Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Bruce Frohnen posted a thoughtful piece on the "Imaginative Conservative" blog (here), that responds to Robert George's November 16 post on the "First Things" blog, titled "No Mere Marriage of Convenience: The Unity of Economic and Social Conservatism"(here). This is an important discussion for conservative Catholics, and one that should be conducted in good faith and good will.
I have long been a student of John Paul II's thought. While he certainly did not endorse any particular conservative or liberal political agenda, I think there are some aspects of his thought that conservatives should bear in mind.
First, how we conceive of the person matters to political thought. John Paul II was famously critical of the Soviet and Fascist regrimes that he knew first hand in his youth for failing to have a capacious view of the person.
Second, Christians have typically understood the person to bear imagio dei. John Paul II understood this to mean at least this: that the person is a mystery, to others and to him and herself. This is an ontological state, not simply an epistemological one. That means that knowing more about persons does not dispell the mystery, but only deepens it. It was a modern project to reject this view of mystery.
The mystery of the divine exceeds conceptual and, John Paul II argued (as Karol Wojtyla), mental representation. The lived experience of the divine mystery exceeds thought and representation. It is apprehended as an ineffible, immediate, glorious, splendid "other" that is the source of all meaning.
In modern thought, however, mystery is excluded by presuming that meaning is exclusively found in concepts and mental representation. Kenneth Schmitz calls this the "secularizing of the interior." It denies the fragile grasp we have on understanding the divine good has been hard won lived experience, aggregated and nurtured by tradition, and passed on in various cultural forms and ritual.
Third, if the culture of life depends on the recognition of the mystery of the person, the imagio dei, as indication of the intrinsic worth of the person, then a cultural ethos that enshrines the material as ultimate will threaten human dignity. This is the danger that some see in economic conservative thought. The belief that economic efficieny and wealth production are the ultimate markers of the common good are threats to human dignity.
I think Frohnen and George agree on that much.