Written originally as part of a Common Knowledge symposium (2007) responding to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s homily against relativism, which was delivered immediately before his election as pope, this essay describes a reactionary German intellectual current that includes not only Ratzinger and the conservative jurist E.-W. Böckenförde but also the more liberal philosopher Jürgen Habermas. What the three share, according to Kristeva, is their assessment of “rationalist humanism” as incapable of sustaining constitutional democracies, which by nature “need ‘normative presuppositions’ [on which] to found rational law.” In an effort to “counterbalance this hypothesis,” she argues that “we are already confronted with . . . experiences that render obsolete any appeal for a normative conscience.” These experiences comprise discoveries of the modern human sciences above all psychoanalysis and literary theory, which “are likely to found the ‘unifying bond’ that secular, political rationality has until now lacked.” Thus, she concludes, “modern thought, which is neither hostile nor indulgent toward religion, may be our one good option as we face, on the one hand, mounting obscurantism and, on the other, the technological management of the human species.”

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