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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 17, 2016

Meaning, Religion, and the State: On the Future of Liberal Human Rights

  • Menachem Mautner EMAIL logo


The proliferation of neoliberalism has unavoidably bred an impoverishment of meaning in the lives of people. The more neoliberal a state is the more religious its populace is likely to turn. If this is accompanied by the decline of the meaning provided by the narratives and practices of the nation-state, religion remains the only real source of big meaning for the citizens of the post-nationalist neoliberal state. The combination of neoliberalism and post-nationalism is therefore a potential threat to the future prospects of secular liberal-democracy. The liberal state cannot provide its citizens with a system of big meaning, or at least not with a thick and comprehensive such system. But if it abides by what I call “the liberalism of flourishing”, the liberal state will take it upon itself to provide its citizens with rich contents of deep meaning, i.e., with an abundance of materials embedded in art. Rich contents of deep meaning can serve as building blocks for individuals to develop their own personal conceptions of the big meaning of life. This is the main way in which a liberal state can compete with the contents of big meaning provided by religion.


I wish to thank Khaled Furani, Tomer Persico, an anonymous reader, participants at the conference on “Public Religions, Private Communities and Human Rights,” and the editors of Law & Ethics of Human Rights for their helpful comments.

Published Online: 2016-6-17
Published in Print: 2016-5-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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