Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism: The Foundational Crisis of the Separation of Church and State. By J. Judd Owen. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2001. 218 pp. $16.00.
This book consists of a critical analysis of three major contemporary philosophers who have much to say on the relationship between politics and religion: Richard Rorty, John Rawls, and Stanley Fish.
Rorty seems to be the author's least favorite, but as a result J. Judd Owen pays the greatest amount of attention to Rorty and his postmodern appropriation of the thought of John Dewey. Owen is most insightful when pointing out the defects in Rorty's version of the liberal compromise: the state will grant freedom of religion if religious believers are willing to "privatize" their religious beliefs and to remove them from the public square.
Owen is not as illuminating when commenting on Rawls, however. Rawls does not (like Rorty) have an agnostic or atheist agenda in mind in his political liberalism. Rather, he wishes to allow any comprehensive doctrine, whether religious or philosophical, to flourish as long as it is reasonable, i.e., as long as it does not violate the rights of those who defend a different comprehensive doctrine. That is, Rawls does not (like Rorty) deny that there is such a thing as the truth, even if he is skeptical of the claim that we could reach it in politics. Further, Rawls does not "privatize" religion. He notes correctly that religious believers tend …