All posts tagged: political science

Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

I. Timothy Troutner’s Objections to Integralism Catholic integralism is the position that politics should be ordered to the common good of human life, both temporal and spiritual, and that temporal and spiritual authority ought therefore to have an ordered relation. As a consequence, it rejects modern liberal understandings of freedom. Timothy Troutner, in a recent article, strongly objects to the integralist position. Troutner argues that integralists in reacting to liberalism become liberalism’s mirror image. Liberalism, he claims, is understandable as a reaction to real errors in Christendom, and promoted, though in a distorted way, the precious Christian truths of the goodness of liberty and equality that Christendom had forgotten. In simply rejecting liberalism as a deception of the Anti-Christ, Troutner argues, integralists end up defending indefensible crimes of Christendom, and condemning important truths associated with liberalism. Integralists commit a fatal error, Troutner thinks, in attempting to attain spiritual ends by means of coercive, temporal power. In this, he suggests they play the role of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Christ in the desert …

Political Theology’s Haunting of Contemporary Politics

Erik Peterson’s Thought Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt had met as early as 1919 but became better acquainted in 1924 when Peterson took a Church History and New Testament chair at the University of Bonn. This was a period of development for Peterson’s thought and he would eventually cross the Tiber in 1930 at great personal expense. The road to Catholicism was not a short one for Peterson and his relationship with Schmitt was significant in multiple ways. They were friends who commonly shared ideas and spoke highly of each other. Not the least significant of these shared ideas was that in Peterson’s own study of the New Testament he discovered that it was rife with legal terms. Thus, according to Peterson’s astute biographer Barbra Nichtwieß, the friendship between Schmitt and Peterson led to certain parallel insights in their respective disciplines as well.[1] Both thinkers are apocalyptic, but whereas Schmitt’s apocalyptic identifies a particular political crisis and emphasizes the importance of political decision, Peterson’s focuses on the cosmic and revelatory transformation that has occurred through …

Can Schmitt’s Political Theology Be Redeemed?

A sure way to establish enduring significance as a thinker is to combine sophistication with carefully constructed ambiguity and, if necessary, outright contradiction. The odd combination of precision and ambiguity is something of a goldmine for interpretation and debate. To exponentially amplify it, the thinker just needs to be involved in some form of notoriety that makes a determinative interpretation all the more significant in order to illuminate what went wrong. One need only look at the complexity of Heidegger’s legacy to see how public and important such discussions can become. The notoriety licenses all manner of analyses—Is his or her work entirely undermined by such transgression? Does their thought lead to failure or is some contextual explanation a possible exoneration? The contrast of intellectual achievement and moral failure strikes us viscerally by touching on one of our most basic fears: that markers like high intellect and education cannot always protect against violence and hatred. Like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt is such a thinker of great sophistication, ambiguity, and notoriety. The famous German jurist and political …

Justice and Rights in Europe Today

In all the ways that I have indicated earlier in this six-part series, one can readily argue that liberalism, even Kantian liberalism, is not, after all, metaphysically agnostic. To the contrary, the other aspect to its ethical minimalism is clearly a materializing and reductive ontology. This observation therefore challenges the assumption that liberal societies are really neutral as to belief or to metaphysical assertion. Perhaps such neutrality is impossible, in which case one could argue that the public and established bias ought to run towards nobler, more “ideally realist” beliefs and affirmations, likely to be more romantically inspiring. Besides, as I have already suggested (in the long-term wake of the French romantic philosophers Maine de Biran and Félix Ravaisson), the liberal conviction, which holds that our “additions” of habits to nature are not fully natural and not objectively valuable for anything more than human preference, is not really livable, and does not actually accord with our tacit assumptions, even if we claim to be agnostic or atheist. But how might all this relate to contemporary …

Burke’s Romantic Restoration of Natural Law

This point (see: previous installment “The History of Natural Right”) was put supremely well by Edmund Burke: The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The rights of men in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes, between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.[1] Burke’s argument is that what he calls “real right” depends upon this priority of the proportionately relational and reciprocal. Thus, he is by no means denying the validity of a modern universal claim right aspect to ius, but on the contrary fully re-inscribing it (beyond the limitations of early-modern scholasticism) within a traditional and essentially Aristotelian (or even Thomistic) horizon. In this spirit he declares that if civil society fulfills human nature, “the advantages for which it is made” (in other words its objective telē) also become …

Fitting a Saddle Onto a Cow

Joseph Stalin once remarked that imposing Communism on Poland was akin to “fitting a saddle onto a cow.”[1] Władysław Gomułka, Poland’s head of the Communist party from 1956 to 1970, attempted to fit the saddle onto the cow by ushering in a period of détente with the Polish Catholic Church, offering the Church a reprieve from the more brutal suppression of the Stalinist era. Of all of the conflicts between the Church and state, a little-explicated one is the antithetical conceptualizations of power and influence at play. I intend to give a brief overview of these divergent understandings of power and how they manifested themselves in two specific incidents of power struggle between Władysław Gomułka and the Polish Church, led by the formidable Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński. Gomułka’s idea of power was material in a true Leninist fashion, though not without abstraction. Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński and the Church used material power, but understood the true power of the Church on the spiritual and moral levels. Gomułka would ultimately be outmaneuvered by a Church that held a …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

The Search for the Holy Grail of a Conservative Socialism

With the ghost of the visionary William Morris hovering somewhere in the background, The Politics of Virtue is nothing short of a brilliant, sometimes quirky, compendium of political, economic, and theological perceptions and insights. It is perhaps something only gifted artists such as John Milbank and Adrian Pabst could have produced. As a former classicist and something of a Dorothy Day Catholic, I am drawn by instinct to visions such as this. Even as I have some mental reservations. Divided into five major sections (Politics, Economy, Polity, Culture, and World), the book reads something like an extended position paper for a human-scale future utopia. Not that the authors’ two-part thesis cannot be summarized fairly quickly. First, they assert that post-Cold War notions of the end of history and the supposed universality of liberalism have been shaken by two developments: the extra-civilizational challenge of Islamism after 2001 and the intra-civilizational financial and civil breakdown after 2008. Moreover, the exposure of the role in these events of the social-cultural liberalism of the left since the 1960’s, and …