generally and secular humanism in particular as a scapegoat, but the truth is that organized humanism has had relatively little impact on American culture or politics. What we find instead is the legacy of cultural humanism from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, also the sources of philosophical humanism today. A political humanism could potentially promote the valuable legacy of cultural humanism and expand the promises of liberty to all.

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