All posts tagged: political theology

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 …

The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals

I. A quarter century after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed liberalism “the end of history,” it is nearly impossible to avoid stumbling across rumors of its demise. With increasing populist dissent from the post-war global order, liberalism—not American left-wing politics but a combination of economic, legal, and social arrangements and their philosophical underpinnings—has received new scrutiny, especially among Catholics. Often attributed to John Locke, this system of free markets, free speech, and freedom of religion seeks to accommodate pluralism and avoid violence by focusing on procedures for getting along, rather than by legislating a vision of the good life. Although strains of liberalism differ, liberalisms typically claim to provide a neutral space for the exercise of freedom, which is construed as the highly individual project of self-creation. Among the most outspoken of liberalism’s critics are “Catholic integralists.” Although the term “integralist” has a complex history, this essay focuses on the contemporary, predominantly American variety, which alleges that liberalism’s maintenance of neutrality inevitably clashes with Catholic efforts to shape society according to Christian notions of the common good. …

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 …

Why Is Christian Citizenship a Paradox?

The French Catholic press Ad Solem in early 2015 published my book on political philosophy entitled There Is No Power But of God (Tout pouvoir vient de Dieu), which outlined a much more expansive program of research on the relationship between theology and politics that I am working on at present. In general terms, this book was framed as a reflection upon the formulation of Saint Paul in Romans 13:1. It put the common political interpretation of this passage to the test of a historical, philosophical, and theological reception, whose most prominent landmarks are to be found in the Fathers of the Church, especially in Saint Justin, Tertullian, and Saint Augustine. The major aim of this book consisted in demonstrating that this formulation does not expound a Christian political doctrine, but rather a way of conceiving Christian citizenship in light of the requirements of the universal common good. Beyond the historical insight of this book, its readers are sure to grasp its contemporary relevance at a time when so much violence is seeking religious justification. However, …

The Catechetical Political Theology of Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity is a sort of catechism; it teaches, initiates, guides. Happily enough, this is clear in its title in both German and English: Einführung in das Christentum (“Ein,” meaning “into”[1] and “Führung,” “direction, steering, stewarding”),[2] Introduction to Christianity (“intro,” meaning “into,” “duco,” “to lead, to pull”).[3] According to Ignatius Press, this fondly-regarded text “is still very timely and crucial for the spiritual needs of modern man.”[4] In other words, Ratzinger’s book is a catechetical aid, it helps us bring our contemporaries into the thoughtful, rational, and wonderful world of Christian belief, and, thereby, into the serene discipline that is Catholic theology. I do not disagree with this, but, on a close reading of his sources and life, the book is far more: it betrays itself to be a kind of theological politics. Now Pope Emeritus Benedict has effectively admitted this in his most recent preface to the text. This is how it opens, how he introduces Introduction: Since this work was first published, more than thirty years have passed, in which …

The Anti-Integralist Alasdair MacIntyre

“St Paul and St Thomas Aquinas tell us how there is always more to be hoped for in any and every situation that the empirical facts seem to show.” –Alasdair MacIntyre, “How Aristotelianism Can Become Revolutionary,” 19 Along with Charles Taylor and Jean-Luc Marion, Alasdair MacIntyre is widely recognized one of the most important Catholic philosophers still working today. He recently published another book Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that offers a restatement of his distinctive approach to neo-Aristotelian and Thomist practical philosophy. Interest has only intensified as a result of recent questions surrounding the viability and legitimacy of liberalism, questions raised by Rod Dreher, Patrick Deneen, and Adrian Vermeule, to name a few of the most prominent contributors to this debate. In this light, and not implausibly, Cyril O’Regan recently cast MacIntyre as a leading detractor of modernity, a weeper, in his programmatic essay “The ‘Gift’ of Modernity.” This characterization is not wrong but it is, in important ways, incomplete. It fails to appreciate MacIntyre’s hope, his reasoned commitment to the possibility of …

Whose Liturgy? What Sacrifice?

James K.A. Smith’s cultural liturgies project has concluded with his volume on political theology, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. In the three volumes, Smith makes an argument about the formative nature of Christian liturgical prayer. From the beginning of the project, Smith founds his liturgical theology of culture in an Augustinian anthropology: we are what we love. While secular culture has done an adept job at forming us in rites that shape our desires and imaginations (including shopping malls), Reformed Christianity has focused primarily on developing a worldview through an intellectual formation carried out in the Christian college or university. Smith argues that Christian education must turn away from an exclusive focus on the formation of the intellect to an approach grounded in liturgical practice. If we are what we love, then we need to cultivate those practices that shape the human imagination to love God and neighbor well. The first volume of the cultural liturgies project (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation) established the anthropological basis of the argument, focusing on the manner …