The term “humanism” has a fairly long history. Most Westerners would describe modern humanism as that philosophy born first in the European Renaissance, and which then found its teeth in the European Enlightenment. Of course, both of those periods might be better understood as the birth place of reason, science and atheism, rather than humanism.
In 1933, the first of several “humanist manifestos” were written, and here is where science advocacy, reason and atheism were combined by some to form an “ethical, philosophical life stance.” Although this life stance affirms the non-theist, human-centered, naturalism of the Enlightenment, it also calls for a free and universal society, a cooperative economic system and a participatory democracy, and the breaking down of artificial barriers to freedom such as racism, sexism, classism and other forms of separatist ideologies.
The so-called “new” humanism was first articulated in Latin America by Mario Rodriguez Cobos (pen name, Silo), and while his interpretation of humanism also respects science and reason, it is far more centered around humanism’s sociopolitical ideology than naturalism or religious critique. In fact, the “new” humanism is not closed to religious people, as some secular humanists are, because they realize the only way toward a humanist future society is by welcoming non-fundamentalist religionists into the fight. As various humanist writers and political scientists have argued, not to do so is to isolate humanism as a fringe movement in this still quite religious world.
So, while traditional humanists spend a great deal of time arguing for church and state separation, a non-religious worldview, and so-called “liberal democracy” – despite the far more radical implications of the humanist manifestos I and II – the “new” humanists are more concerned with the problems arising from neoliberal capitalist globalization; they articulate about replacing formal democracy with real democracy; and they are most concerned in moving toward a ethos of active non-violence.
Indeed, if traditional humanism calls for ‘a free and universal society, a cooperative economic system and participatory democracy, and the breaking down of artificial barriers …such as racism, sexism, classism and other forms of separatist ideologies’, then these “new” humanists have found ways to move from manifestos to the real world. Some traditional humanists might be skeptical of their underlying philosophy and attitude toward naturalism, but the ‘new’ humanists might have something to teach the rest of us about how to get to the humanist future all humanists advocate for.