Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kahn on martyrdom's threat to the state

From Paul Kahn's "Putting Liberalism in Its Place" (link): 

The Western state actually exists under the very real
threat of Christian martyrdom:  a threat
to expose the state and its claim to power as nothing at all.  In the end, sacrifice is always stronger than
murder.  The martyr wields a power to
defeat his murderer, which cannot be answered on the field of battle.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


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Is this an coincidence or related to Peter Leithart's quoting this at First Things?

Posted by: Pensans | Mar 4, 2013 2:48:57 AM

Pensans -- Definitely related! I read it in FT, and wrote it down to save . . .

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 4, 2013 8:11:14 AM

Erik Peterson makes a related point about the tension between martyrdom and liberalism. He argues that since martyrdom is never a result of simple misunderstanding,that since martyrdom is necessary, we cannot conceive of a Christian's relation to any state simply in rational terms. The well-grounded rational state, though arising through every available form of mutual understanding, nevertheless needs witness that displays the greater power of the Kingdom of Heaven over the lesser power of the kingdoms of man. This witnessing is unavoidably necessary for human rulers to understand themselves.

Posted by: Pensans | Mar 7, 2013 2:49:02 AM

Kantian Liberalism, insofar as we may conceive of it as a capable of providing a (metaphysical and moral) "foundation" for the State, recognizes that an individual's life may need to be sacrificed, for life itself is not the highest value for Kant and we are embodiments of intrinsic and transcendent value--humanity in our persons--and thus "If a man can preserve his life in no other way than by dishonoring his humanity, he ought rather to sacrifice it." This does not reveal the State's power "as nothing at all," but rather that insofar as the legal order of the State is founded on a few ('thin') metaphysical principles and several Kantian moral principles it serves our personhood and respects the "inviolable holiness" of humanity. Admittedly, most forms of existing Liberalism are not Kantian in this sense, but we could certainly construct a Kantian defense of the State that need not be religious, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, one that demonstrates that Liberalism is decidedly NOT "blind to sacrifice."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Mar 11, 2013 2:25:53 AM