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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, July 10, 2017

A brief word on Trump's (worrying) Warsaw speech

I'm thinking of writing something longer about Donald Trump's major speech delivered in Warsaw a few days ago - perhaps for Free Inquiry. This post is partly a bookmark and partly a reminder to myself to come back to the issue. I don't often comment on narrowly political events, but a speech like this, which was clearly intended by those involved to be something of a landmark, is worth attention. It paints a broad picture of what the current administration in the US is supposed to stand for.

Much of the speech simply extols the history, traditions, and culture of Poland and its people. It was tailored to win applause from its immediate audience while projecting Trump as a global statesman. Beyond this, however, it paints a picture of the United States and other countries (pre-eminently, it seems, Poland) standing in defence of Western values (whatever, exactly, these are supposed to be) against barbarians at the gates. The speech was obviously crafted with great care, and its message should be taken seriously, though I fear that if we do take it seriously it is either incoherent or a somewhat coded message in praise of Christian values rather than Enlightenment values.

To be fair, the speech does mention values such as free inquiry and debate, but again and again it ringingly invokes God. The problem with its coherence is that on one conception of Western values - a conception that I favour - they most notably involve the taming of religion (and its separation from the levers of secular power) rather than religion's glorification. This is evidently not the conception of Western values that Trump and his speech writer(s) had in mind, and the choice of Poland - one of the most religious and even theocratic nations in Europe - to deliver a major speech immediately frames, and partly governs, the speech's meaning. Much of it is sufficiently ambiguous or bland to be interpreted in more than one way, and it could be relatively innocuous on some readings. It does, however, fit all too easily into a worldview that understands politics as a struggle to revive and sustain historical Christendom, rather than to extend the secular ideas of the Enlightenment. Theocrats should be pleased. We already know that such a worldview is well-represented within Trump's team, whether or not Trump sincerely shares it.

More later ... but perhaps elsewhere.

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