Naturally I appreciate the kind and intelligent attention to my ideas from Peter Lawler, Richard Reinsch, and Carl Scott. (I would not be dismayed in the unlikely event that the term “Ralphism” caught on, though I might have suggested a term more along the lines of “the Hancockian wisdom.” But be that as it may…) Anyway, I think the present focus on my concern for what Tocqueville calls “moral analogy” (indeed a lynchpin of my book), my friends risk exaggerating my … “classicism.” I use Tocqueville’s alarm at the loss of moral analogy to evoke the necessity of a classical (& Straussian) moment in our reflection on the meaning of reason. But I am clear that this moment is not adequate, that the analogy between the city and the soul, or the soul’s interpretation of its own meaning by reference to the city’s hierarchy cannot withstand the Christian and subsequent modern critiques.
So, to redress the balance in the interpretion of … OK, “Ralphism,” let me share just a few condensed statements, from my book, of my approach. And again, thanks to all for your attention to my arguments. I hope this provides the occasion for some further discussion:
[Augustine’s] radicalization of Platonic dualism liberates the soul from human hierarchy and thus necessarily puts moral analogy, the bond between the spiritual and the practical, at grave risk.
… The minimal truth that Biblical revelation reveals is that philosophers have no exclusive claim to a sense of the limits and inadequacy of even the most comprehensive goods available within the human city, or, as Christians will say, within the cities of “this world.” Without presupposing the perfection of their rational natures, humans are capable of an awareness of their mysterious otherness from the conventions and implicit understandings that are the medium of our political existence, from the world organized by human power and human reason. Human beings are “fallen;” even, or perhaps especially if they are not philosophers, they can somehow sense that their true home is elsewhere. Nietzsche will ridicule Christianity as “Platonism for the people,” but already Augustine advances the claim that the people have a right to, so to speak their Platonism—that is, to their sense of transcendence or otherness, of having a home beyond any earthly city or “culture,” and this apart from any specifically philosophical claim.
A moment’s reflection will make it clear that this universalization of the awareness of a possible transcendence irreversibly complicates the task of political philosophy. Man’s perfection and fulfillment are no longer available to him as a simply natural being, and so the philosopher’s claim of natural right is profoundly problematic. And yet the political character of the human condition remains: in the absence of an authoritative and comprehensive Law determining human affairs, men must somehow reason together regarding the authoritative terms of their lives in community, or else abandon themselves to sheer accident and force. But how will they reason when they cannot claim competence regarding final purposes?
… This truth is that human beings will always be driven to some degree and in some way by an awareness of their mysterious transcendence of every concretely representable or publicly determinate good. Augustine was right: no classical philosophical image of human perfection as culminating in the serene autonomy of the philosopher himself can contain or govern the longings of the human soul for some other kind of home. The rule of reason cannot be direct, but must honor the problematic articulations of transcendence generated in man’s practical existence, religious, familial, and political. For reason to assume any constructive responsibility among a humanity addicted to the flattery of “human rights,” to the unprecedented power over nature resulting from the coupling of universal material incentives with a negative spirituality or idealism, it will have to learn to show the connections between the indefinable freedom of the human spirit and the humbler necessities of our natures as beings dependent upon family, community, and polity. But to do this, to take responsibility for some “moral analogy” connecting our theoretical freedom with our practical belonging, reason would first have somehow to learn to see its own goodness in the light of a transcendence it can never adequately name.
[And from the conclusion:] The irreversible Western inheritance of an Eternity not indifferent to Time no doubt implies a more elusive, if arguably also richer and dynamic, sense of the meaning of human existence than can be contained in the classical ruling idea of reason. It therefore also implies a more hazardous horizon for practical reason, in effect a resignation to the impossibility of containing the soul’s longings within a specific, substantive understanding of the nobility of the good. The illusion of the simple superiority of “theory” to “practice” (or vice versa) cannot be sustained, and the circulation of meaning between these poles must be accepted and assumed into the very self-understanding of reason. … Practical wisdom today must be attuned to the truth of the fundamental aporia that is the deep spring of Western dynamism, the aporia defined by the alternatives of, on the one hand, a horizon of knowable goodness above ordinary human concerns and, on the other, by the Christian and revolutionary promise of the regeneration of all humanity. Whether such an attunement is possible without respect for or perhaps even faith in a personal Divinity in whose love vertical and horizontal transcendence are thought to achieve their only true synthesis – this is the question I must further ponder, and on which I invite the reader’s assistance.