All posts tagged: Politics

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 …

An Inadvertent Critique of Scapegoating?

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! In the beginning of his speech, the just man is his own accuser. —St. Bernard Vice, Adam McKay’s spoof of Dick Cheney, is a feature-length ritual of scapegoating, America’s entertainment du jour. Let me be clear: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. First, because I enjoy feeling moral outrage, provided it is not directed at myself. Second, during the early years of the Bush-Cheney administration that the film covers, I was more preoccupied with reading every single Agatha Christie mystery than attending to policy decisions. Vice’s plot, like that of The Big Short—McKay’s other darkly educational comedy—was instructive. Yet, something in Vice’s tone is perturbing. It is not the mode of story-telling: McKay’s artistic gimmicks and fourth-wall-breaking create an aptly absurd arena for his faux-Machiavellian tale of Cheney’s rise to power. The cast, particularly Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, impersonate the public figures of Vice with great gusto. Christian Bale seems to really enjoy sinking into a silicone mummy and rolling around halls of power …

After Failing the Covington Catholic Test

Like many others, I failed the Covington Catholic test. I let myself be manipulated (apparently at the hands of anonymous internet bots operating with precise coordination to unleash maximum mayhem) by the original video and castigated these boys without pausing to think about whether there might be more to the story. I was all ready to pitch an op-ed calling out the March for Life’s cozying up the “Make America Great Again” crowd—when, much to my surprise, more videos were released that caused me to revisit what I thought I had just seen. These boys, though not 100% innocent, were far from the villains in the affair. The rush to publicly ruin their lives, and even threaten their school with violence, was absolutely sickening. But even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, many simply could not let go of the original narrative and went looking for more evidence in support of it. They were partially successful. In response to a Native American’s claim that whites stole their land, a boy who attended the March …

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 …