Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Elshtain's "Augustine and the Limits of Politics"

Michael Sean Winters has a nice post up about Jean Bethke Elshtain's Augustine and the Limits of Politics (link), a book that I've read about often, but (mea culpa!) never read, and am now resolved to read.  Winters provides, and I'm ripping off here, some powerful quotes:

False pride, pride that turns on the presumption that we are the sole and only ground of our own being; denying our birth from the body of a woman; denying our utter dependence on her and others to nurture and tend to us; denying our continuing dependence on friends and family to sustain us; denying our dependence on our Maker to guide and to shape our destinies, here and in that life in the City of God for which Augustine so ardently yearned, is, then, the name Augustine gives to a particular form of corruption and human deformation. Pridefulness denies our multiple and manifold dependencies and would have us believe that human beings can be masters of their fates, or Masters of the Universe as currently popular super-heroes are named….Every ‘proud man heeds himself, and he who pleases himself seems great to himself. But he who pleases himself pleases a fool, for he himself is a fool when he is pleasing to himself,’ Augustine writes. . . .   

. . . We moderns tend to presuppose a free-standing individual and then to posit a state that we call sovereign. What connects the individual to the state is a series of reciprocal rights and obligations. The state in the senior partner, of course, and can, if it desires, call most of the shots. The individual can proclaim rights but also has obligations. There isn’t very much in-between. We know, of course, that there is lots of other stuff, but it goes unmentioned, untheorized, if you will.

Moving through the City of God with this myth of the individual and the state in my mind, but lodged there quite insecurely because I never quite got it – this story of the self and the state, for the world was so much denser, thicker, richer, and more complex than social contract metaphors and tales of rights and obligations allowed – I took up the distinction between the household and the polis, or the private and the public, because Aristotle had put that on the agenda explicitly and because feminists were vigorously proclaiming that the ‘private was the public,’ tout court, and that didn’t seem quite right to me either.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


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