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60Does French Culture Have a Future?https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/08/does-french-culture-have-a-future
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 11:20:00 -0400This interview of Pierre Manent, former director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, was conducted by the newspaperIl Foglioin the wake of the ISIS murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel
Fri, 01 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400For the Frenchmen who lived through World War II, the defining event of their lives was quintessentially political. It was the great refusal, embodied by General Charles de Gaulle, to accept the defeat of June 1940. With that refusal came a determined commitment to reestablish national sovereignty. This was more than a matter of overthrowing German occupation. As de Gaulle recognized, it required Frenchmen to recover the spiritual independence of France, to recommit themselves to the project of building a unique and identifiable
]]>Human Unity Real and Imaginedhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/10/human-unity-real-and-imagined
Mon, 01 Oct 2012 00:00:00 -0400 Every epoch has its secular religion, a perverse imitation of Christianity that takes part of the Christian proposition and diverts it toward this world. It was not so long ago that communism transformed charity for the poor into hatred for capitalist society and ultimately for every society that recognizes the rights of the human person.
Today, something like a religion of humanity has taken hold of supposedly enlightened opinion and increasingly guides the judgments and actions, private or public, of people in the West, especially in Europe. This is not simply a passing fashion; it is a large-scale project for governing the world through international rules and institutions, and especially the organization of commerce, so that nations, losing their character as sovereign political bodies, are henceforth only regions of a world en route to globalization, that is, unification.
And, as formerly in the communist conception of history, the
are regarded as coinciding: If you doubt that globalization is desirable, you will be told it is irresistible and you refuse to see reality; if you doubt that it is irresistible, you will be told it is desirable and you reject the evidence of the Good. A unified world, no longer composed of distinct and sovereign nations, is presented to us as the supremely legitimate object of our desire, the central hope and object of the religion of humanity.
Christians are particularly susceptible to approve of the present tendency and to view it as a felicitous sign of the times, because globalization attacks the reality and the legitimacy, the fact and the law, of sovereign nations, which the Church has always regarded at least with mistrust and has sometimes explicitly condemned or chastised. The Churchs hostility is not unfounded: These sovereign political bodies are inseparable from a will to power that leads both princes and subjects to address their wishes to the earthly city and to set themselves up as independent, to the detriment of the divine kingdom and the human vocation. In fact, the consolidation of nations in Europe is inseparable from an increasing domestication of the Church, which sometimes leads to its expulsion from the public sphere.
The Reformation signified the nationalization of the universal Church, and from that time on the nation, not the Church, was the community par excellence in Europe. The Church contributed less and less to determining Europes political and spiritual configuration: Witness Benedict XVs admirable and vain efforts early in the twentieth century to moderate nationalist frenzies. From a Christian point of view, nations can seem like idols formed by pride. It was thus not by chance that the first and decisive impulses for the European project came from Catholic statesmen. For many Europeans today, the initiative of Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, and Alcide De Gasperi was not only a courageous and judicious political choice but also a sort of collective conversion from the immemorial political order of power to a new order of disinterested cooperation.
However tempting may be the grand narrative that justifies the European project”and the ongoing project of global unification”it rests upon a one-sided reading of European history and on a biased estimation of that properly European political form known as the nation, a bias that suggests it is not so easy as one would wish to rise above ones political passions. Furthermore, it requires a superficial understanding of what the constitution of an effectively universal human association requires. Injustice with respect to the nation and incomprehension of human universals reinforce each other.
The nation-state is not immune from the ambiguity of human works. Produced by sinful man, it simultaneously expresses his grandeur and his weakness. We have briefly evoked its flaws, but it is important to recall its merits as well. If God, in creating man, left him to his own devices, then the nation has also had a part in the goodness of creation, because it is both the framework and the result of the most constant and varied efforts by human groups to organize self-government. The credit goes to the first inventor, and the honor of Athens will never be taken away; outside of Christian Europe, one has never seen such stable and extensive political bodies in which so many human beings have found the conditions for an honorable and conscientious life.
Furthermore, though nations may be carried away by the will to power, the division of Europe into rival nations prevented imperial petrification, and the extraordinary fertility of European history results from the constant interplay among them. The recognition by each nation of the sovereignty of others, which permitted coexistence and even emulation among nations of very unequal power, is one of the great accomplishments of European public law. Now that small European countries have been placed under guardianship on the basis, or the pretext, of the financial crisis, we can see the profound inequality that threatens the life of Europeans as soon as some of them are denied the right to be independent.
The contribution of the nation-state to moral life also should be underlined. I am not thinking here of the education, through national language and literature, that preserves its legitimacy with difficulty today in the face of the worldwide circulation of information that knows only generic human beings. I am thinking rather of this: There is no more powerful source of moral development for everyone than concern for the common good, or the
It is not a question of generalizing norms of conduct, which could only produce a mechanical and mutilated morality, but rather of looking beyond ourselves in order to take account of the community that is greater than each one of us which we form together. The education and the deployment of the human virtues require the participation in a unified action before the members of which we feel ourselves responsible. For this action we incur both praise and blame. If we lose that participation, we will have nothing left to orient ourselves by but a general idea of humanity, which cannot draw us away from the passivity of private life.
It will certainly be objected that the eclipse of nation-states will overcome particularism and thereby provide us with a truly universal perspective that takes into account not only the circumscribed group but all human beings. This is not only the most widespread and popular illusion in Europe and the West; it is also the illusion by means of which powerful forces mean to tear us away from the active concern for the common good that in its political aspect is called friendship and in its religious aspect is called charity.
One can, of course, speak of the common good of humanity, but it is an extrinsic common good, because humanity does not constitute a real community of action. A common good like the preservation of breathable air can be preserved only by the activity of each real political community (each nation), activity that includes collaboration with other nations. Nature will not be preserved by a humanity that does not exist politically. We live only where we act, and we act only in the community we form with our fellow citizens and associates. International institutions can be useful instruments for collaboration among nations, but they do not make humanity into a community. There is, of course, a human species, but it is actualized only within the plurality of human communities.
Christians ought to be concerned by the use being made of the notion of humanity. From the Christian perspective, humanity is healed and unified through the element of charity, of which the Church is the bearer and the instrument. Charity is a common action carried out visibly or invisibly by the Church and her Head. The Church invites everyone to participate in this common action. There is no other way to really heal and unite a humanity wounded and divided by sin.
Reigning opinion dismisses this proposition because it excludes those who refuse it and opposes to it the proposition of a humanity virtually unified and healed, as, beneath the separate activities of separate human groups, there is present or latent a humanity that nothing separates or distinguishes. It is a humanity already visible and tangible to those who are able to see and to feel the similarity of human beings behind their differences, who experience the sentiment Tocqueville considered the democratic emotion par excellence, fellow-feeling.
Obviously, this contemporary religion of humanity excludes and rejects the Christian religion. The healing and unity that the Christian seeks through participation in charity is sought by the European who believes in humanity in the sense of the resemblance among human beings. What the Christian only hopes to find at the culmination of a transformative process that is the work of God himself, and through participation in the community of action that is the Church, the humanitarian claims to obtain by detaching himself from all communities of action and by passively enjoying his resemblance to other men. It is in letting themselves move beyond action and responsibility for action that todays Europeans find salvation for themselves, giving it to themselves and experiencing certainty in so doing. This humanitarian faith does not ignore works (humanitarian acts), but these actions by themselves, as useful as they are, contribute little to the strengthening of human communities. Humanitarian virtues are admirable, but they are not productive of community.
To be sure, the Christian proposition, which requires long-term actions whose results are uncertain and largely invisible, is less attractive than the humanitarian proposition, which realizes its promise as soon as it is formulated because it both begins and is fulfilled in the recognition of the humanity of the other person. This can encourage the Church to present herself in the terms and the forms of the religion of humanity. That move would harm the integrity of the Christian proposition and only serve to further validate the religion of humanity. The Church would be better advised to deal amicably with the other real communities known as nations, which, Christian or not, at least provide the framework within which human beings can effectively search for the common good.
I can imagine the enlightened European response to these observations. Perhaps you are right, they would say; perhaps common action, political or religious, is the highest human effort, but its also fraught with risks, and ultimately insufficient. After all, at times when the Church exerted herself to the utmost in order to bring human beings together into the Christian body, she was led to commit or tolerate actions for which she has not yet been forgiven. And as for the nation-states”though they do not bear exclusive responsibility for the disasters of the twentieth century”at least in Europe they have lost the capacity and even the will to satisfy the hearts and fix the horizons of their citizens. They offer to protect their citizens from the upheavals of globalization, and citizens, whatever they say, in reality do not ask for more.
Furthermore, continues the enlightened European, it is necessary to organize the human world on different bases from the common actions that were performed by nations and churches. This new basis resides in the common rules provided by the reciprocal dependence of human beings, the organization of commerce, instead of relying on the dangerous competition of collective bodies. The reciprocal dependence of the Chinese worker and the American consumer promises us a humanity perhaps less glorious, but doubtless more calm, and ultimately more human than that of our fathers.
This argument certainly does not lack persuasive force, and it forms the basis of the point of view that directs nearly all of Europes decision makers. It deserves a response.
It must be pointed out that the theory of the pacifying and civilizing effects of commerce is a locus classicus of modern European history and that, unfortunately, the facts have refuted it as regularly as they have confirmed it. Voltaire described with ecstasies of enthusiasm the London Stock Exchange, where all religions and sects gathered and worked in cordial understanding, and where the only heretic was the bankrupt. The hopes of the Enlightenment hardly prepared our ancestors for the quarter century of wars of the Revolution and the Empire.
Yet those hopes did not disappear, and they resurged even more strongly in the nineteenth century. Auguste Comte assured us at the time that we had necessarily left behind the theological and warrior age. We all know what happened next, and its useless to continue this recitation. The present phase of globalization is not necessarily condemned to the same destiny as the two previous phases, but we should recall that others before us, who were neither less lucid nor less courageous than ourselves, entertained the same hopes we do. That ought to incline us to sobriety.
For the rest, its not so difficult to see where the limits of the power of commerce are located. Its force resides in its facility. Agents in an exchange relationship need only very limited agreements on the characteristics and prices of the objects in question and a certain reciprocal confidence that permits each to engage his capital or other resources. But thats little enough in the end; the actors may never see each other and may deal through intermediaries that neither sees except for a moment in a transaction already devoid of human relationship. In short, commerce requires little in common, and so it produces little that is common.
The question, therefore, is whether we can live humanely without things in common or with having in common only the rules of the game that bind specialized institutions that do not need to be political and that function better when they are less political. We cannot. Human life involves relations more important than the exchange of goods and services. Human life encompasses relations of justice, which cannot be subsumed under the rules of the game.
At the mention of the word
, weary Europeans shrug their shoulders, but shortly thereafter they explain the grievances of this or that human group by invoking the humiliation that the group has suffered at the hands of the West for two centuries. They do not take account of how much of the disdain they attach to relationships of justice reflects two large political facts: They have dominated the world for two centuries, and in the latter period they transferred this responsibility to their American cousins. He who enjoys domination without accepting the responsibility of government is in the worst position to judge political relationships. Anesthetized by this long irresponsibility, Europeans dream of a humanity reunited in peace by the rules of commerce and the spread of the feeling of common humanity.
To apprehend the vacuity of this notion, it suffices to pose certain questions. How will the United States handle the decline of its capacity to assure the political direction of the world? How will China handle the sudden augmentation of its resources and its power in Asia and in the rest of the world? How are Europeans going to organize their relations with the Muslim world in the new situation created by the settlement of numerous Muslims in the European countries? How are the Muslims, for their part, going to organize the community of believers in the new situation?
None of these questions is answerable by extending the rules of commerce and the sense of a common humanity. However desirable these things may be, they hardly affect the relationships that I have just mentioned, because these relationships bear on the direction of the actions carried out by common entities that are political or religious.
Europeans have for some time refused to take account of the gravity of these relationships because they feel themselves capable of seeing, beneath apparent divisions, a humanity already tending toward unification. This religion of humanity is, of all religions, the one that is easiest to show as being based on an illusion. The world will not find its order and its tranquility through the multiplication of the faithful of this religion. This is a strictly European affair, and it will remain so. The world will repose, as always, on the precarious equilibrium determined by the political and spiritual decisions of human communities, and for the description of which there is no other lexicon than the catalog of the cardinal and theological virtues.
There is a precondition, however, to the exercise of these virtues in the political and even in the spiritual order. It is to achieve an exact view of the present state of affairs. The principal factor today is the weakening of the directive capacity of the West, even though the United States remains by far the most powerful individual nation. This relative weakening, in connection with the corresponding reinforcement of previously peripheral powers, has produced a multipolar world, which many people hope will find its equilibrium in this very plurality.
For my part, I think that the international order can leave hegemonic power behind only with difficulty, and that the weakening of America is freighted with menaces. But this is not the place to pursue these conjectures. What must be emphasized is that today, in the light of a common world, all the greatnesses that previously had been overshadowed by the Western monopoly on progress are now coming into view. Where there used to be the West and the rest, there is now the West, China, India, the Islamic world, and so on. The political role of Israel exposes our naïve dreams of global unification.
But as I have emphasized, humanity must not be confused with the idol that has been created out of the feeling of a common humanity. Real humanity is made from coexistence and from the tension among the propositions about humanity that are not addressed by the dreams of humanitarians. China, Islam, the Jewish people, the Christian world”these are not just colors of a human rainbow; they are distinct political and spiritual entities that present themselves as propositions and affirmations about humanity and that ought to be rendered compatible by statesmanship and by a philosophical and theological reflection that takes each of these propositions seriously and does not treat them as closed cultures on the road to a single humanity. It is not sufficient to say that we are all human beings. What is important is to find the means of a political and spiritual mediation among these propositions, because the West will soon no longer be strong enough to hold the world together. This effort of mediation is spiritual as well as political.
It seems to me that the Catholic Church is called to play a decisive role. Whether she will play it will depend precisely on the virtues of Christians. What role?
When I look at the trend of the present state of affairs, one thing strikes me. Most of the worlds great religious and political communities have a temptation to some form of extremism. There is the Jewish zealotry quite recognizable in the colonization of Judea and Samaria; there is the fundamentalism, or literalism, of the Protestants that has given rise in the Christian world to a missionary spirit mingled with powerful political and social passions; the Russian Orthodox Church, liberated from communist servitude, has made itself the declared supporter of the successor power and encourages nationalism; and of course there is Islamism. As for the religion of humanity, I have already evoked its fanaticism.
The contemporary Catholic Church is not given to such transports. One can say without exaggeration that she does not know bias or political passion. Perhaps this praiseworthy impartiality is as much the product of her weaknesses as of her virtues. Perhaps it is in part the consequence of the fact that every imprudent gesture on her part is immediately criticized by this or that other party, so that she keeps herself in check. It doesnt matter.
Only the Catholic Church is in a position to enter into a serious conversation with each one of these greatnesses that I have just mentioned. Because she is the only real universal community”the only perfectly spiritual republic”she can address herself to all other religious communities who seek support in a political association and in a certain confusion of spiritual and political orders. She can address herself as well to the pagan empire that is China. In a word, she is the center from which and toward which the spiritual constellation of humanity is ordered.
Its a characteristic of the present situation that mediation is urgently required, while impartiality seems impossible. Consider the relationship between Israel and the nations. In recent years, the state of Israel has experienced a disquieting loss of legitimacy. Not only does the Muslim world continue to reject it for well-known religious and political reasons, but contemporary universalism, the religion of humanity so powerful in Europe, has scarcely any better understanding of a nation that desires to preserve its existence and its sovereignty by means that include the force of arms. In response to this loss of legitimacy, Israel has increasingly based its rights on references to the Shoah. Its actions and threats are explicitly meant to prevent a new extermination.
Without judging the political or moral merits of this move, I would like to emphasize that it touches the very meaning of Judaism. The original vocation of the Jewish people was to be the witness and the vehicle of the Covenant between humanity and a God who is friend to humanity. If Israel roots its legitimacy henceforth in the Shoah, it makes itself spiritually dependent on its worst enemies, and bases its legitimacy in that absence or silence of God summed up in the name Auschwitz.
Only a Catholic Church that takes account of its debt to and its dependence on the Jewish people and the calling of Israel will be capable of witnessing to divine friendship. The religion of humanity and the religion of the Shoah are two versions, enemies and friends, of a religion of the absence of God that is currently destroying and demoralizing the West. The West will take courage only if it recovers faith in the goodness and friendship of God. The Catholic Church, mediatrix of the Mediator, has no other political task than making itself a convincing witness of the goodness of God.
Pierre Manent is director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
]]>Between Athens and Jerusalemhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/02/between-athens-and-jerusalem
Wed, 01 Feb 2012 00:00:00 -0500 Leo Strauss is the thinker who in the last few decades has contributed the most to the renewed examination of the polarity between Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation. Tertullian famously stressed this contrast to the benefit of Jerusalem rather than Athens, but Strauss brings to the examination of this polarity an emphatically impartial spirit”so impartial that it seems impossible to say where he stands.
For Strauss, Athens and Jerusalem refer to two general and fundamental human dispositions, or ways of life: the life of free inquiry on the one hand, the life of humble obedience to Gods law on the other. He argues that Christianity belongs to Jerusalem because it rests upon Gods word, Gods revelation, but that it is less pure than Jewish Jerusalem because it has been contaminated by Athens. Christianity developed in a world transformed by Greek philosophy so that in Christianity the exclusive and rigorous obedience to Gods law has been supplemented, or rather obscured by, speculations fomented by undigested or decadent Greek philosophy, mainly debased Platonism of the sort exemplified by some authors Augustine felt obliged to discuss in the
City of God
To use Strauss apparently neutral word, Christianity appears to us as a synthesis, and in a synthesis the authenticity or integrity of the two components is fated to be lost. Christianity would then appear to be the impure mixture of a theoretical activity that is not really free and of an obedience that is not truly humble.
Strauss generalized description is tilted in the direction of the religious attitude he judges to be the purest, that is, the Jewish one. However, his notion of revelation is not built simply according to the Jewish model. In his book
Spinozas Critique of Religion
, Strauss, with a palpable admiration, shows how coherently Calvin put the right knowledge of God, conveyed by the Holy Writ with the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, beyond the competence of human reason: Faith in God and self-knowledge depending on one another, no independent, objective, rational knowledge can break into this circle and validly or even meaningfully argue against faith. Strauss Calvin embodies the Jerusalem position.
Strauss takes upon himself the responsibility of deciding the right understanding of the Christian faith. For him this simply means the most rigorous formulation of an attitude that would strictly sever the practical disposition of faith from the theoretical disposition of philosophy. He is looking for a self-contained, non- or even anti-theoretical understanding of the human situation.
But it is not clear to me that the believers attitude can develop without some theoretical content that decisively informs the faith. Christian
is not separable from
faith. The account of faith is inseparable from the account of the mediation through which men are made capable of knowing God. Whether the true mediator is the Church or solely the Holy Writ”
”as interpreted by each believer under guidance from the Holy Spirit is a question that cannot be decided on the basis of a self-contained definition of faith. It depends on an account of the way, or ways, through which human beings can become participants in the truth.
Common human reason will necessarily play a part in this, if only because discriminating between a reliable believer and a dreamer or a crook requires a human institution able to conduct this inquiry and make this decision. The
of faith and the rules of common reason will have to be called upon together. Because they still live in this world, believers, at least Christian believers, live under a mixed regime of reason and revelation, and they cannot but accept this impure situation.
The Catholic epistemology of faith is not less rigorous than the Protestant one. Believing implicitly in the Church through which the Scripture is transmitted and interpreted is certainly less radical, but not less coherent, than believing in the Scripture separated from the Church which first authorized it. The Calvinist reader of the Bible who confides in the evidence of his inner sense is not a stricter believer than the Catholic faithful who confides in the sense of the Church. The individualization of faith was a tempting way of cutting through all the messy difficulties of Church mediation, but it did not bring faith closer to its essence since the latter is not separable from its human conditioning. Individual faith is not closer to some essence of faith than faith shared in a specific community. Strauss, then, was rash in consecrating as the best understanding of faith Calvins basically modern
interpretation of the Christian revelation.
It could be said that Calvins interpretation of the Christian faith, despite its modern aspects, brought back this faith toward its Jewish, that is, its practical roots. Jerusalem stands for obedient, practical, loyal life, a life content with practicing the law of the Lord without curiously inquiring into his secrets, let alone the secrets of his creation. This presupposes that religious commandments as such convey no knowledge, that religious commandments have no cognitive content or significance. Strauss more than once suggests as much. At the same time, in Strauss accounts, however brief and somewhat cryptic, Moses law comes with a notion that has a very special but incontrovertibly theoretical content: The God of the Bible is the creator of the world and man. To address ones prayers to God, or to obey his commandments, is necessarily to relate to being, or to the mystery of being itself.
Only in this case”only if the God who gave the law is the true God”does the election of the Jews have a definite meaning. Otherwise it risks being only, just as Spinoza objected, the inordinate love of ones particularity. The political, or practical, separateness of the Jews is inseparable from the highest theoretical truth.
Strauss is reluctant to insist on this aspect of the Jewish claim. He more than once suggests that Greek philosophy is an equal, or even better approach to the mystery of being. And just as he justifies the separateness of the Jews, he insists in a shocking way on the separateness of the philosopher and the philosophers life. In sum, he is intent on restoring our awareness of the separations that order human life, the separations induced by truth: To the Jewish people is entrusted the guardianship of the practical truth, to Greek philosophy that of the theoretical truth.
At this point, we are left with a deep perplexity because Strauss understanding leaves us uncertain of the relationship between the practical and theoretical parts of Jerusalem, between the law and the mystery of being. In our sorry situation, we could do worse than inquire into the understanding that the most authoritative and influential Christian theologian developed on these questions.
City of God
, Augustine at times speaks in a manner tantalizingly close to Strauss. He pairs Jewish life and Greek philosophy together, for both represent a qualitative progress in the development and self-understanding of humanity, specifically in our grasping of Gods true being. In both cases, this progress was achieved at a steep cost. It was achieved at the price of a separation, or a rupture in the fabric of mankind: the separation between the Jewish people and the nations on the one hand, and the separation between the philosopher, or the wise, and the general run of men, which ultimately rests upon and brings to light the separation between soul and body, on the other.
For Augustine, Christianity confirms these two separations while overcoming them. He presents Christianity as the resolution of the two decisive breaks of human unity: the Jewish and the Greek. The mediation of the God-man Christ allows the unity of mankind to be restored while each human being is made capable of sharing in the truth enacted by Jewish life as well as the truth discovered by Greek philosophy. Jewish life and Greek philosophy, two very different ways of finding ones way toward the true God, prepared humanity for the decisive step only God could take.
Augustines account is certainly impressive. At the same time, there is some awkwardness to it. In relation to Jewish life and Greek philosophy, for Augustine there is only identity or difference.
In relation to Jewish life, there is this difficulty: The strict identity or difference encouraged the Church to think that with the advent of Christianity, the Jewish people lost their whole
. Not only were Jews from now on pressed to convert to Christianity, but Christians had henceforth nothing to learn from Jews. The Christian Church as the final vehicle of truth neatly displaced the Jewish people whose mission was entirely accomplished. Thus, no effective relation remained between the Christian Church and the Jewish people.
In relation to Greek philosophy, we encounter a similar difficulty. According to Augustine, through means impossible to ascertain, Plato came to know some of the principal truths of the Jewish and Christian revelation. Augustine wonders whether Plato might have had access to the Holy Writ when in Egypt. But philosophic truth from now on was simply a part of Christian truth. Just as Augustine did not preserve a living relationship between Christians and Jews, he failed to preserve one in relation to philosophy, preferring to co-opt Plato.
Strauss intimates that there is a way beyond this impasse. Jerusalem and Athens, standing for two ways of life, the practical and the theoretical, stand accordingly for two human capacities, or organs of the soul: the heart on the one hand, the mind or reason on the other. This partition of the souls powers is at the center of the understanding of human conduct offered by Pascal, who ingeniously developed Augustines inchoate and rigid dialectics. Pascals understanding of the heart differs from Strauss inasmuch as Pascal lays great stress on the hearts cognitive powers. In general terms, the heart gives us an active feeling of the thing we care about. The motions of the heart are powerful, but we lack criteria to decide on their authenticity: What my heart adheres to may be only dream or fancy to you.
Reason always works with (at least) two terms, allowing us to go from one to the other, through inference, causality, etc. Reason is about relation. Contrary to the heart, reason is all criteria. Accordingly, its results are incontrovertible. Nevertheless this perfect instrument constantly slips from our hands” and we are constantly at risk of losing the thread. We could thus propose this simplification: The heart is certitude without criteria, reason is criteria without (the feeling of) certitude. The key to solving the human problem, the problem of human conduct, is for these two capacities to work together, and help each other. But how?
Pascal tries to establish that only in the Christian religion are human beings able to make full use of their heart and reason in a way that engages the two in an intimate collaboration while giving each its due. For Pascal, the most perfect collaboration between reason and heart is necessary for us rightly to understand the relationship between Christians and Jews. Thus, making sense of the divide between Christians and Jews requires the most delicate and rigorous human operation.
Pascals dialectics involve three steps: confusion, distinction, relation. True Jews and true Christians have in truth the same religion, the same God. But this identity is only confusion as long as we are unable to distinguish between the two. The religion of the Jewish people was modeled on Christian truth, and Christian truth is recognized through the Jewish religion, which is its figure. Truth will be fully uncovered in heaven only. In the Church, it is covered and recognized through its Jewish figure only.
Pascals epistemology of faith, unlike Augustines, is less than triumphalist. To be effective, the mediation of Christ needs the mediation of the Church, but to be recognized and understood the mediation of the Church needs the mediation of the Jewish experience. The Church becomes aware of her proper truth only through becoming aware of her relation to Israel. The revelation of truth is formed by Israel and the Church
. The Church in this world does not cease to need Israel as the proof of her own truth.
Now, how do you prove that Israel is the proof? Here intervenes the collaboration between heart and reason. Holy Writ is full of contradictions. You cannot claim to understand it as long as you are unable to bring together contradictory passages. How do you do that? By showing either that different words mean the same thing, or that the same word means different things. Ultimately the contradictions of the Holy Writ derive from the uncertainty concerning the words which refer to the promise. What was promised to the Jews? How did the Jews understand this promise?
Reason can deal with this kaleidoscope of contradictory meanings only through the intervention of the heart. When we read the Holy Writ, we understand it according to the direction of our hearts, that is, according to our cupidity or charity. What was promised to the Jews, only Christians can fully understand, but they understand it as the promise made to Israel and understood by Jews according to the direction of their own heart: Carnal Jews understood it in a carnal way while spiritual Jews understood it exactly as Christians later on would do.
Christians, freed from the equivocity of Jewish experience, know that their only enemy is sin, that is, themselves. But only through Israels longing for liberation can Christians be sure that the Messiah they believe in is not a figment of their imaginations. The Jewish rejection of Jesus makes the testimony of their books incontrovertible. Christians can believe in Christ because the Old Testament is a non-suspect witness to the long expectation of Jews and to the promise made to them. It is a non-suspect witness to the Messiah to come. This, of course, is in stark contrast to Islam, which establishes its credentials by disqualifying as corrupt or false the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, thus depriving itself of a very precious means of self-awareness and self-confidence.
For Pascal, Christian faith is self-sufficient. It lies in the heart. But when reading Scripture, the Christian reader is not alone. He is part of the Church that collected and authorized the Scripture. And the Church in turn is not alone in vouching for herself, since the Jewish people warrant the authenticity of the promise.
The Jewish people are the chosen people, Gods people. They need only their Scripture, which is their law. Beyond the hedges of the Torah lie the nations. The Christian church brings Israels God to the nations, and welcomes Greek philosophy into the new Israel. In the process, Jewish law and Greek philosophy are not simply preserved, but they are not simply lost either. Contrary to what Augustine seems to suggest, this mediation is not a one-way thing. The self-understanding of the Church needs to relate to the Jewish experience and the Jewish people, as Pascal so impressively explained. It needs also to relate to the Greek or philosophic experience.
Philosophy in the Christian context is not necessarily the servant of noble Greek descent who is familiar to us from the Thomist or Augustinian tradition. It also takes the important form of apologetics, the rational exercise purporting to show that Christian revelation is not against reason, or even that nothing is more reasonable than the (Christian) disowning of reason. In Pascals rendering, this rational exercise is tasked to show that Christian religion understands human life rightly. Thus, Christianity is not the dialectical
of Israel and the nations. Israel and the nations are also a mediation for Christianity. They are needed not to accompany her chariot of triumph but to be a necessary part of her self-understanding.
We can now better discern what at the beginning I called Catholic epistemology. Catholic epistemology rests upon the fact of the Church. The understanding of the Church cannot be encompassed within the interior testimony of the individual believer. As a visible whole, it relates to the other wholes between which mankind distributes itself. While claiming exclusive authority derived from divine grace, the Church has always laid great stress on reason, because it is in the confrontation with those still untouched by grace, with Jerusalem on one hand and the nations on the other hand, that she achieves her mediating vocation. It is through being impure in the eyes of Jews and philosophers alike (and not a few Christians to boot) that the Christian
recapitulates all things human.
Today we feel much perplexity as to the direction of the West. A disturbing kind of immobility seems to have set in, and it is hardly clear how our culture will advance rather than fall into one of several dead-end extremes. This makes what I call mediation all the more urgent. For Strauss account of Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation, however descriptively fitting, is static, while the notion of mediation is dynamic, in accordance with the necessary motion of human things in the Western world. Strauss notion of a compromised Christian synthesis obscures the nature and necessity of Christian mediation for the future life of the West. For the frozen confrontation between Israel and the nations will not be resolved, nor even understood, simply through the invocation of the intrinsic legitimacy of the chosen people, nor through the philosophic idea of a borderless mankind.
teaches at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
]]>The Return of Political Philosophyhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/05/the-return-of-political-philosophy
Mon, 01 May 2000 00:00:00 -0400 It could be said that the twentieth century has witnessed the disappearance, or withering away, of political philosophy. An old“fashioned empirical proof of this statement is easy to produce: certainly no Hegel, no Marx, even no Comte, has lived in our century, able to convey to the few and the many alike a powerful vision of our social and political statics and dynamics.
However highly we might think of the philosophical capacities and results of Heidegger, Bergson, Whitehead, or Wittgenstein, we would not single out any of them for his contribution to
philosophy. Heidegger, it is true, ventured into some political action, including speeches, but it is a matter for deep regret. Heideggers was the steepest fall; on a much lower level, there was Sartres indefatigable vituperation against anything rational or decent in civic life.
It is true that contrariwise, authors like Sir Karl Popper and Raymond Aron have been worthy contributors to both general epistemology and political inquiry, always in a spirit of sturdy and humane citizenship. And some modern representatives of that venerable tradition of thought, Thomism, have offered serious reflection on moral, social, and political problems within a comprehensive account of the world. But despite such countervailing considerations, the general diagnosis seems to me to be inescapable: no modern original philosopher has been willing or able to include a thorough analysis of political life within his account of the human world, or, conversely, to elaborate his account of the whole from an analysis of our political circumstances.
To be sure, the effort to understand social and political life did not cease in this century. It even underwent a huge expansion through the extraordinary development of the social sciences, which have increasingly determined the self“understanding of modern men and women. It might be asserted that the collective and multifaceted work of all those sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, economists, and political scientists has shed more light on our common life than could the exertions of any individual mind, however gifted; that, when it comes to understanding our social and political life, this “collective thought” is necessarily more impartial than even a mind as impartial as Hegels; that in this sense political philosophy, including democratic political philosophy, has an undemocratic character since it cannot be so collectivized; and that accordingly its withering away is a natural accompaniment to the consolidation and extension of democracy.
As is the case with all collective enterprises, the social sciences have many more practitioners than they do ideas and principles. I would even argue that they rest upon one sole principle, the separation of facts and values, which sets them apart from philosophy and testifies to their scientific character. The demise of political philosophy is of a piece with the triumph of this principle. I admit that generally such sweeping statements are better avoided. Nevertheless it is a fact that the fact/value distinction has become not only the presupposition of present“day social science but also the prevalent opinion in society at large. In present conditions, a teenager proves his or her coming of age, a citizen proves his or her competence and loyalty, by making use of this principle. Nowhere has the principle been set forth with more power and brilliance than in the work of Max Weber. The limitless and tormented landscape of twentieth“century social and political thought is commanded by Webers towering presence and overwhelming influence.
Speaking before students just after the end of World War I, Weber asks about his duty as a teacher, about what his audience, and the public at large, can legitimately require of him. He answers, in reflections later published as
Science as a Vocation
, that they have a claim on his
: the teacher, as a scientist, has the obligation to acknowledge that to establish the intrinsic structures of cultural values and to evaluate those values constitute two totally distinct tasks. Weber rigorously distinguishes between
, which ascertains facts and relations between facts, and
, which necessarily involves evaluation and action.
This proposition has become commonplace today, yet it is difficult to understand what exactly it means. To give an example that is more than an example, how does one describe what goes on in a concentration camp without evaluating it? As some commentators have pointed out, Weber, in his historical and sociological studies, does not tire of evaluating even when establishing the facts; no, he ceaselessly evaluates so as to be able to establish the facts. Otherwise how could he tell a “prophet” from a “charlatan”?
However that may be, it is clear that for Weber, intellectual honesty necessarily prevents us from believing or teaching that science can show us how we ought to live; and that this same intellectual probity necessarily prevents us from believing, for instance, that a thing is good because it is beautiful, or the other way around. But what are the causes of his peculiar preoccupation with intellectual probity? In Webers opinion, modern science exposes it to a specific danger.
Modern science exhibits a singular trait: it is necessarily unfinished”it can never be completed. It is open“ended, since there is always more to be known. Weber asks why human beings devote themselves to an activity that can never be completed, why they ceaselessly try to know what they know they will never completely know. The meaning of modern science is to be meaningless. Thus intellectual honesty requires that we not confer an arbitrary meaning on science, that we be faithful to its meaninglessness by fearlessly carrying on its enterprise. This necessary virtue is at the same time inhuman, or superhuman; indeed it is heroic. Since heroism, however necessary, is rare, many so“called scholars or teachers succumb to the temptation to confer arbitrarily some human meaning on science, or its provisional results. Weber believed that the scientist who thus lapses from his duty transforms himself into a petty demagogue or a petty prophet.
What characterizes the modern situation is that only science can be the object of public affirmation or approbation. Other “values””for instance, esthetic or religious “values””cannot be publicly expressed with enough sincerity to hold their own in the public square. At the end of
Science as a Vocation
, we read: