an intelligible vision

ImgCharles Taylor2

The philosopher Charles Taylor is a sadly endangered type: the philosopher-statesman. Born in Montreal in 1931, Taylor studied at McGill and Oxford, where he was a pupil of Isaiah Berlin and G.E.M. Anscombe. In 1961 he returned to his hometown to teach at McGill, and during the next decade he lost four races for the House of Commons, most notably in 1965 to future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. By the end of the decade, Taylor was sufficiently well-known as a politico that even his writing two successive books on Hegel could not tarnish his public reputation. Taylor later taught at Oxford, then McGill again, and more recently at Northwestern. Over the years his interests have shifted from analytic philosophy to the concrete political realm; he has made major contributions to the fields of human rights, multiculturalism and communitarianism. Taylor is particularly animated by the problem of Québécois nationalism, which concerns—and perhaps has determined—two of his chief sympathies: liberal democracy and multiculturalism, not just within societies but among them. Those sympathies conflict, of course. On the one hand, Taylor knows that liberal democracies are supposed to treat all people equally; on the other hand, he is sympathetic to his concitoyens’ desire for a French Quebec, an assertion of ethnic chauvinism that mandates legal privileges for one ethnic group and disabilities for another, such as the law prohibiting commercial signs in English.

more from Mark Oppenheimer at The Nation here.