Plato’s Ghost

“There have been five universalist cultures in the history of the West: the Alexandrian empire, ancient Rome, medieval Christianity and Islam, and the Enlightenment. Jews suffered under all five. What is particularly significant is that three – Greece, Rome and the Enlightenment – prided themselves on their tolerance. Like certain forms of tolerance today (‘political correctness’ comes to mind), it turned out to be highly circumscribed. Antiochus IV banned the public practice of Judaism. The Romans destroyed the Temple. The Enlightenment failed to prevent the Holocaust. What turned out to be the source of intolerance was not religion as such – three of the five civilisations were, after all, not religious. Rather, it was universalism or what I have called ‘Plato’s ghost.’ The critical test of any order is: does it make space for otherness? Does it acknowledge the dignity of difference?”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 53