Meanwhile, in the Aftermath: The Groundwork for Disenchantment in Augustine

The following is a fairly accurate transcript of a talk I gave at a conference organized by the Pappas Patristics Institute at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in early March of this year (2017). I was flattered that nearly all of the attendees at my session skipped the following session to extend the Q&A time by nearly an hour. I am grateful to my respondent for his helpful feedback, and to those who attended my presentation for their stimulating questions. 

I am still reading through the primary and secondary literature to evaluate responsibly the assertions I made in that talk. Some of my work to dig into the primary and secondary literature shall appear here on Into the Clarities, as four of them are nearing completion (although “approaching completion” is a condition that can, in my excessive caution, fall prey to Zeno’s paradox).

Hurriedly preparing for this conference paper, and especially reading voraciously in the wake of delivering this paper (to weigh its merits), has likely been the primary reason for my relative silence here at Into the Clarities for many months now (and the reason I had to halt work on the second Ullmann post).

During the conference, I frequently went off-page on a tear to clarify points when I’d made marginal notes to myself that I should do so — I had a stack of books by Augustine and Weber and Midgley with me, and read from several excerpts and discussed these relative to the points I was making. Here below, I have made a small attempt at inserting sentences to give at least some stubs for those mini-digressions and clarifications.

Here is something close to the talk I delivered.

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Excerpt #11 — Plato’s “Ship Of State”

No matter how well-intentioned, public speech from candidates on the campaign trail –or elected officials who are already in office– cannot ever be entirely sincere, but is something between being either a technology entirely for the purpose of securing political power (an anecdotal exhibit B of this here) or else is in some sense caught up into the gravity well of such a game, no matter how honest and authentic the politicians wish to be. (Even the honesty and “authenticity” of any given politician, insofar as these makes such a candidate attractive to an electing populace, become tools, instruments, means to gain power as soon as they enter into the political game. [1] Anyone watching recent popular TV shows recognizes this.) The game holds sway over what can and must be said in order to be successful, for success means persuasion and even domination according to the rules of the game, rather than the communication of truth. For Plato’s Socrates, however, true speech is not about control.

For Socrates, a philosopher should be always concerned with truth. Those who are interested in power are at a distance from this ideal, for they cannot be entirely so interested in truth: their pursuit of political office means that, to the degree that they as politicians are interested in truth, it must aid in their acquisition of, or retention of, power. Within a democratic polity, a principled and consistent concern with truth on the part of those in power will, at least at times, fight against the interests of those who are in power. Continue reading

The Flags of the Dead and the Promise of the Future, Part 2 of 5

Continued from Part One.
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The Flags of the Dead and the Promise of the Future, Part 1 of 5

Among other component parts, the Modern world is irreversibly marked by the heritage of the Enlightenment; this Enlightenment strain inclines people and cultures to a very fraught relationship with the accumulated goods of their own history. What is the relationship between these accumulated goods, goods that have roots, as well as a people’s having roots, and the kind of forward-looking freedom and rationality that our Enlightenment inheritance champions and promises? I love the Liberal project, and I love my several heritages, but the two, it must be admitted, live in a kind of tension. 

It could be argued that part of the reason why America is a bastion of the Liberal project is because it is not located geographically in a place where ancestral identities call from the earth to stifle it;  even without this, we are not always clear about how to engage with, or remember, events that we all share, such as September 11. 

It saddens me that there are symptoms of people flirting with abandoning the Liberal project. Consumerist formation leaves us unfit to the task of negotiating a common identity that is not pre-packaged by others, certainly. More than this, the seeming escalation of terrorism (the most violent imposition of ancestral identity) and the amplification of xenophobia (the fear-driven in-group trend by which people huddle with some ethnos or heritage for comfort instead of negotiate shared identity) hammer at many Liberal polities at the moment. Quite alarmingly, some major figures have said that democracy is merely a train that one takes until one arrives at one’s destination, at which point one exits. The reader should find such comments frightening. Ergo, this post seemed to be warranted, for what little it’s worth.

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Excerpt #7 — Dean Hammer on Cicero on the Res Publica

We use the word “Republic” for a number of things in modern American English — to designate a kind of political system (i.e., a Republican form of government), to designate a U.S. political party (vi&, the Republican Party) — we even use it in our collective mythologies to positively describe fictional periods of bliss (e.g., Star Wars, where the good Republic gives way to the evil Empire).

The English word comes from two Latin words: Res publica. It might be rendered into English as “a thing of (or belonging to) the people”, but even with this clunky phrase, the meaning of the Latin “does not translate easily”. [1]  Continue reading