The Openness of the Christian Mind:
An Advent Conversation
Since 2002 Ken Masugi, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and lecturer in Government at Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, has conducted Advent interviews with James V. Schall, S.J., author of over thirty books on political theory and theology. Fr. Schall teaches in the Government Department of Georgetown University. The Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University has recognized his award-winning teaching with its annual Rev. James V. Schall, S.J. Award for Teaching and Humane Letters. His websites, a portal into his writings and course syllabi, are here and here.
In their latest conversation, they cover topics as diverse as great (big) books, Evangelicals and Sarah Palin, Ernest Fortin, and the nature of God. This interview was conducted over email. The earlier interviews can be found here, here, here, here, and here.
Ken Masugi: Your most recent book (The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008]), your 31st book, I believe, contains an Appendix that reproduces an earlier interview between the two of us published in 2003 on the Claremont Institute website. So I approach this interview with something of the spirit of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza discovering the manuscript of Don Quixote early in that book. Obviously the parallels do not hold precisely, as, for one, Sancho Panza likely has more prudence than I.
James V. Schall, S. J.: It is not exactly the same problem as the death of Moses either. His demise was found in a book written by himself. The analogy, I take it, however, is to the fact that we can still "pull up," as they say in "computerese," the earlier interview. Likewise, the present book is a "re-presentation" or a calling our attention anew to the 22 JVS academic essays published in various journals or media places over a half-century span. Whether either of us is more "prudent" than Sancho is, I am sure, on this basis alone, doubtful. But prudence is not an excuse for inaction. So we can go ahead and see what we come up with. Not a few of the world's wisest thinkers, after all, thought the notion of the Incarnation was quite imprudent on God's part. But He forged ahead without them, the result of which, I think, was the most stimulating, though, as the Thomists say, the most indirect thing that ever happened to philosophy as such.
Our interview that appears in the new book was not originally in the manuscript I submitted. It was suggested by Professor Bradley Lewis who read the manuscript for the publishers. He had seen the earlier on-line Claremont Interview. He suggested that it would be appropriate to add it because, both in spirit and content, it, like the book, was a reflective summation of what it is Schall has been thinking about over the years, but in a more conversational context. I appreciated this suggestion. We have done, I think, some four previous Claremont Interviews. I have always learned something from them even about what I held but never articulated in quite the same way. Without your initiative, none of these interviews would have existed.
The interview now in the book was later published in Perspectives on Political Science (2004) under the title, "Political Philosophy's ‘Hint of Glory.'" And I can think of no better brief summary of a theme, a reality that I have been circling all my life. This delicate title was not mine. It evidently came from the editor of PPS [Peter Lawler]. It does relate the "this-worldly" enterprise of politics to a "glory" that politics itself does not provide. But it does "hint" that it is around somewhere, lest its own efforts be finally "in vain."
This "in-vainness" is that about which Aristotle worried might be the danger if there were no order in things, including human things. As my old friend Henry Veatch said in his great book, Aristotle, the burial of teleology was not final. Chapter 16 of the book reproduces an essay from the Review of Politics (1993) entitled, "Transcendence and Political Philosophy" that takes up this theme, as, really, does the final essay on Narnia, and most of the other essays in this book." My recent book, The Order of Things, is a further elaboration of this position.
During all of my academic life, since I first had it pointed out to me by Father Charles N. R. McCoy, I have been guided by Aristotle's placid remark that if man were the highest being, politics would be the highest science, with the careful caveat that man is not the highest being. The real dividing line within political philosophy, something that spills over into all other disciplines in one way or another, is over the truth of the Aristotelian position. If it is denied, then political philosophy at its very foundation becomes, and has to become, as McCoy put it, a "substitute" metaphysics, of a strangely dangerous sort, one based on will, not reason.
Incidentally, McCoy's book, The Structure of Political Thought, remains a practically unknown treasure of philosophical study, particularly on the intellectual relation of movements and ideas in political thought. I was very pleased that William Haggerty recently published a remarkable retrospective analysis of its core theme, "Beyond the Letter of His Master's Thought: C. N. R. McCoy on Medieval Political Theory," in Laval thèologique et philosophique (64, 2 (juin 2008): 467-483). Previously, in 1990, the Catholic University of America published a collection of those insightful McCoy essays, not found in his book, under the title, On the Intelligibility of Political Philosophy. I have often thought, with Ernest Fortin and Robert Sokolowski, that the inattention to political philosophy, to Strauss' famous title, What Is Political Philosophy?, is what causes much of the problems with modernity in theological and papal writings, as well as in modern philosophy itself.
KM: There has been a spate of books about atheism. Your argument over the years has been that reason and revelation require one another to bring out their greatest strengths. Is atheism synonymous with a commitment to an infantilism? Is hard atheism worse for people's souls than soft agnosticism or even soft belief? I'm alluding to the problem of soft despotism, as Tocqueville called it.
JVS: The recent books about atheism have often been written by physical scientists. Reviewers have often remarked that the said scientists, if they proved one thing, proved that, if they knew as little about science as they seem to know about philosophy, we have to question the validity of the whole scientific enterprise! My favorite comment was in, I think, the Times Literary Supplement. A reviewer said that, when he began the book, he thought the scientist-atheist was a first-rate philosopher, but, by the time he finished the book, he realized that he was only a second-rate philosopher.
Actually, I notice that the atheists have recently become missionaries. They are out to convert the world, which makes me suspect where their atheism came from in the first place. The ancient atheists seemed more logical, that all their thought would allow was as much inner peace as possible until it's all over. I think that Christians and other believers, to strengthen their own faith, should encourage atheists to write more and more books on why they are atheists. There is no more convincing proof for Christianity than the reasons the atheists give for their being atheists.
Chesterton when he wrote Heretics, in 1905, never had looked at a Christian book, but he had read every atheist and unbeliever book he could find. As he began to read them, he discovered that they somehow contradicted each other, especially about what they thought that the Christians held. He began to wonder how something could be so odd as to be attacked for such contradictory reasons by atheists who did not agree with each other either. This perplexity began to give him the horrid thought that something so strange as to be attacked in this way by scientists and atheists must either be the most mixed up thing in the universe or it must be true. I think the reading of the atheists still yields this "horrid" suspicion.
The question you asked really goes back to the remark of the pope, that the major task of modern thought is to separate eschatology from science and politics as themselves claims to solve all of man's this-worldly problems and destiny. The "modern project," as Strauss critically called it, is really a form of inner-worldly eschatology that corrupts the real temporal meaning of this world.
So-called modern philosophy wants to argue that religion did not solve man's problems, so it would suggest by its own methods that transcendent issues that did originally arise from religion could be solved by modern secular means. The figure of Francis Bacon is prominent here. We should divert all our efforts to improving man's "estate." Added to this is an almost all-prevailing Rousseauism that insists that "structures" are the problem, not the souls of actually free men, as both Plato and Scripture told us. The fact is that no matter what the technology, the soul problem remains the same in every generation, in every regime. No reformation of the structure, of family, economy, or state will "cure" this inner problem, and if it could, it would simply mean that we are not free. The problem is not "medical" or psychological, but moral and metaphysical.
You mentioned "soft atheism" or "soft belief" as related to atheism. Actually, I think Nietzsche is right here. He was scandalized not because God did not exist, but because believers, who were supposed to act as if he did, did not so act. His disbelief is closer to scandal than to philosophy. But the other side of Nietzsche is a passion for the "what would it be like if it were true?" His famous aphorism, "The Last Christian died on the Cross," is nothing less than the plea of a utopian who is searching for ultimate being. He just cannot recognize it if its followers do not. Nietzsche can even be looked on as someone who wanted himself to be God, or at least to have His power to form all things anew. Nietzsche never really rejected "the last Christian."
Christianity, on the other hand, did not want to make men to be "like gods." It was content to leave them as finite and fallible men, but ones who needed hope, the possibility of repentance, and some source besides themselves on which to place their confidence. I think at bottom that Nietzsche, who is often considered to be at the bottom of modern atheism, is really at the bottom, as Walsh says, of the participation in being that violently reacted to the pseudo-metaphysics of modernity's philosophers, who, to go back to my comment on Aristotle, did think that politics was the highest science, and thus an eschatology.
KM: I noticed a blurb by you on the latest collection of the late Ernest Fortin's writings. There is of course a certain controversy over Fr. Fortin's work. Would you address the relationship between reason and revelation in his work? How does this relate to your critique of Leo Strauss on the insufficiency of the understanding of the ‘protecting' of reason from revelation?
JVS: I was privileged to know both Fr. Fortin and Fr. McCoy, as I know both Msgr. Sokolowski and Professor Walsh, such is the result of a long life. I once made a remark in an essay I did in the Gregorianum about not knowing the reason why McCoy did the chapters on Augustine and Aquinas in the first edition of the justly famous Strauss/Cropsey, History of Political Philosophy, but, in the second edition, they were done by Fortin. Fortin himself told me that he did not know the reason. I have always been grateful that we now have four essays not just two as would have been the case widely read volumes, of which there is now a third edition.
I have been a great admirer of both McCoy and Fortin. McCoy was more critical of Strauss than Fortin, but both were very aware that reason and revelation addressed each other across the horizon of political philosophy. Fortin wrote considerably more than McCoy. McCoy was extremely hard on Plato and, probably for the same reason, on Strauss. Fortin comes in through Augustine, about whom he has written so well. McCoy is Aristotelian and follows the track of Aristotle throughout the history of political philosophy as that against which it is to be judged. Both are concerned about the relation of modernity (and its "future"), as it is called, to the classical and medieval philosophic traditions. I think both were aware of the dangers to the Church itself if it got the whole issue of political philosophy wrong, as many even in high ecclesiastical places did. Tracey Rowland has shown what this failure means in her Thomism and Modern Culture.
The whole subsequent ‘liberation hassle' is not really over. The most definitive ecclesial document about it, besides John Paul II's Puebla address, was written by Joseph Ratzinger. The central issue was again the identification of Christian eschatology with politics and thereby imagining that it was a this-worldly enterprise that one was either for or against, but not as a religious proposition. In effect, it meant denying the transcendent nature of Christianity.
I still think one of the most important essays ever written by a Catholic political philosopher was that of Fortin, "Social Activism and the Church's Mission" (CW, v. 3). In it he wrote, in words that are more incisive today than when they were first written a couple of decades ago:
[We need to] restore political philosophy to the position of honor that it once occupied in Christian tradition. One can only regret that this crucial discipline has been neglected for so long in American higher education. The fault does not lie with our Church leaders alone. If they themselves have so little acquaintance with it, it is because it is conspicuously absent from the best theological and philosophical literature of the twentieth century. Only in recent years, thanks to the efforts of a small group of outstanding scholars, has it once again begun to be studied with any degree of seriousness, and not everywhere at that. It is still totally lacking in most of our seminaries where it has been replaced by narrowly conceived and often ideologically oriented concerns in social ethics (the scientific study of our quasi-mythical ‘social justice') or in liberation theology, itself an offshoot trend in European thought, however eager it may be to pass itself off as a native Latin American product (259).
The evident ignorance of many scholars and ecclesiastics of the origin and intellectual nature of the terms "natural" or "human rights," "social justice," and "values" constitutes, when carried out, a political threat to the Christian existence itself in many areas of the world, both "developed" and "under-developed" (both terms of modern political philosophy). Fortin's essay, "Natural Law and Social Justice" (CW 2, 223-42) is a further analysis of this central understanding.
Many a valiant effort, I know, has been made to save these terms "social justice, "values," and "rights" from becoming what they were in their modern origins, namely, words based in voluntarism with no foundation other than will. Some efforts work, but the culture still hears and uses these words and phrases as arbitrary. Ninety percent of Catholic efforts to deal with "human rights" or "values" have to do, alas, with claiming that it does not mean by such ever recurring phrases what everyone else means by it. A majority of Catholic now seem to agree with its modern, relativist meaning. The culture assumes they mean what it does. And when Catholics are able to suggest that they mean something else, they are accused of betraying the rights foundations of the modern world, which they thought in their own minds that they were trying to save. Walsh is probably right that "rights" still have some vague and obscure memory of a natural order that is not self caused. The actual political order, however, less and less remembers its own origins before Hobbes.
As to the issue of "protecting" reason from revelation, what I had in mind was the way Strauss dealt with Aquinas' natural law. I did not include my essay, "A Latitude for Statesmanship," from The Review of Politics (1991) in this collection. Strauss suggested that what Aquinas held to be philosophical was not so because the reason he arrived at it was aided or, better, stimulated by revelation. Strauss, himself a Jew, had valiantly tried to protect Jewish revelation by his famous view that philosophy and theology cannot prove each other wrong. Therefore both must be permitted, even though they evidently have no relation to each other. The rabbi and the philosopher must take different paths. As far as I can see, this move involves closing reason from all that is, a very un-philosophic position. I tend to think that Strauss arbitrarily cut off any philosophic position that might suggest, on philosophical grounds, that revelation did address itself to reason. I do not think his reason here was really philosophical.
Thus, I think that Aquinas cannot be dealt with so lightly. Chapter 12 of the book on Gilson takes up this issue. As Josef Pieper has often pointed out, when Aquinas disagreed with Aristotle, he did so on philosophical grounds as such, even if he had to be more philosophical than Aristotle to do so. For Christians, as Strauss himself noted, the priest and the philosopher can be the same man. Christianity is, if you will, a "dogmatic" religion; that is, it is one that addresses truth, philosophical truth. The very content of the Christian revelation obliges it, by its own intellectual integrity, to understand, that is, to see that it, itself, is not contradictory. This issue can easily get us back to Islam and the Regensburg Lecture, but we have already discussed this in an earlier conversation. Strauss was perfectly aware of the issue, I think, when he remarked that Israel and Islam were alike in that their burden was to observe the law. Christianity was not primarily a revelation of law, or even of doctrine, but of a person who is Logos.
Briefly, reason does not know that it is being addressed by revelation unless it (reason) has already on its own seen what it can see by its own methods. This is the Christian value of the pagans, Plato and Aristotle. It is also why we find today in the forefront of the efforts to save philosophy from itself mainly Christians. This is the import of Fides et Ratio. It is not that reason can "prove" revelation or that revelation is primarily a philosophic project. The same man can be priest and philosopher. He does not have an Averröistic soul in which one part of him stands in contradiction to the other part.
When the philosophical mind knows its own limits, it still can examine of what it too can know of revelation's self-articulations (Trinitas, Verbum). It can see that the positions of revelation are not utterly "irrational" on philosophical grounds, though they may be beyond human reason but again not contradictory to it. This position is really the burden of my books, At the Limits of Political Philosophy and Reason, Revelation, and the Foundations of Political Philosophy. I think what happens to philosophy when, knowing itself and its own limits, that what it is that it does not know, cannot deny that what revelation says of itself makes sense in philosophical terms, even if not acknowledged as true by the philosopher as philosopher. That is to say, what is proposed to reason by revelation is not contradictory to reason at its best. Indeed, as Pieper said of Aquinas, it makes reason to be more reason in its own order.
KM: How might Evangelicals appreciate your book and the arguments you have made over the years? You emphasize that ‘Revelation is addressed to the intellect, and on its own terms.' Evangelicals may not see their faith in this same way. This was one of the problems Sarah Palin ran into during her campaign.
JVS: Nothing could be clearer than the fact that Evangelicals seek reason in the public order, whatever they call it. The astonishing number of Evangelicals who have become Catholic is almost always the result of the sudden realization that a) the Logos has a meaning and b) that faith seeks understanding, even while remaining faith. Faith is not an abandonment of reason. Faith always presupposes someone who sees, not someone who believes.
You mention Sarah Palin as an example of an Evangelical in the public order. Of all the candidates in this past election, she seemed to have the clearest mind and certainly understood what "prudential" judgment meant. She was the only one who had actually exercised prudence in a real political context. It is really too bad that she was not able to spend a few months ahead of time with Russell Hittinger, Robert George, Msgr. Sokolowski, George Weigel, or Ralph McInerny. The only thing her mind lacks is a bit of discipline, not intellectual potential.
Our department of political philosophy, and I think Catholic University also, over the years has had a steady stream of young Evangelicals who see the need of reason. Aquinas and Aristotle stand out there hovering over everyone, even the atheists. A reading of Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, or Karl Keating suggests that the Evangelicals know what is up. What is up is they too need a philosophic basis and, on looking about, they discover that in fact there is one that they can use. I might add that it is now quite clear that Catholics need Evangelicals to do the basic public work. Catholics have largely dropped the ball onto the Evangelical court to keep some semblance of reason in Father Neuhaus' public square. Catholic scandals and failure to attend to them have largely in most parts of the country defanged any united Catholic presence
KM: You mention that the "defense of philosophy is also the defense of the common man" (31). Is this primarily through revelation, reason, or both together?
JVS: Well, again this question smacks of Chesterton. But let me approach it through the quip of Nietzsche in the beginning of Beyond Good and Evil where he accuses Plato of the ultimate crime, the belief in truth of the philosophers (the forms). Again, I do not hold that Nietzsche did not himself search for the truth. It was just that, not unlike Aristotle, he did not find it in the forms, at least as they were described. When he rejected the forms, he did not necessarily abandon the search for true being.
But, the reason that I bring this up is that Nietzsche next calls Christianity, in a famous phrase, "the Platonism of the masses." Why does he do this? Well, it is because Christianity proposed to everyone what Plato only proposed to the philosophers, namely, knowledge of the truth to be saved. For Nietzsche, this extension only compounded the original problem.
Christianity, thus, proposed to the common man what is most unsettling about reading Plato, namely, its evident elitism. It is not just the philosopher who will be saved, but even the slave, the harlot, and the dullard, not to mention the military and economic guardians of book two of the Republic, and even the professors. Aquinas looked on the "divine law," that is, revelation, to ask whether it was "necessary" (I-II, 91, 4). This is one of the very great questions in the Summa. (There are about ten thousand others). Aquinas, incidentally, had the peculiar characteristic of answering questions carefully and accurately. He thought a mind filled with questions alone was a pretty sad mind, since the purpose of the mind is to identify and affirm answers.
Chesterton said, in one of his delightfully counter-cultual remarks, that the "mind is made to make dogmas." That is, it is made to state the truth and to know that it does so with the evidence on which it is based. This is what Msgr. Sokolowski's book is about also. The modern opposition to truth, as I pointed out in Chapter 20, "On Choosing Not to See," is really a defensive move. It suspects that the only way it can protect itself from living the truth is first to deny its existence. Next it denies that our organs can know anything but ourselves. Finally, as Nietzsche forced it to recognize, by power it could possess anything at all that it wanted, but only in so far as it did not involve a truth that it did not itself make.
It takes both reason and revelation to defend the modern, or any other, man. A complete understanding of what we are in truth demands both. Each of us is created with a transcendent purpose that is not ultimately political. Yet, the arena in which we work out what we are in our actions is within the polities of this world. What we do makes a difference. It has long been the position of Christians that charity, humility, sacrifice, truth, and generosity are present in this world not in contradiction to reason but still in addition to it. It is one thing to do good, but it is another thing to have compassion for the multitudes.
In Benedict's first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, he was very careful to say that state bureaucracies even set up to deal with the poor or crises cannot really fulfill their purpose unless something directed to the person-love, generosity-is also present. We may not want to ask where this comes from in the world, but we suspect that it is not from the world itself. This is why we study philosophy.
The people who suffer most from bad government and bad philosophy are the common men, those who want to live out their lives and care for their families in dignity. We live in a time in which families themselves are under attack for even being families. But the origin of this attack is the philosophical justification for living a life that is as such disordered. So, I think it is true. Common sense philosophy is the first defense of the common man.
KM: We began by speaking of a very long book, Don Quixote, and as you love to make reading lists, which lengthy books do you recommend? There are the obvious ones, like the City of God, but do you have any other picks? What about short books or poems?
JVS: As a matter of fact, I am doing a class this coming spring semester on Augustine. We will take the City of God, which is always a daunting read, but if one persists, it is of remarkable profundity, even more so today. There is something literally "awesome" about it. The front page of E. F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed, another remarkable, yes Aristotelian, book that I read every semester with my classes, contains a brief citation from Book XIX of the City of God.
Clearly, JVS is most fond of this citation. I always check with the class to see if the students have noticed it. I have never found much of anything more pertinent to academic life as it leads, or should lead, to what is not only beyond academia, but beyond politics. It reads: "Nulla est homini causa philosophandi, nisi ut beatus sit." "No reason exists for a man to philosophize except that he be happy."
No other passage I know better explains this "wonder" in us that Aristotle found at the beginning of the Metaphysics than this citation from Augustine. Once we "quote" it, as Sokolowski says, we take it into ourselves and, if we catch its import, affirm that what it says is true. We simply want to know things for their own sake. Or to say the same thing in another way, from Plato, truth is "to say of what is that it is, and of what is not, that it is not."
Ultimately, politics exists that something besides ourselves can happen within us and, indeed, to us and among us. That is what the last book of the Politics of Aristotle is really about, the great theme of leisure, all this activity is to be seen in the light of what Socrates told the jury after it condemned him to death. He told them what he expected to be doing in the light of their famous decision to kill the philosopher. Politics, if it is true to itself, always brings us back to the death of the philosopher in the existing city.
As to what you cryptically call "lengthy books," the two books I never fail to mention are Boswell's Life of Johnson and Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov. Chesterton did not really write a long book, but he did write many-not-so-long books. And I have always considered him something like Aquinas, about whom he wrote a famous biography. Aquinas' Summa Theologiae is some 4006 folio pages, and it is considered to be an "introduction!" But if, like Thomas, one has practically memorized all of Scripture and Aristotle, and I do not know whom all, it may be considerably easier to write a "lengthy book" that can be read step by step, day by day, in short segments, each of which contains a complete thought.
I have written many, many columns on Chesterton, there is even a collection of some of them, Schall on Chesterton. But I have never read so much as a paragraph or short essay of Chesterton in which something humanly profound was not said, and usually wittily said. No one would accuse Aquinas of writing a bemused text, but he does write in short articles. He already breaks any subject down so that a real human being can get at what he is talking about without being overwhelmed with the other 4005 pages of the Summa.
I often suggest to students to go to the Library, find the Opera Omnia of Aquinas or Augustine, just take a look of what one man could write in, for Thomas, a relatively short lifetime, for Augustine a rather longer one. There is something overwhelming about such production. I recall that Plutarch, I think, said of Epicurus that in his famous Garden, he wrote over three hundred books. The title of a book of mine, The Life of the Mind, I think, comes from the utter aliveness of such accomplishments. This vibrancy is evident without ever going into the question of the truth of what the philosophers do produce. Scripture even hints that the "children of darkness," as it calls the evildoers, are more enterprising than the "children of light." Still, if the truth of a thing is not examined against a standard that is not arbitrary, it makes a mind seem like a rather useless appendage of a being with no purpose. No wonder Aristotle defined man as precisely the "rational animal' with all its ramifications - political animal, homo faber, the being that laughs.
To be sure, we did Plato in class two semesters ago. The total number pages of his collected works in English is 1745. We did Aristotle last semester whose basic works come to 1487 pages, granted we probably do not have all of the works of either. Just mentioning these books brings to mind the title of Peter Redpath's little book, How to Read a Difficult Book, itself mindful of Mortimer Adler's classic, How to Read a Book. I remember that I had been assigned the Adler book when I was a freshman at Santa Clara, lo, those many long years ago. I also remember not having much of a clue as to what it was about. It was one of Redpath's "difficult books." What I do remember, however, is knowing that what I was reading at the time was important. Eventually, I learned how to read, at least till I read C. S. Lewis's famous quip that "You have not read a great book at all if you have only read it once."
But I do want to recommend two quite new, two quite long books, though not 4006 pages. Both of these books were published by the Cambridge University Press in 2008; both are written by professors at the Catholic University of America. The first is Robert Sokolowski's The Phenomenology of the Human Person; the second is David Walsh's The Modern Philosophical Revolution.
The Sokolowski book is simply the best philosophy book I know. It is not only a model of clarity and exactness, but it is written, if I might put it this way, so that one can understand it without having to go through the philosophers. The book is about the "agent of truth," namely, the human person actually knowing, and yes, speaking, what is. In a real sense, it is a book whose very reading is an act of philosophy. In true Aristotelian fashion, it guides us to reflect on ourselves and what we know as we think it out and speak it. The book is, at the same time, a masterpiece of pedagogy and of philosophy.
The Walsh book simply involves a complete rethinking of modern philosophy in the light of being, of what is, or as Walsh puts it "the luminosity of being." The book literally reverses what most of us have always thought about "modernity" and its implications. Actually, in this sense of intellectual "reversals," it is instructive to compare it with the McCoy book, recalling that McCoy, like Walsh, was once Chairman of the Department of Politics at Catholic University. In a certain sense, the Walsh book is about saving the mind from itself as that very mind apparently sought to destroy itself as mind.
What I find amusing about these two books is that Sokolowski is a philosopher who takes considerable interest in political philosophy (see his essay on political philosophy in his Christian Faith & Human Understanding), while Walsh comes from political philosophy by way of Voegelin but writes on philosophy. Both together prove to me what McCoy always maintained: that the polity is not safe if the mind is not actually knowing the truth and, vice versa; even if the polity is safe, it will not long be if something goes wrong with the mind. If there is any justification for the politicians who killed Socrates, it was, as Socrates himself understood, because they confused sophists with true philosophers.
Both of these views are based on an acute understanding of the freedom of the will, which means, in the end, that any polity can change for better or worse, depending on the virtue and choices of its citizens, usually its dons, clerical and academic. In other words, the last myth in the Republic of Plato is absolutely necessary for the integrity of any human politics. This too is why, I think, Benedict's Spe Salvi is the most revolutionary and perceptive tract in political philosophy in our time.
Thus, the most remarkable book I have recently read is entitled, brace yourself, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. A friend gave it to me, thinking, no doubt, that Schall probably needed it. At first I thought it was a new book, but it was written in German in 1977, and in English in 1988. It was written by Joseph Ratzinger. I did not come across the book until I had read Benedict XVI's 2007 Encyclical, Spe Salvi, a document that I said at the time literally was a reverse of what Voegelin had popularized as the "Immanentization of the Eschaton." (See JVS comment on this, at www.ignatiusinsight.com). Ratzinger simply proceeded to "de-immanentize" it, namely to restore the last things to theology where it belongs and not to politics and science where it had taken up residence in the modern era.
On reading the following passage from the Eschatology book, most of which appears later in the Encyclical, I practically cheered out loud: "The Christian hope knows no idea of an inner fulfillment of history. On the contrary, it affirms the impossibility of an inner fulfillment of the world. .... The biblical representation of the End rejects the expectation of a definitive state of salvation within history" (213).This was written before the 2008 campaign. And I recently heard that in Germany the sales of the works of Marx are rapidly rising.
Both of these latter events are tinged, I think, with utopianism. In any case, Benedict bluntly states that the greatest natural philosophy argument ever made for Christianity is made by two Marxist philosophers, Adorno and Horkheimer. They saw that there is clearly a philosophical necessity of the resurrection of the body, (the perennial philosophical stumbling block to Greeks and Jews) if justice, the political project, is ever to be realized. Now of course, Plato was pretty close to saying this same thing. But as Augustine said of him, he saw the Word, but not the Word made flesh. The Marxists, who had the advantage of living in a Christian culture, saw the point. So did the Pope of Rome.
As to a short book, as you say, I spend half my time recommending short books. I do this for a reason; namely, you have to get someone to start. There is so much noise and relativism that almost the only thing that can crash into the world of a young man or woman is a small unassigned book that might be read when he has the I-pod off and nothing else to do, which rarely happens. The modern world is deliberately filled with many things to do, many busy, busy things.
But recently on my way to Boston for the Maritain convention, I grabbed C. S. Lewis' Present Concerns. It is 108 pages. Now Lewis is something of a phenomenon, I know, in waking people up. And I am no stranger to him, even to this book which was filled with my own markings. So I was reading it a "second time." One of the essays in this book is entitled, "Is English Doomed?" Not a bad title, I thought. But the following passage has stuck with me: "The aim of literary studies is to lift the student out of his provincialism by making him ‘the spectator,' if not of all, yet of much, ‘time and existence.'" (29). This is not, I think, multiculturalism or even less globalism.
One of my recent complaints of students is that their high schools do not provide them with this background of literature, of models of virtue and vice that become visible first to us in the reading of great literature. What too often happens is that schools think their advanced students, who are younger than Plato's 20, the minimum age even for beginning philosophy, should study the heavy things. What happens, as Plato also says, is that they become discouraged and think the higher things are all full of obscurity and nonsense, so they turn away to other entertainments. One has to have a certain maturity and a certain virtue even to begin, and both of these are lacking. This is why, I think, that we need a sort of salvage operation of short books, of what I call "another sort of learning," to find those minds who somehow have retained or discovered their innate curiosity about the truth of things, but who do not know where to go or what to read.
As to poetry, Joan Feeney in New Jersey sent me Billy Collins' The Trouble with Poetry, which I liked quite a lot. Anne Burleigh in Kentucky sent me Wendell Berry's short novel Andy Catlett: Early Travels, a wonderful book. "The Brightleaf brothers, like many farmers of our region who belonged to the old world that ended with mechanization in the aftermath of the war, were men who talked for pleasure" (44). I have known such men. Finally, I read Ralph McInerny's autobiography, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You. I learned much while I laughed or cried on practically every page. "Theologians like to describe themselves as ever under imminent threat of being silenced. During these years I almost longed to hear what a silent theologian would sound like" (127). If we compare the Greenleaf brothers with the never-silenced theologians we will find a double pleasure. And as we look back at the title of Billy Collins's book, we see that it reflects the problem of Socrates, the relation of poetry, polity, and philosophy.
KM: "All true philosophers when they die, die in the same city" (94). Is this the Kingdom of Heaven? Is it the First Circle of Hell?
JVS: This was the conclusion to what is probably the best literary chapter in the book, Chapter 6, "On the Death of Plato." Plato, I think, was a true philosopher. He died peacefully in his bed at 81 years of age listing to a Thracian maiden play the flute for him, for which he had to give her the beat. The central chapter in my At the Limits of Political Philosophy (1996) was entitled "The Death of Christ and the Death of Socrates." Earlier, in the Politics of Heaven and Hell (1984), its second chapter was called "On the Death of Christ and Political Theory." Obviously, I have been thinking these things through for some time.
Socrates died at the hands of the Athenian state when he was 70, while Christ was 33 years old when He was crucified, again under the jurisdiction of the state, this time, the great Roman state. We know that what most incited the philosophy of Plato was precisely his witnessing and recording the drama of the death of the philosopher. Ever after, philosophy has been seen, at one of its most basic levels, as a preparation for death.
The city in which Socrates died was Athens, the civilized city, the city of the philosophers. Christ died in Jerusalem, turned over by his countrymen, executed under provisions of Roman law, still the great source of law and reason in the public order. What is Athens? What is Jerusalem? What is Rome? These are fundamental, unavoidable questions that the philosopher must address.
Strauss began what is no doubt his most famous lecture in these memorable words: "It is a great honor, and at the same time a challenge to accept a task of particular difficulty, to be asked to speak about political philosophy in Jerusalem. In this city, and in this land, the theme of political philosophy-‘the city of righteousness, the faithful city'-has been taken more seriously than anywhere else on earth. Nowhere else has the longing for justice and the just city filled the purest hearts and the loftiest souls with such zeal as on this sacred soil" (WIPP,  1959). I have always loved that passage, and read it aloud when I can.
After Plato had witnessed the death of the philosopher in his city of Athens, he spent the rest of his life seeking out the question of whether there is a city in which the philosopher would not be killed. He explained to us that there was a city in "speech" in which this might be possible, but it was a very demanding place. It had to be built in our souls, no matter what actual city we lived in.
In book two of the Republic, Glaucon describes the common view of what would happen to the really just man if he appeared in any existing city. He described what would happen to him. Many of us, when we read this passage, return to the death of Christ in Jerusalem, in Zion. The Roman governor in charge of the execution asked Christ if He was a King? He said He was, that this was the truth. The governor replied, in an infamous, but famous phrase, "What is truth?"
So what does it mean that all philosophers, when they die, die in the same city? Nulla homini est causa philosophandi, nisi ut beatus sit. Socrates died in peace, chiding his friends, the potential philosophers, for not having learned the lesson of philosophy about death. Augustine did not let the teaching of Plato remain in the mind. "The city of righteousness, the faithful city," this was the City of God. Its King died on the Cross in Jerusalem. It was the Roman law that decided the form of execution. Glaucon had said that most people think this is what would have happened to a just man who appeared in any existing city, even Athens. Both John Paul II and Benedict have not hesitated to see in the deaths of Socrates and Christ a profound connection. The connection is faith and reason, politics and what is beyond politics. Eschatology speaks of eternal life, not just continued existence in this world, not just of nothingness.
You ask if this city in which all philosophers die is the Kingdom of Heaven? Or perhaps, to recall Dante, about whom Fortin seems to have had Averröist suspicions, the First Circle of Hell? What did I have in mind when I remarked that all "true" philosophers die in the same city? I had also said that they "die the same death." A true philosopher is one who is open to all that is. He cannot exclude any truth that comes to him. This means that he does not live only in the city of his own mind, one that has no relation to being, to what is.
This is the true danger of the modern city, that, for it, there is no city in speech, no eternal city, no Kingdom of God. All that there is, is what it makes for itself. It is this city that must be called "good," no matter what happens in it. When the true philosopher dies, then, he does not die in this existing city. He dies knowing that his philosophy points him to what is, to the "city of righteousness."
KM: "The life of God is fundamentally a friendship. The Trinity is friendship" (138). God is never lonely, but how does man fit in?
JVS: This is your last question. Chapter 10 of this book was from my first book, Redeeming the Time (1968). I can still remember that astonishment I felt in the formulation of its sub-title: "God Is Not Alone." Anyone who knows Aristotle will recognize the problem addressed here. I spelled it out in Chapter 8. Aristotle had worried that, in the end, there must be imperfection in the inner life of the First Mover who moved by reason and love. And in his own light, Aristotle was quite right.
Aristotle asked the right question, as he almost always did. He had not yet heard an answer to it that would allow him to reject the hypothesis that God is lonely. This is what the Trinity is about on the level of political philosophy. It was the answer to a question that in fact had been properly formulated by the philosopher. In this light, we cannot be surprised at what Benedict said in the Regensburg Lecture about the reason why Paul went, not East, but over into Macedonia.
If there is any one recurring impression a professor receives from teaching over the years thousands of students all more or less twenty years old, it is that they know, in books eight and nine of the Ethics, that Aristotle is onto something that concerns the very meaning of what they are. They know they are made for friendship, and that of the highest order. Aristotle allows them often for the first time to think about what they vividly experience though they are usually confused about what the full experience entails, as Aristotle suggested they would be.
So, you ask, if the life of the Godhead is fundamentally friendship, the Trinity, that God is not alone, where does man fit in? This is what Chapter 21 of the book is about, the ultimate meaning of existence. Once we understand that God does not need to create a world in order that he might have friends-this is the reason some not unperceptive sages gave for creation-we see that God, because of His otherness, did not "need" anything but Himself. Thus, if something not God exists, it exists not out of necessity, but out of an abundance of that which is the inner life of the Trinity, things of goodness, generosity, love, givingness.
Each human being, not just the philosophers, but them too, exists that he may participate in this inner life of the Godhead. This is what explains that restlessness that we all experience about any beautiful earthly thing that is offered to us as our happiness. Augustine is the master here. We all recognize our souls in his.
But it would not mean anything if God created automata who had to love Him. He could not simply create another "god" just like Himself. What was left to the Good, to recall Plato, was indeed what was good. Creation involved an invitation, like all friendships ultimately do. It involved freedom, including the freedom to reject, the freedom to choose oneself alone. Hence the "First Circle of Hell" is not a frivolous sideline. It is the realism that Adorno saw in the need for judgment of the human beings who did choose, as Plato said, good or evil.
Thus, to conclude, I do think that philosophy and revelation do pass through political philosophy. The latter does not always know its dignity or even its purpose. The polity itself is the arena of both temporal and ultimate actions of free human beings. The temporal activities are the everyday ones in which we reveal our souls before our fellows. All philosophers die the same death. It is not surprising, in Fides et Ratio, that John Paul II said that all men are in their own way natural philosophers. The common man not only wants to save his soul, but also to know the truth of things as best he can.
In Spe Salvi, that most remarkable document, Benedict recalls that early Christian sarcophagi record the figure of Christ as both a shepherd and, most surprisingly, a philosopher. "Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human-the art of living and dying" (#6). And the shepherd, it also seems remarkable that Christ told us to rule as servants not as masters. Both on the grounds of philosophy and on that of revelation , there are reasons posed to all men about the inner coherence of all things. Political philosophy stands at the heart of this drama.
As Fortin quipped, and Nietzsche fumed, few philosophers and theologians know what they are about. Indeed the pope himself said, "It had long since been realized that many of the people who were around philosophy, teachers of life, were charlatans who made money through their words, with nothing to say about real life" (#6). Plato called such folks "sophists." He did not like them at all. Revelation admonished us to try to save them, including their minds, none the less.
We still read philosophy to see what answers are addressed to us after we have formulated our wonderments about what is. We are the common men who know and need to know about "the art of living and dying." Plato, after pondering the death of Socrates, wanted to put the city of speech, the faithful city, in our souls so that we would take nothing less that what it is when, if ever, it is finally offered to us. The meaning of Augustine in political philosophy is that something was "offered" to us, the friendship that is the ultimate purpose of existence. Thus, in this context, it does not seem strange that Christ, before He died, told the disciples that he no longer calls them "servants" but friends. The reason He gives is that He has told them all things the Father has told Him. This is why we read in something approaching awe what Aristotle said in the two books on friendship.
Nulla homini est causa philosophandi, nisi ut beatus sit.
KM: Thank you, Father Schall.
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