I am grateful for Professor Carl Trueman’s engagement with Confident Pluralism, even though, as his review makes clear, his pessimism runs deeper than mine.
Trueman is especially pointed in his critiques of the progressive side of the current transgender debate.
I am sympathetic to some of his concerns. The recent guidance issued by the Obama administration is a significant overreach of federal authority, and its implications for settings like locker rooms have not been carefully considered. The outburst from Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to which Professor Trueman links is another example of progressive intolerance.
On the other hand, I worry that some of Trueman’s language lacks the charity and tone that he asks of others.
Calling the other side’s arguments “nonsense” and “cretinous” does not exactly invite dialogue. We might instead start by acknowledging that questions around transgender policy are incredibly complex, and made even more difficult by our conflicting and deeply held moral commitments.
With respect to the transgender debate, some of Trueman’s concerns about the Left can also be said of the Right.
Some conservatives fail to “acknowledge a common humanity” when they focus on unsubstantiated charges of “bathroom predators” rather than on the concrete realities of “one’s next-door neighbor.” And while the relentless and undifferentiated charge of “bigotry” from the Left is often off the mark, it is not always off the mark. Some conservatives are bigots.
On the broader challenges and aspirations of Confident Pluralism, Trueman rightly insists that “pluralism depends in large part upon the existence of a healthy culture of diversity-in-unity.”
And I share his view that the answers to our current political challenges, if they come at all, “will be found at the local level, where human beings are required to deal with each other as real individuals rather than as abstract concepts.” Unsurprisingly, I also agree that Confident Pluralism “should be read by all who desire a more civil, thoughtful society than the one in which we find ourselves.”
Yet I do not think that “people simply do not operate in the public square in terms of sense any more.”
To be sure, ideologues of all stripes would rather manipulate and bully than listen and reason. But plenty of people of goodwill are willing to entertain serious arguments about how we might coexist in spite of our deep differences, and how we might pursue common ground even if we lack a shared understanding of a common good. In this light, I wish Professor Trueman had emphasized more of the “confidence” in confident pluralism. Optimism may be, as he puts it, “one of the more forgivable sins,” but hope remains a virtue.
John Inazu is a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.