Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226081298 Published October 2013
E-book $7.00 to $32.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226081328 Published October 2013

Secular Powers

Humility in Modern Political Thought

Julie E. Cooper

Julie E. Cooper

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2013
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226081298 Published October 2013
E-book $7.00 to $32.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226081328 Published October 2013
Secularism is usually thought to contain the project of self-deification, in which humans attack God’s authority in order to take his place, freed from all constraints. Julie E. Cooper overturns this conception through an incisive analysis of the early modern justifications for secular politics. While she agrees that secularism is a means of empowerment, she argues that we have misunderstood the sources of secular empowerment and the kinds of strength to which it aspires.

Contemporary understandings of secularism, Cooper contends, have been shaped by a limited understanding of it as a shift from vulnerability to power. But the works of the foundational thinkers of secularism tell a different story. Analyzing the writings of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Rousseau at the moment of secularity’s inception, she shows that all three understood that acknowledging one’s limitations was a condition of successful self-rule. And while all three invited humans to collectively build and sustain a political world, their invitations did not amount to self-deification. Cooper establishes that secular politics as originally conceived does not require a choice between power and vulnerability. Rather, it challenges us—today as then—to reconcile them both as essential components of our humanity.
Hasana Sharp, McGill University
“With Secular Powers, Julie Cooper traces an alternative account of secularism, showing that the very feature critics single out for abuse—the relocation of divine sovereignty in the human individual—is in fact a central concern of early secularists, who predicated human empowerment upon the cultivation of a ‘modest disposition.’ Drawing on both little-studied works from the period and a broad range of current scholarship, Cooper makes a highly original contribution to an important interdisciplinary dialogue in the history of ideas.”

“Cooper challenges the standard view that modern political secularism displaces God as the ultimate authority in favor of putting humans in that place. Secularism does not inevitably lead to self-deification, but is compatible with humanity. She argues that each of the three major theorists of the early period, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, emphasizes that humans have to recognize their finitude or limitations and that, paradoxically, this finitude is the source of human empowerment. . . .Recommended.”
Chapter 1            Toward a Revised History of Modesty and Humility
Chapter 2            Modesty: Hobbes on How Mere Mortals Can Create a Mortal God
Chapter 3            Humility: Spinoza on the Joys of Finitude
Chapter 4            Self-Love: Rousseau on the Allure, and the Elusiveness, of Divine Self-Sufficiency
Conclusion          A Modest Tale about Theoretical Modesty
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