Inescapable Horizons

Weighing in at more than 500 dense and provocative pages, Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self (Harvard, 1989) was clearly not intended for the general reader; at just over 100 pages. The Ethics of Authenticity is much more accessible. While not a fully "polished" work, this slim volume is so full of valuable insights I am tempted to say that reading it is a moral duty for contemporary Americans.

A practicing Roman Catholic, Taylor until recently taught political philosophy at Oxford and was perhaps best known for his writings on Hegel. Politically he is a man of the left who has run for Parliament in his native Canada as a candidate for the New Democrats, on economic issues significantly more radical than the American Democratic Party. Still, there are many points of contact between his thought and traditional conservative concerns; more than anyone else, conservatives should profit from an engagement with the ideas of this remarkable thinker.

Taylor begins by describing "three malaises" of modernity. First, the "modern freedom" won at the expense of "older moral horizons" and social hierarchies has led us to a disenchanted "individualism" characterized by a "centering on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, making them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others." Second, the "primacy of instrumental reason,"...

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