Sunday, August 28, 2011
"The Art of Theory," A student-run political theory journal at Yale, publishes "Convienent, short" essays (their ideal is Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" which is about 2500 words). In their current issue they have a brief piece by Patrick Riley on the ideal of justice as universal charity. Riley points out that this approach to thinking about justice has its roots in Christian neo-Platonism, but was eclipsed by Enlightenment thinkers, notably Hume and Kant.
Riley's focus is on Leibniz, drawing out the connections not only to Augustine, but to an important and enduring tradition of jurisprudence. He writes:
Leibniz did not write in vain when he insisted that the just person will be “wisely loving” and universally benevolent: in that he eloquently re-stated a tradition founded by Plato, Cicero, St. John, the young Augustine, and Dante and agreed with what is best in his Christian-Platonist contemporaries Pascal, Malebranche, and Fénelon. But he also looked forward: “[I]n the world of justice and love . . . . [l]et us never subordinate to a duty which is abstruse, remote and uncertain, an explicit and immediate duty to deal justly and to love mercy.” That is Marcel Proust, writing in 1900 in a language at once neo-Leibnizian and proto-Freudian.† The continuity between Plato and Proust, in making caritas and philia “wise” through sentiments de perfection and affection, places Leibniz on an infinitely graded continuum, which stretches spatially from Athens to Rome to Hannover to Proust’s Paris and to Freud’s Vienna, and temporally from the death of Socrates to the end-of-life triumph of Freud over cruelty and malevolentia.