For those who have as much difficulty believing in the brilliance of a philosophical elite as they do in the inevitable triumph of progress and reason, neither Strauss’ accommodation to liberalism, nor Popper’s confidence in its superiority, seem adequate to challenge of the present. Bergson’s philosophy, in contrast, offers us the possibility of defending liberalism without falling into—or at least without forgetting the danger of—either cynicism or naivete. We are called to remain in a lucid, tense, and hesitant duplicity, conscious of the tension between what is required for society to remain viable, and therefore necessarily ‘closed,’ and what is required for it to remain hospitable to critical thought and mystical insight. But we are also called to a double fidelity, honoring the openings of the past both insofar as they created our norms and stories, and insofar as they promise new fissurings of our closed world. To make sense of this paradoxical task, liberals must see religious life not as an irrational force to be consigned to the private sphere or instrumentally manipulated, but as a model that teaches us how to reconcile, or at least to bear the irreconcilability of, the closed tradition and the open inspiration, the letter of the law and the example of the prophets.
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