Universalism and Sectarianism

By David Pan, Telos

Since today’s world conflicts often derive from competing notions of universal values, with, for instance, Islam, Russian Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, the human rights project, and liberal democracy all offering separate foundations for a universal culture, it is tempting to look for a way to harmonize all these approaches to universalism with each other to arrive at a more peaceful world. Ironically, these different approaches to universalism are often criticized by others for exactly the kind of sectarianism that they were initially designed to overcome. It has often been noted that the basic moral principles espoused by different religions and cultures all converge around some basic commonalities that we all share—opposition to transgressions such as murder, theft, torture, enslavement, and arbitrary detention. Consequently, it is tempting to seek a general ethical framework that could unite humanity around common spiritual principles without setting one version of universalism against another. There have indeed been a number of attempts in world history to imagine such a philosophically grounded universalism, including different versions of Platonism, natural law theory, and transcendentalism. Though they often offer a certain theoretical cogency, they have always failed to gain the kind of adherence and passion that have propelled the success of religious formulations of universalism grounded in myths and rituals. In my conversation with Brian Wolfel on the Telos Press Podcast, we discuss the particular possibilities and limitations of one such philosophical approach to universalism: Thomas Carlyle’s transcendentalism.

Brian Wolfel’s article “Thomas Carlyle’s Conception of Transcendentalism in Sartor Resartus and Its Application to Theorizing Postliberalism” appears in Telos 199 (Summer 2022) and is available at the Telos Online website (subscription required). If your library does not yet subscribe to Telos, visit our library recommendation page to let them know how.

Marking Telos 200: The New Politics of Class

The Telos-Paul Piccone Institute will be discussing the new politics of class at its celebration of the 200th issue of Telos on October 14–15, 2022, in New York City. Please register today to join us at this special event with Joel Kotkin (author of The New Class Conflict) and Michael Lind (author of The New Class War) as keynote speakers.

Register for the Telos 200 event

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