All posts tagged: Politics

The History of Natural Right

Given this revisionary account of the development of natural law (click for previous instalment in this series) in western intellectual history, how does it relate to the story of natural rights? In the case of Aquinas, as with many other medieval theologians, and the canon law itself, the Christian exaltation of individual uniqueness and liberty led to a greater recognition of subjective rights in the sense of both claim and exercise rights than had previously been the case. However, the claims generally remained claims upon others to exercise their more primary duties, while exercise rights were attached to social roles whose duties were derived from justice as distribution.[1] Later, in the 16th century, in the case of both Catholic and Calvinist thought, there was a greater development of the idea of “rights” as attaching to human beings as such, especially with respect to life, freedom and ownership. Thus for example, Suarez no longer, like Aquinas, defined ius as id quod iustum est, or as the equitable, but as “a kind of facultas which every man …

When the State Kills

Going through old albums can really pull you into a remembrance of things past. For instance, when I came across my old Metallica album, Ride the Lightning, it took me back to a time when we unironically used Polaroid cameras, watched time-travel movies on VHS in which 2015 was considered the very distant future, and—as indicated in the album’s title—the state still killed people with electric chairs. Ancient history, right? Except that we killed a man in Tennessee via electric chair just last month. Tennessee only allows those convicted of a capital crime before 1999 to choose the electric chair, but Edmund Zagorski elected to be killed in this way because of what we are now learning about death by lethal injection—the strong possibility that it causes “immense pain and suffering.” Perhaps he had also heard about the lethal injection of Jack Jones who was “coughing, convulsing, lurching, [and] jerking” during his botched execution. Indeed, just weeks after Zagorski, a second Tennessee death row inmate requested the electric chair. These are remarkable choices, especially because some botched executions by electric chair have resulted in the …

The Political Pawning of Saints

It is fitting that Pope Francis canonized Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Óscar Romero together. Although through the eyes of United States politics Romero is often labeled a “liberal” and Paul VI pegged as a “conservative,” Francis’s canonization of these significant figures at the same Mass is no cheap compromise, no attempt at constructing a “big tent” Church. Francis has no delusions of tossing each saint to “conservatives” and “liberals” in the hopes that this will magically resolve tensions and divisions in the Church. Instead, Pope Francis is letting the Communion of Saints powerfully reveal the unity of the Catholic Church. The genuine holiness of Paul VI and of Romero demonstrates that the Church is, as the Nicene Creed proclaims, “one.” Long before Giovanni Montini became pope and Óscar Romero became archbishop, their lives intertwined. Montini served as a professor and mentor to Romero while the latter completed seminary studies in Rome. After Montini became Paul VI, he appointed Romero as archbishop of San Salvador and encouraged him in his work. Romero frequently cited Paul …

Newman’s Strategic Reassembly of Secular Trends

“Newman’s mind always pushed against the edges of knowledge,” says Owen Chadwick.[1] Newman is rarely an easy read and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is maybe his most dense work. But Newman’s rhetorical, philosophical, and personal complexity pushes his readers to push against the edges of their own knowledge of Newman, his world, and the world as a whole. By identifying faith as a form of reason, Grammar of Assent reflects the European renegotiation of the relationship between Church and state occurring in Newman’s day. We will first examine the book’s context and arguments, then its implications, and then its influence beyond the 19th century. Newman attends to the political order as a “grammar” of interrelated parts. We will conclude with an analysis of Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light” in light of Grammar of Assent, and in contrast with Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” the paradigmatic poem of British modernity. In 1851, six years after entering the Roman Catholic Church, Newman wrote that he had been considering writing a “philosophical polemic” for …

Charles Péguy’s Difficult Hope

Charles Péguy died with a bullet through the head on September 5, 1914. The First World War was but a few months old. Péguy is impossible to really characterize. He has a way of defying summarization, and so too do his poems. There is much too much between the lines, in the meandering prose, in the life. He was French, born of peasants in Orléans in 1873, and he considered himself a child of the Republic that had lurched into existence somehow in the 19th century after a couple turns at empire and emperor. He was convinced that his generation was the last of the real republicans, whom he traced backward with an impracticable, zigzagging line from 1848 to 1830 to the first breath of the first revolution.[1] Péguy can be understood, insists on being understood, by knowing something of the Dreyfus Affair. He bound himself to the event tightly and inexorably, and refused to relinquish it.[2] One Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the military, was convicted of treason and thrown in jail for life …

Derrida, Politics, and the Little Way

So this is a permanent Stimmung: I am a prophet without a prophecy, a prophet without being a prophet. —Jacques Derrida[1] Christianity has embraced the apophatic, and perhaps even deconstructive, since its inception.[2] But the place of the apophatic in Christianity is rather difficult to discern as it introduces something of a free radical. Does the apophatic relativize all discourse about God or just check some of it? Does the Word of God prescribe a certain manner of speaking and of silence? How does this deferral to mystery correlate with philosophy? For the past century there has been a growing awareness of how philosophy, whether in its idealist and/or political forms (insofar as these can be separated), has appropriated and mimicked Christian discourse. The philosophy of Jacques Derrida operates uniquely in this regard for here is someone who works similarly to certain expressions of apophatic theology even as Derrida disavows being an apophatic theologian. But what does it mean for Derrida the philosopher to continually perform contradiction and confusion in texts? If Derrida attempts to …

Reading the News as a Spiritual Exercise

We know there is a problem with the way we disseminate, consume, and respond to the news. We also generally share some sense of where the problem lies. It has something to do with a complex interaction of factors like the structure of digital media, the industries that support those technologies, and our cultural, economic, and political climate. Somehow those factors both foster and are fostered by trends such as narrowing echo chambers, a fractured accountability to diverse publics, comments that fail to respect and engage others, decreasing attention spans, and the exhaustion and despair that fester before the parade of emergencies that counts our days and disciplines our emotions like a liturgical calendar. Something is wrong with how we pursue the truth together in a digital society. Reasonable suggestions for how to address this problem generally come in two flavors. The first approach emphasizes the structure of our news technologies and the corporations that develop and profit from them. We must fix Google, Facebook, and Twitter through legislation and consumer pressure. The second approach …

What Does It Really Mean to Speak of the Right to Life?

Despite a court order to return them, hundreds of undocumented immigrant children still find themselves separated from their parents and living in US detention facilities. The psychological and even physical effects of such traumatic and unexpected separation are not difficult to imagine. Some children have been victims of sexual abuse—and at least one has died shortly after being in US custody. These children clearly find themselves in this terrible situation through no fault of their own. The Trump administration specifically choose to inflict this harm on them as a means of deterring both illegal immigration and asylum claims. They were used as pawns in a political war over immigration policy. This deterrence was designed to impact both the choices of possible future immigrants, but also the parents who were already here—many of whom were claiming asylum from extremely violent situations back home. Indeed, sometimes the children leave because they themselves have been marked for death. It is also worth nothing that this violence has deep ties to US American consumer practices and foreign policies—particularly our current lust for drugs and our neo-colonial practices during …

Justice Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh, and Our Two Supreme Courts

As many people now know, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton insisted, in one of his famous essays urging his fellow New Yorkers to embrace the proposed Constitution of the United States, that the Supreme Court “is beyond comparison the weakest” of the national government’s three branches. After all, the other two branches “dispense[] the honors,” “hold[] the sword,” “command[] the purse,” and “prescribe[] the rules.” But the Supreme Court? It has “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment” and is, therefore, the government’s “least dangerous branch.” Things have changed. For a variety of reasons—including the “rights revolution” of the 1960’s and Congress’s inability, or unwillingness, to legislate—the Court’s role in the country’s policies, politics, culture, and imagination has ballooned. Every summer, as the Court’s term comes to an end and the high-profile, hot-button decisions are released, judicial junkies are glued to their screens and the SCOTUSblog website like MCU fans waiting for the new Avengers trailer to drop. Each new much-anticipated, 5-4 ruling prompts howls and hosannas, grim pronouncements that doom is near and …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …