The wonderful book Ratzinger and the Philosophers published by Ediciones Encuentro, Madrid, has just gone on sale. The editors are the internationally recognized professors Alejandro Sada, Tracey Rowland and Rudy Albino de Assunção.
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The mention of this new book comes up because public opinion repeats and repeats everywhere the global crisis of democracy, but we rarely stop to think about its causes and the dimension of the threat to our freedom. Well, a careless reading of this book can give us some fundamental clues to get out of the labyrinth. Especially interesting from a political point of view are the chapters dedicated to Marx, Kelsen, Rorty, Nietzsche, Rawls, Habermas and Spaemann.
The threat to freedom is multiple, but it is characterized by a moment of empty polarization, that is, without ideas or substantial debates at the extremes in dispute. It is as if democracy has lost its main magic: the power to build an island of minimal shared vision, in a sea of contrary and even contradictory visions. This reality reflects that the small but vital common horizon that united Western nations is completely splintered and broken.
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For this reason, the political conversation has been reduced to talking about “personalities,” about personal well-being, and not about how to build inclusive institutions, cultivate social capital or articulate future goals. The backdrop has ceased to be overcoming poverty, the causes of migration, organized crime and corruption in the core of Latin America. On the contrary, the backdrop is the ideologized cultural debate, populism, friend-enemy logic and politics trivialized into spectacle. I consider that one of the characteristics of postmodernity is having dynamited a basic system of common beliefs that had allowed democratic dynamics to coexist within the contradictions inherent to society, but with common goals.
In this landscape, the duty would be to build democracy to recover the political center and rebuild an island of shared vision where we can agree on some non-negotiable premises and values based on human dignity and human rights. However, the political center is currently seen as a despicable, colorless, tasteless, unworthy and neutral space; Of course, this is a wrong view. Pascal said that courage is not being placed deaf at the extremes, but in the determination to drag the extreme to the center to build an eclectic solution.
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Against widespread prejudice, it is precisely Ratzinger who fights to promote a middle and realistic path to freedom and democracy. For Ratzinger, a single and universal truth about life is not designed to become a restraint on freedom. Particularly in politics there is no single political option that is correct. What is relative, the construction of the coexistence of human beings to live in freedom cannot be absolutized, believing that freedom is a by-product of the State is the structural error of Marxism. In this sense, Ratzinger admits that politics, freedom and democracy clearly move and become dynamic in a relative and debatable space, full of edges and contrasts. This is and will always be like this and is part of the challenge of democracy. The problem comes in full force when we mistakenly want to go beyond any limit and make everything relative, that everything does not matter, or that the yardstick for measuring a political decision should be merely the cost-benefit utility it reports. It is crucial at this point to understand that democracy is not exclusively a game of majorities and minorities, but rather implies combining freedom with the responsibility to assume some values that cannot be subject to cost-benefit or majority rule, i.e. human dignity. A majority, for example, that decides that slavery is legal lacks any legitimacy, no matter how large a majority it may be. Understanding that only the power of the majority is the truth is the crisis of freedom and the crisis of democracy.
In the face of currents that unilaterally accentuate negative freedom as the supreme good, Ratzinger draws attention because they reduce the notion of freedom to mere individualism, to only the freedom to choose for myself. But put more broadly, freedom in democracy always depends on a system of reciprocity, freedom and responsibility, mutual benefits, rights, but also duties, an I, but also a you. In this sense, Ratzinger defines democracy as “a form of regulation of freedoms.” The important thing is that this regulation is necessary to preserve the freedom of all and avoid the freedom of a powerful minority, over a powerless majority, hence the essential need for justice.
Chesterton said that “every era is saved by a small handful of men who have the courage to be outdated.” In some way, this is the gratitude we feel towards this book. We live in a time where essential words such as philosophy, truth, reason or faith are suspicious, subversive notions, persecutable by the police of public opinion and that must live underground. Well, Ratzinger and the philosophers have the audacity to show us that all the layers of prejudices about Ratzinger and about philosophy are nothing more than clichés of an alienating era that refuses to think, to dialogue and to open itself to the world. Welcome to the debate!