In an interview with Futuribles, Marcel Gauchet shows us how open and surprising historical developments can be.
First of all, he says, our world is disenchanted, increasingly leaving matters to human beings to exercise power over themselves, and individual conscience to act as absolute arbiter in ethical and moral decision-making. Democracy and the secularization of religions is making Western culture both more self-confident about its values and more uncertain of how to function, which raises considerable problems. While our society does still have a minimum in the way of shared references, there is constant debate about how to apply them.
Next, he says, the modern times in which we live are marked by a weakening of the social authority of the churches which, conversely, are gaining moral authority. Society no longer expects from them the power to forbid and to coerce individual consciences, but asks instead that they shed light on the questions and dilemmas people are facing. Will they be able to fulfil these expectations better than the secular approach has been able to do?
Finally, he adds, one of the main issues facing the contemporary world is upbringing, what will human beings become? If there is no longer any tradition or superior authority, how should ethical and moral principles be acquired? The family no longer appears to be the transmitter of tradition. Will the school provide training? Or will religion take over this important role?
We are, concludes Marcel Gauchet, facing a situation without precedent in human history.