First Things RSS Feed - Glenn Tinder
en-usCopyright 2016 First Things. All Rights Reserved.email@example.com (The Editors)firstname.lastname@example.org (The Editors)Tue, 25 Oct 2016 02:45:27 -0400https://d25wp47b6tla3u.cloudfront.net/img/favicon-196.pngFirst Things RSS Feed Image
60A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.https://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/10/a-stone-of-hope-prophetic-religion-and-the-death-of-jim-crow
Fri, 01 Oct 2004 00:00:00 -0400 In his “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. called on his followers to hew “a stone of hope” from “a mountain of despair.” David Chappells
A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow
is about the faith that enabled this to happen, and his main thesis is simply that the civil rights movement could not have succeeded without the solidarity and self-sacrificial spirit that came from Christian faith. Religion turned out to be not the opiate of the people but the spark of revolution. The author goes so far as to argue that the civil rights movement was not primarily a social and political event with religious overtones. It was, rather, a religious event with significant social and political consequences. Thus civil rights gatherings often had the atmosphere of religious revivals. Moreover, King was widely regarded among his followers as something more than a political and religious leader. He was a messiah. The author sums up the hope that moved King and his followers with the adjective “prophetic.”
Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Orderhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2002/12/eric-voegelin-the-restoration-of-order
Sun, 01 Dec 2002 00:00:00 -0500First, the basics: born in Germany in 1901, Eric Voegelin received a doctorate in political science from the University of Vienna, carried on several years of postdoctoral study in England, America, and France, and hem took up an academic career in Austria. He drew the hostility of the Nazis with two early works on race, and in 1938 he fled to America, where he taught for many years, mainly at Louisiana State University. He ended his professional career at the Hoover Institution and died in 1985.
]]>Justice Among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peacehttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/02/justice-among-nations-on-the-moral-basis-of-power-and-peace
Tue, 01 Feb 2000 00:00:00 -0500 Makers of American foreign policy today are experiencing a philosophical dearth, a want of broad principles of governmental conduct in world affairs. This is due primarily to the new power relationships created by the collapse of the Soviet Union. No longer is politics among nations structured by the dramatically simple confrontation of two superpowers. The world has always contained more complexities than the bare concept of bipolarity adequately explained, but suddenly the complexities, now set loose from any clear framework of interpretation, seem to be crowding in upon us. In these circumstances,
Justice Among Nations—
dealing, as the subtitle indicates, with “the moral basis of power and peace”—is very much to the point.
]]>What Can We Reasonably Hope For?https://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/01/what-can-we-reasonably-hope-for-28
Sat, 01 Jan 2000 00:00:00 -0500 Our clear awareness that there are many different ways of looking at the world, and at man and his place in the world, is one of the most troubling circumstances of our time, and it is sure to endure well into, if not throughout, the third millennium of the Christian era. It is troubling simply because it makes it hard to think that ones own particular way of looking at things is altogether true. The idea that there are numerous and conflicting truths, or, to put the same idea in other words, that there are numerous and conflicting illusions”all shaped mainly by the historical situations of those clinging to them”is, for many people, nearly irresistible.
Manifestly, present cultural diversities, which not only appear on a global scale but encounter one another within single societies, must on the whole be tolerated. But tolerance easily becomes acquiescence in the submergence of truth into a shifting variety of opinions and impressions. To those with a merely sentimental attachment to a culture or group, tolerance of that sort may be acceptable. It cannot be acceptable to followers of the God of Israel, however, and Christians and Jews are challenged, as they enter the new millennium, to develop an attitude toward the religious and cultural confusions surrounding them that is tolerant, yet, in refusing any dalliance with relativism, is distinct from traditional tolerance. To mark the distinction I shall call this attitude “forbearance.”
The nature of forbearance can be understood in terms of three principles, all drawn from St. Paul. The first, eloquently described in 1 Corinthians 13, is charity, or, to accentuate the aspect of charity that concerns us mainly, neighborly love. Our neighbors today, in a world of instant communication, swift travel, and extensive emigration, are Muslims, Buddhists, Confucianists, and Hindus, as well as Marxists, Freudians, and innumerable other kinds of agnostics and atheists. Ignoring them would not express neighborly love, but neither would trying to force them all to think, feel, and live as we do. The only charitable relationship to them is one formed by attentiveness, which is a readiness to listen in a genuine effort at understanding, and a readiness to speak truthfully, persuasively, and even, in proper times and places, evangelically. In short, neighborly love amid diverse faiths means communality, or dialogical patience.
Such is one mark of forbearance. Yet the God of Israel did not call his people into communality with the Canaanites. In view of Gods “jealousy””a divine characteristic stressed about as forcefully in the Bible as are righteousness and mercy”how can communality, on the part of believers, be justified?
The answer may lie in a second Pauline principle defining forbearance. This is found in chapter 11 of the letter to the Romans, where the apostle grapples with one of the most distressing facts of his life: that most of his fellow Jews rejected Christ. Such “diversity” did not shake his faith, but it tried him sorely. The insight which quieted his concern”that the recalcitrance of the Jews was part of a divine strategy of redemption, encompassing Jews and Gentiles alike”seems to me of utmost significance for people struggling toward truth amid a multiplicity of creeds. It tells us that such a multiplicity is not accidental. It is set in the context of what Augustine calls “the beauty of the ages””that is, the providential form of all historical time”and its ultimate consequence will be clarification. It has a place in the process of divine instruction that is fashioning the human race into a perfect and enduring community, the kingdom of God. Accordingly, the jealousy of God does not command intellectual tyranny but a heedful and articulate fidelity to His word, a truth not vulnerable to the doubts and perplexities inherent in human culture.
Forbearance cannot be understood, however, wholly in terms of a general rule of conduct like communality, or of universal human destiny. It needs to be sharply focused on the life of every individual. This is made clear in a third Pauline principle, the doctrine of election. The beauty of the ages is a drama in which every person is given a distinctive part. Every part is played by caring in ones own assigned way for the truth. Election is often thought of as ordination to salvation, and of course it is. But it carries responsibilities, and these decisively affect the situation of the elect. Not only are they, so to speak, given custody of the truth; if they fail to meet their responsibilities they may, at least for a time, be cast aside. Such occurrences belong to what Paul refers to as Gods “unsearchable judgments” and “inscrutable ways” (Romans 11:33).
Hence there is no room for pride or complacency. One may be sure of possessing the truth”but only in a mood of fear and trembling. Nor is there room for contempt toward those still in darkness, for rejection is no more an inalterable determination than election is. Illustrative of the meaning of forbearance, given a fully nuanced consciousness of election, is Pauls anguished love and inextinguishable hope for his Jewish brethren. Certitude, humility, and charity are perfectly reconciled.
the discord of minds and hearts occasioned by our fallen state. (Since the word “tolerance” derives from
, meaning to bear, forbearance may be seen as tolerance in its precise signification.) Given the complex obligations it imposes”embracing doctrinal and cultural opponents in a spirit of communal readiness, enduring diversity as mysteriously integral to the divine work of redemption, and discerning and meeting distinctive responsibilities for the care of truth”forbearance is demanding and severe. It must therefore be an art. Like any art, however, it does not only involve difficulty and labor; it can bring peace and happiness. Thus Paul ends his agonizing reflections on the Jewish rejection of Christ with an exultant exclamation””O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!””which breaks out when he realizes the providential power with which God will enlist every intellectual and spiritual disorder in the cause of truth (Romans 11:33). In an era that says to us every day, “There is no Truth,” the art of forbearance might at least help us resist the temptations of relativism. And it might even help us enter with joy into a destiny that will finally show forth the Truth in such plainness and splendor that no one who has ever lived will be able to misunderstand or ignore it.
Glenn Tinder is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and author of
The Political Meaning of Christianity.
]]>Living in Two Cities: Augustinian Trajectories in Political Thoughthttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/05/living-in-two-cities-augustinian-trajectories-in-political-thought
Sat, 01 May 1999 00:00:00 -0400 Augustine is a thinker for all seasons and all times in the portrait that emerges from Eugene TeSelles
Living in Two Cities
. TeSelle is intimately familiar with the historical environment that Augustine inhabited and with great sensitivity examines ancient understandings of the city in order to illuminate Augustines master concept of the two cities. More important to TeSelle than showing Augustines relations with the ideas and realities of his own time, however, is the aim of uncovering his relations with our own time. Hence his subtitle: he wants to bring to light Augustines relevance for later ages, particularly the age we are living through today.
Two Augustinian themes, as developed by TeSelle, will prove illuminating for most readers. One is that of man as a sojourner. The idea of course is commonplace in Christian literature, but TeSelle puts it to notably good use in discussing Augustine. He explores carefully the differences, in the eyes of antiquity, between a sojourner and an alien. To simplify drastically, a sojourner is more at home than an alien, yet not fully and finally so. The sojourner is a traveler, the alien an utter stranger. The distinction is useful, for it serves to characterize Augustines sense of the human condition without exaggerating his pessimism. We do not really belong in even the best of earthly cities, yet not everything on earth is strange to us. We are not fitted for fulfillment through earthly citizenship, and thus are not political animals, in Aristotles sense of the term. But nowhere in Gods universe are we simply aliens.
The other theme worthy of note is that of peace. TeSelle sees the three main standards of collective existence, in Augustine, as love, justice, and peace. The latter is of far more interest to TeSelle than the former two, and this, I think, is because the Augustine of love and justice, while perhaps sublime, can seem distant and severe, whereas the Augustine of peace fits more easily into our own eclectic and undemanding times. Peace, to speak more summarily than TeSelle allows himself to speak, is a state of affairs that is far from ideal yet serves an essential earthly purpose, that of allowing members of the two cities to share a common life. Moreover, the standard of peace implicitly recognizes the range and diversity of values. Peace was important to Augustine not only because it was necessary in order that Christians might carry on Christian worship. It was important also because it allowed for the pursuit of various finite goods”goods other than God, yet still good in all their finitude and transiency, and indeed in all their ambiguity. The ideal of peace has a humane breadth. In his desire for peace, Augustine is for almost anyone today a sympathetic and understandable thinker.
The pages devoted to these themes are probing and subtle, and based on deep learning. TeSelle is careful to obscure nothing through hasty judgments, and no one, however thoroughly versed in Augustinian literature, is likely to read these pages without profit. Serious dangers, however, are inherent in TeSelles approach, and these must be discussed with some care in order to take a proper measure of
Living in Two Cities.
One of these dangers is that of insufficient definition. If a great deal of attention is given to the trajectories of a political philosophy, the outlines of the political philosophy itself may come to be blurred. The Augustine who emerges from
Living In Two Cities,
it must be said, is rather shadowy. Ways in which various ideas of Augustines bear on present conditions and concerns are so carefully examined that the question of precisely what Augustine himself believed tends to be forgotten. This difficulty is aggravated by the authors conviction that the trajectories of Augustines thought are often antithetical to one another. Thus, in a typical discussion, TeSelle notes that one can regard human nature . . . as conflictual but argue that human society is consensual, as did Hobbes, or, in the manner of Rousseau and Marx, one can see human nature as consensual but society as conflictual. TeSelle concludes, as he very frequently does in dealing with such issues, that Augustine shares something of both perspectives.
The conclusion is no doubt valid in
some cases. Still, in facing major theoretical problems, Augustine must have occupied some rather definite positions, for otherwise his thought would never have attained coherence and he would not deserve to be studied by later generations. The aim of political thinking, it may be said, is the kind of self“definition achieved in assuming certain political positions. Thinking that reaches no clear positions has therefore failed. Many readers will wish that TeSelle, with
all of his learning, had provided a somewhat more sharply focused picture of Augustines political identity, that is, of the positions beneath the trajectories.
The other danger inherent in studying the trajectories, rather than the essential characteristics, of a political thinker is that the thinker will be unintentionally assimilated into later types of thought. Thus, as we try to discern Augustines relevance to our century of political totalitarianism and moral confusion, he may gradually be given the shape of a twentieth“century thinker rather than the shape that was really his”that of a very late classical thinker witnessing the death“throes of the Roman Empire. In the process, we risk obscuring or even gravely distorting Augustines real identity. This danger was not wholly avoided by Jean Bethke Elshtain in her recent
Augustine and the Limits of Politics,
nor is it wholly avoided by TeSelle. In reading either book, one comes to imagine a thinker who fits more readily into the present“day world, with its unique preconceptions and problems, than does the real Augustine. The truth is that for anyone who accepts with equanimity the reigning political principles of our time, Augustine is a somewhat forbidding figure. It may be worth noting why this is so.
Augustine did not care greatly about liberty in the modern sense of the term, although he cared very much indeed about governmental respect for the proper sphere of the Church. Augustine was only uneasily and occasionally tolerant, and his settled position (against the Donatists, late in his life, as well as earlier against the pagans) was one of active intolerance. He was not a proponent of popular rule. He had no clear and comprehensive concept of the good society or of the best system of government even though he affirms various social and political norms. He probably would have found it incomprehensible to treat cultural diversity as an ideal, rather than merely as a difficulty to be dealt with as reasonably and humanely as possible. The chasm between the modern political mind and Augustines can be felt acutely when one notes that, for Augustine, the kind of government one lives under is in the final analysis a matter of indifference.
To put the point more sharply with a current cliché, Augustine was, in his politics, flagrantly incorrect. This becomes particularly evident in his lack of concern with social reform. Indeed, the very idea of social reform was probably unknown to him, as it was to his time in general. Not that he was callous or uninformed with respect to conditions suffered by the poor. As a bishop he was quite familiar with such conditions and was used to devising measures for their amelioration in individual cases. But the idea of systematically and steadily improving society so that no one would suffer from hardships occasioned by the social order probably never occurred to him; and even if it had, one can doubt that the idea would have struck him as cogent or appealing.
I must hasten to say that TeSelle in no way contradicts these assertions. He even emphasizes, albeit briefly, the absence in Augustines thought of any theory of reform. Nonetheless, he finds one of the trajectories of Augustines thought to be that of world transformation, and, while this may be historically accurate, in that certain ideas of Augustines were so used, he does not ask whether such use can be truly in the spirit of Augustine”which, to say the least, is doubtful. And at another point he writes that we would expect an Augustinian politics, under optimal circumstances, to seek change, perhaps fundamental change, but without overvaluing its achievements. But would such a politics be authentically Augustinian? Only by stretching considerably the boundaries of Augustinianism.
The result of focusing on possibilities of this sort is to leave in the shadows the fundamentally eschatological character of Augustines outlook. Although Augustine is often thought of as having inaugurated the Western philosophy of history, the only historical events that concerned him ultimately were those making up the history of salvation. TeSelle, in spite of his fine comments on sojourning, allows the reader to forget that what impelled Augustine to envision man as a sojourner was his radically eschatological orientation.
Closely related to these matters is TeSelles stress on Augustines appreciation of finite values in all their variety. He writes that there is a dynamic in human willing prior to and deeper than the decision for one love or the other, one city or the other, namely the human capacity for love of what seems good and the human desire for participation in it. Leaving aside the question of whether anything, for Augustine, is deeper in man than love for God, one may concede that Augustine was keenly attuned to the various pleasures and graces of ordinary human existence. But to say this without taking into account Augustines intense and sustained fear of being sidetracked by finite goods in his pursuit of the one infinite good (illustrated by the uneasiness caused him on account of his sensuous enjoyment of hymns) is to intimate an inaccurate image of the great thinker and saint. TeSelles suggestion that Augustines God can be inclusive, so that all true values are prized through and in God, is interesting; and it is true that for Augustine every real value was reflective of the Creator. It is at least arguable, however, that in his relations with sinful humanity on earth, Augustines God was exclusive. Earthly man was too unstable and corrupt a creature to be granted the heavenly luxury of divine inclusiveness.
To use a term made familiar to us by Isaiah Berlin, Augustine was a hedgehog. He knew one big thing. Most people in the modern liberal democratic nations seem to be foxes, knowing only many little things. This is one way of marking the distance between Augustine and modern times. For us, ideas like liberty and democracy are unproblematic because variety is unproblematic, and we are spontaneously tolerant because we are not sure that anything is so untrue or unrighteous as to be intolerable. Eschatology, concentrating as it does on the one big thing that comes with the end of history, is a strange and impossible attitude.
In emphasizing how different our world is from Augustines, I do not mean to say that we have, in any normative sense, left Augustine behind. Perhaps the greatest evil involved in unduly assimilating Augustine into the modern era is that we thus deprive ourselves of a critical perspective on our historical situation. One need not reflect long on the moral and cultural indiscipline excused by modern liberty, or the varieties of irresponsibility occasioned by the enthronement of popular taste and opinion, or the moral relativism inferred from the standard of tolerance, or the unsought and unhappy circumstances sometimes wrought by self“confident reformers, to realize that the Augustinian perspective might be very useful to us.
TeSelles sensitivity and care as
an Augustinian scholar are exemplary, and his exploration of the relations between Augustines thought and the political issues before us today is deeply thoughtful. But I fear that in concentrating on the trajectories, rather than the intrinsic features, of Augustines outlook he does something contrary to his original intention: he obscures, as much as he clarifies, Augustines contemporary relevance. He lets us think of Augustine as someone easily approachable, a natural ally and friend of modern man, and leaves in the background the refractory, radically eschatological Augustine our troubled and distracted age needs to hear
Glenn Tinder is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and author of
The Political Meaning of Christianity
]]>Augustine’s World and Ourshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1997/12/augustines-world-and-ours
Mon, 01 Dec 1997 00:00:00 -0500 One of the most striking differences between constitutional democracies and tyrannies in our time pertains to certain habits of mind. In constitutional democracies, people tend to think in terms of dichotomies—faith and reason, church and state, public and private, executive and legislature. They are spontaneously wary of conceptual unification, and their wariness makes for divided powers and limited pretensions. In tyrannies—particularly when they are ideological and totalitarian—people tend to ignore or repudiate such dichotomies. A particular doctrine, like Marxist “science,” is affirmed as a complete and undebatable truth; the state is looked on as a spiritual order alongside which a separate church would be pointless and disruptive; public life is equated with life itself, and private life is seen as either trivial or subversive; the executive power is regarded simply as the government, with the legislature a forum for propaganda rather than deliberation. Such habits of conceptual unification make for the concentrated power and unchecked pretensions that lead to the horrors so common in these regimes.
]]> Alone for Othershttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/04/003-alone-for-others
Mon, 01 Apr 1996 00:00:00 -0500Rarely, in our times, do social and political theorists praise solitude. Again and again such thoughtful writers as Alasdair MacIntyre and Robert Bellah tell us that moral rectitude, fundamental truthfulness, and all of the other virtues and skills that make us human depend upon society: upon our having a lifelong place within a social order and contemplating the historical “narrative” that defines the social order. While all this is no doubt true, it is no less true that our humanity depends on our capacity for being alone.
]]> At the End of Pragmatismhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/10/004-at-the-end-of-pragmatism
Sun, 01 Oct 1995 00:00:00 -0400 The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority.
By John Patrick Diggins.
University of Chicago Press. 515 pages, $29.95