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I was puzzled by Charles Larmore’s review of Charles Taylor’s new book, A Secular Age , in the current New Republic .

The book is sprawling and often maddening, but it is very important (I’ve tried to do it justice in my own review in the forthcoming issue of First Things ), and I give Larmore high marks for his accurate (if prickly) summaries of the complex argument. And I agree with his criticisms of Taylor’s prose, though I refused to make much of the matter in my own review, since this book is a kind of valediction from an exceptionally important and valuable thinker, and it seemed an inappropriate moment to dwell on such things.

But Larmore’s very hostile take on Taylor’s conclusions is . . . strange, though alas quite in line with what you expect from New Republic reviews of books having to do with religion. He really types Taylor as, at bottom, little more than a narrow and fideistic and sectarian Catholic, which is simply not the case; if anything, one wishes Taylor were not so anxious to avoid being taken for one, and that he would come down a bit more strongly on his own side.

Larmore says that this is a book written by a Catholic for Catholics, but that has it completely wrong. It is written for almost everyone else, which both its virtue and its problem. It is a remarkably generous book. But its getting such an ungenerous reception from an otherwise capable reader shows, sadly, that no matter how many concessions one makes to the cultured despisers, there are only a few of them who will really listen. That is no reason not to keep trying, of course. But it is a reason to weigh every concession carefully.



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