The more I look at different political philosophies the more I am coming to think that there are only two. One that proclaims man as God and the Other that denies that man is God.
Mark is identifying as critical to modern thought a "humanism" which replaces God with man. He criticises this humanism on the basis that it leads to a belief that we are freely self-authoring and that we not only can, but should, use this self-authoring power to create a heaven on earth:
If man is really God that means that there is no external influence upon man, we are free to choose our own destiny. We not only can create heaven on Earth, but in a sense we must, as there is no other heaven.
I find that interesting not only as it is a reasonable way to explain the emphasis liberal moderns place on human autonomy (and on a creative recasting of society), but also because I've also been thinking lately about the effect of humanism on the modern West.
I've been reading Eric Kaufmann's The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America. In the fifth chapter, Kaufmann describes the emergence of a group of Protestant and Jewish intellectuals in the late 1800s who believed that all ethnic and religious groups should contribute equally to the new melting-pot, universal culture, each one dying out in the process. Kaufmann writes:
the Liberal Progressives were believers in individual-centered Americanization (defined purely in terms of humanism) and, following University of Chicago sociologist W.I. Thomas, posited that ethnic particularity would vanish in three generations. Hull House was thus an institution of human, cosmopolitan assimilation...
Regarding two influential intellectuals representing this view, William James and Felix Adler, Kaufmann writes the following:
Cultural evolution, James noted, was an accidental process, and moral progress was a value that outweighed group survival. This reaffirmed Felix Adler's cardinal dictum that particular ethnic groups had a duty to sacrifice their corporate existence for the progress of humankind. In the case of the United States, the dominant Anglo-Saxon group had no case for preservation but instead needed to devote itself to bringing forth the new cosmopolitan humanity.
I think that one way of understanding all this is that if you replace a belief in God with a belief in Humanity, then progress will come to mean a movement away from "parochial" attachments and identities to a global, cosmopolitan "human" one. It is, after all, now "humanity" which is to be served.
How then can particular attachments be defended? To avoid the slip into "humanism" (cosmopolitanism) that I described above, you could, first, remain orthodox in your theism, so that you continued to worship God rather than Humanity (though this doesn't guarantee that a Christian won't become a universalist).
There is another possible bulwark against the slide into universalism (not one that I favour, but it needs to be stated). You could remain "prejudiced" in the sense that you held your own particular tradition in higher esteem, or as having a higher value, than other traditions. You wouldn't then, be as likely to favour pluralism; you would be more likely to favour the preservation of your own particular identity.
What's interesting is that Anglo-Saxon Protestants were "prejudiced" in this sense for much of their history. For instance, there was considerable anti-Catholic sentiment within the Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition, not just because Catholicism was foreign, but because it was held to be an authoritarian, anti-liberal creed. But this "prejudice" did not serve as much of a bulwark against cosmopolitanism in the long run, as the liberalism of American Anglo-Saxons meant that it could not be translated into public preferences (e.g. immigration restriction); it could only be held as a kind of moral persuasion (which perhaps meant that it had to be more forcefully asserted rather than less so).
It also forced Anglo-Saxon Protestants into the kind of "double consciousness" that Kaufmann writes about, in which opposing views had to be held (wanting to retain an identity but not being able to hold it as public good), which led to certain kinds of "magical thinking" (e.g. thinking "optimistically" that demographic change would not occur despite open borders).
I don't think that "prejudice" in this sense is really what is likely to create an effective bulwark against universalism - but more on that later. You can see, though, why contemporary liberals like to think of themselves as a force for tolerant pluralism against discrimination and prejudice; there was a moment of time in which a bulwark of "prejudice" did give way to a liberal vision of a tolerant pluralism - albeit a pluralism based on the dying out of longstanding, particular traditions.
Nor is it a surprise that this liberal humanism emerged amongst those radically secularising Protestant and Jewish congregations which had developed to the stage of rejecting an orthodox theism and embracing a pluralism in which each world religion was to be drawn on for its religious truths. These congregations had reached a point in which there was nothing to halt a slide into a universalistic, liberal humanism.
What might be an alternative bulwark to "prejudice"? One possibility is to defend particular identities, such as ethnic ones, on the basis that they provide a closer sense of belonging, and a deeper sense of identity, than the more abstracted humanistic one. Another is to see it as part of our nature and the natural law to identify with those we are closely related to as part of an ethnic tradition. We could also see the good embedded within the distinct cultures and character of particular ethnic groups and see this as part of an enriching diversity of human expression.
In general, what is needed though is to avoid setting up humanity itself as a replacement for God, as it is this step which then makes it moral to serve a single, global entity of "humanity" rather than the real human communities we have inherited. It is in this sense that we have to avoid humanism, as it gives us a damaging account of how we are to measure morality and progress.
Finally, it is possible that this humanism also partly explains the current of misanthropy that exists among some people today. If you set up Humanity as your god, then what happens when this god fails? What happens when it turns out that people are capable of cruelty? It is possible, that disillusion will then set in, a disillusion that would not occur to those brought up in the alternative view of man being made in the divine image but also having a fallen nature.