Paul Kurtz on The History of Humanism

Kurtz is the closest thing to a humanist Pope. He is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, ex co-President of IHEU (the Int’l Humanist and Ethical Union), founder of Prometheus Books, and Editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine.
Professor Kurtz started by saying that IHEU has actually failed in its great mission to create a powerful world secular organization. Perhaps; but perhaps putting the ambition that way reflects overstretch. Kurtz did expound upon some pretty creditable history.
Democratic humanism, he said, was essential in the battle against Marxist totalitarianism during the cold war, stressing the right of the individual to dissent. But the cold war’s end has hurt the humanist movement. As he saw it, humanists defended democracy, which was in some ways opposed by the political right; but that battle has been won, and now the right has seized the agenda of democracy as its own. Someone in the audience shouted something about “lip service.” There was, indeed, some lively blowback on this point, highlighting the fraught fraught relationship pf today’s Left with the concept of democracy. The real problem is indeed that the political right has co-opted it; President Bush’s second inaugural address made democracy his central concern; and of course anything Bush is for, the Left opposes. So it has painted itself into an intellectual cul-de-sac of cynicism about democracy.
Kurtz also adverted to the growth of secularism, especially in Europe. The free market and consumer culture, he said, promote secularism by raising living standards, and education (echoing Gregory Paul) is another key factor. Professor Kurtz said that today we are really defending a humanism of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s “too goddamn boring.” There needs to be fun it it, he asserted, and a new agenda. His suggestion for that agenda was “planetary ethics.”

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