Friday, October 7, 2011

Elshtain - Augustine and the Limits of Politics

 Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Augustine and the Limits of Politics. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995.

Well, I've finally given out this blog to my fellow grads. Why not keep updating it with crummy, lazy reviews?

Read For - ELQ's seminar on The Self

Elshtain and Augustine...sittin' in a tree... Each chapter takes on a different element of Augustine:

Chapter 2: The Earthly City and Its Discontents: An analysis of Augustine's thoughts on social institutions: politics, the city, the family/household, and marriage.
Chapter 3: Against the Pridefulness of Philosophy: "...pride that turns on the presumption that we are the sole and only ground of our own being...[is] the name Augustine gives to a particular form of corruption and human deformation." (50) Augustine understands humans in relation to each other as he grapples with how we can gain knowledge of the mind, self, world, and God. Science is no threat to Augustine: "Whatever can be explained [by natural science] let it be so." (57)
Chapter 4: Augustine's Evil, Arendt's Eichmann: My favorite chapter. "There is, Arendt concludes, a strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil." (74) Elshtain discusses Arendt's description of the "banality of evil" in terms of Augustine's rejection of the Manichean theory that evil is a substance all around us that pollutes us and causes us to do evil.(81) (By the same token, neither is God a substance all around us). Rather, Augustine and Arendt agree that this conception of evil displaces guilt; instead, the lesson of the Nazi Eichmann and Nazism in general should be that we all have the free will to do good or evil. Nazism was a horrible political machine, but as powerful as it was, people still had the options to resist, do nothing, or go along. Nature itself cannot be evil, because it was created by God.
Chapter 5: "Our business within this common mortal life": Augustine and a Politics of Limits:
Elshtain reiterates her main themes, returning to social relations touched on in chapter 2. Augustinian love is central to an ideal society, and worth requoting here:
"Love, then, is not expended like money...for when money is received, it is so much gain to the recipient but so much loss to the donor; love, on the other hand, is not only augmented in the man who demands it back from the person he loves, even when he does not receive it, but the person who returns it actually begins to possess it only when he pays it back." (quoted and discussed 89-90)
This echoes Plotinus, "On Love."

Other Quotes
p.66 Dennis Martin quote: “at the heart of ancient Christian theory one finds the theme of limitless gift, even to the point of God suffering death by powerlessness (crucifixion), a concept dramatically and ubiquitously symbolized by the crucifix at a level even the simplest mind could grasp, this might have been particularly significant in a culture in which giving and receiving gifts shaped social, political, and economic dynamics.”

p.97 Love as the tie that binds societies together
"This is where love comes in-love of God and love of neighbor-and this is where justice enters as well. Augustine's alternative definition starts with love. 'A people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love.' It 'follows that to observe the character of a particular people we must examine the objects of its love.' No single man can create a commonwealth. There is no ur-Founder, no great bringer of order. It begins in ties of fellowship, in households, clans, and tribes, in earthly love and its many discontents. And it begins in an ontology of peace, not war."
Just war: made out of a desire for peace in our own homes.

I can see why ELQ would assign this. In many ways, it reaches back to Augustine to offer solutions of faith to the problems raised by Phillip Rieff.

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