It would appear that a universe wherein the darkness is pressed into the service of the good is the greatest manifestation of God’s power and nature. Perhaps God’s omnipotence and love are best revealed in a story that enrolls sin into the triumph of good, ugliness into the display of beauty, nothingness into the glory of being, rather than blotting them out entirely. Of course, this involves a kind of blotting out, but it’s more like a transubstantiation, or to be even more precise, a second creation ex nihilo, than it is an undoing of a mistake. Sin in and of itself is nothing, a lack, a privation of some good that ought to be there. And yet from this nothingness, God brings forth life. The resurrected Christ is somehow more perfect for retaining the wounds of his crucifixion. This is an image that is horrifying in itself and yet is transformed into the sweet and lovely. The crown of thorns glorifies. The wounds are not lost. That the gore produced by hatred is turned into an image of God’s infinite love undoes the wisdom of the world and forces us to consider God without earthly mediation. That’s the image that Julian wants us to see.
Julian presents to us the mystical complement to the intellectual insight of St. Augustine and St. Thomas. She shows us (through what was shown to her) that God has painted creation with a place for the darkness of sin. Ultimately, evil is not meaningless or amiss because it serves a role in his providential plan. Sin does not inhabit pockets of the universe wherein God has been defeated. Sin has served the grand purpose of displaying who i am is, and thus God has truly become all in all. Julian does not deny the ultimate reality of sin, nor does she claim that it is inevitable. Julian tells us that all shall be well precisely because God, the grand storyteller, has written, is now writing, a story in which the reality of our virtue and even the reality of our sin shall forever reflect nothing but the glory of God. And thus I hope and pray that Julian is soon canonized and made a Doctor of the Church. She already is, so far as I am concerned, the Doctor providentiae.
Former Marine sniper Jake Wood, founder of the nonprofit Team Rubicon, is tragically aware of this dynamic. In his recently published memoir, Once a Warrior: How One Veteran Found a New Mission Closer to Home, Wood writes that the grisly numbers of veteran suicides – since 2012 more have killed themselves than have died in combat – are a “stunning statistic and a sobering rebuke – and many Americans have never heard of it. This epidemic cannot be fully explained with clinical diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder. To understand, we must look more broadly to the dearth of purpose and self-worth some veterans experience upon return.” Young people join the military for a number of reasons: patriotism, education, community, adventure. But these motives share the desire for a mission, a sense of service. The military offers young people both ready-made community and larger goals, both practical and altruistic.
Unfortunately, the experience fades as quickly as it comes. One day you’re getting screamed at in basic training, the next people in an airport are thanking you for your service. And then it’s over, almost like a dream, and you’re plunged into the cold hostility of civilian competition. As Wood writes, “civilian life confounds and frustrates you. Were people always so self-involved? Instead of protecting life and liberty, you’re supposed to muster enthusiasm for socializing with your coworkers with an eye toward that promotion. But this new set of norms feels like a step in the wrong direction. It’s hard to form bonds with people who are more interested in greasing the wheels of their career than forming a real brotherhood. You knew your fellow soldiers would die for you; you’re fairly sure these people would plant their Italian loafer on your back as they stepped over you onto the ladder’s next rung.”
To see Manent’s point more clearly, we might think about the prototypical modern politician, the Machiavelli’s prince, who cuts through the fog of morals and ideals in an effort to bring about real change. Is this prince not in fact a merely reactive pragmatist, dependent on fortune to set the stage and the situation to give him his cues? Hobbes’s state, too, is fundamentally reactive, designed to forestall sedition and civil war, not to inspire people to act in pursuit of a common good. Seeking to authorize the pursuit of self-interest, it has paved the way for the “disordered extension of rights” that now, Manent argues, “render[s] unintelligible the very bases” of moral and political life. The long-term consequences of the early modern effort to restore political life have brought about a situation of political dysfunction to rival that of late medieval Europe.
To revive civic life, Manent argues, we will have to revisit natural law. As he makes clear, this will require more than re-reading the Summa Theologica, as valuable as that exercise might be. For natural law today must be calibrated to respond to the political problems of our time, to offer a “remedy” for the apathy and despair that are destroying our practical lives.
Manent’s presentation of natural law therefore shies away from listing out interdictions; it is not a “guardrail law” that aims to prevent us from doing our worst. The power of natural law, he causes us to see, lies instead in the way it limns the natural outlines of human striving, and thereby illuminates the complexity of human motives that inspire our actions. Once we recognize that every human being strives to realize some combination of pleasure, utility, nobility and justice, we can better understand not only ourselves, but each other. The “objective and sharable character of human motives,” moreover, gives us a rough but “simple and concrete criterion” by which to judge whether a “society, regime, or institution” opens up space for their realization. And it sets the stage for the deliberation that is essential to engaging in political life.
Robinson has two goals in writing The Enlightenment: to explain the multifarious breadth of the Enlightenment as a historical phenomenon and to defend it as a political and philosophical project. He fails utterly at the latter. Aside from a few mentions of the Frankfurt School critics Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno toward the end, the book barely engages with modern thinkers critical of Enlightenment philosophy. Examples of those critics abound and reside all over the political spectrum. The conservative metaphysician D.C. Schindler argues that Locke, by separating freedom from an articulation of the good, turns it into a substitute for the good. The French political theorist Pierre Manent contends that the Enlightenment notion of a “blank slate” and its political corollary, the state of nature, strips humanity of “all complexity or inner fullness.” And the Italian publisher and writer Roberto Calasso has spent his career picking apart the anti-metaphysics of the philosophes, particularly Bentham, showing that they didn’t so much abandon metaphysical commitments as hide them. These are just a few examples of some of the more trenchant “conservative” critiques of the Enlightenment ignored by Robinson, to say nothing of the vast anti-Enlightenment tradition of the Left.
That said, The Enlightenment is a total success as a history of the period. He delightfully conveys the spirit of a complex age without resorting to abstruse terminology or dry academic language. He’s the rare historian who inhabits his subject from the inside and brings a little bit of its life back for us to enjoy. As such, The Enlightenment is not some marketing gimmick meant to confirm our assumptions but a serious work of history that glows, as Ezra Pound said of good poetry, “like a ball of light in the hand.”
The Nature of the Gods is formatted as a dialogue involving arguments by Stoics and Epicureans, with a healthy dose of Cicero’s understanding of Greek philosophy thrown into the mix. Except for those readers graced by a solid, classical education, the “Introduction” to any translation of Cicero’s book will be required reading. This background reading will bring order to the text, and insight into Cicero’s ideas, beginning with the characters he develops for the dialogue. In my edition, Ross actually carries on Cicero’s work in an appendix, and here we see a hint of Voegelin’s observation about Cicero’s “compact” experience of the transcendent. Ross observes that the Stoics and Epicureans could not clearly recognize that God is not part of the created order, but remains a transcendent Creator mysteriously influencing people in Creation, and that refutations against their arguments need not have detracted in any way from the reality of God’s existence. The question that is not asked by Cicero, argues Ross, is “can there…be morality or truth or great art unless they derive from an…ultimate realm of a different kind from our relativities?” 
In the Introduction to my edition, Ross suggests this work by Cicero—with some exceptions—has not been well read over the centuries, and there have been times when it has been mistreated, as when Calvin set the work up as a straw man in order to carelessly knock it down in the name of his own Christian doctrine. There is also a clear enough hint that maybe Cicero’s work is no longer that important in the grand scheme of things. Having read many fine books that study the works of people such as Plato and Saint Augustine, to name two “book ends” that surround Cicero’s work in time, this may well be the case. I can only say that reading Cicero has been a very stimulating and sometimes surprising experience for me. So, if you pass a dumpster someday, and you see Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods lying there, I would personally recommend it worth the effort to retrieve the book. Who knows, it may be the last copy on earth. My edition is starting to fall apart.
Klein argues that although polarization has affected both sides, the Democrats have managed to muddle on, but the Republicans have gone completely off the rails.
Stop for a second before reacting here. I get the impression that Klein understands he is taking a risk (not an actual risk of decreased popularity, given the givens, but some kind of metaphysical risk to his soul) by abandoning his previous attempt at a neutral stance and coming out like this. I think he feels bad about it, and that he considered not writing this chapter on that basis. I think it's very important to him that we consider the possibility that he wants to be neutral, is trying as hard as he can to be neutral, but that even from an attempted-neutral point of view he thinks the decline of the Republican Party is a threat to the stability of the country. And I think it's very important that we maintain a stance where we recognize this is a potentially true state of affairs - it really is possible that one party is much worse than the other! - and don't automatically condemn Klein for raising the possibility.
That having been said, I don't think he acquits himself well here. Some of his arguments aren’t great (the Republicans "launched a bizarre and unpopular campaign to impeach Clinton", but Clinton was obviously okay and didn't deserve impeachment, so the GOP has gone crazy and is a threat to democracy). He refers to data "showing Congressional Republicans have moved further left than Democrats have moved right", which I think is a typo (isn't the usual argument that Republicans have moved further right than Democrats have moved left?) but he never gets around to presenting it, instead gesturing at how it's obvious by looking at the Trump campaign vs. the Clinton campaign. This does not seem obvious to me. Trump holds basically the same positions that Americans in the mainstream of either party would have held in a less polarized time (eg 1995); Clinton holds positions that everyone in 1995 (including her husband) would have thought insane, radical, and ultra-far-left.
(my own model here is that the social justice movement pioneered a much angrier, more radical, more in-your-face style of identity politics, and the conservative movement scrambled to figure out how to fight fire with fire despite a big handicap - conservative identity politics based on white, male, etc identity are understandably taboo. They flailed around for a while, mostly failed, and are now experimenting with how far anger can go as a substitute for a coherent philosophy. Needless to say, this isn’t how Klein thinks about any this.)
Mearsheimer’s response was The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), in which he subjected several of the liberal pieties of the previous decade to closer inspection. In the wake of the ‘no-fault’ aerial operations of the Persian Gulf War, and the unveiling of the B-2 ‘stealth’ bomber, US military planners believed that they could determine outcomes on the ground with minimal US casualties. The age of air power had been proclaimed many times before – by Giulio Douhet, Carl Schmitt, Arthur Harris, Norman Schwarzkopf – but Mearsheimer insisted that conventional armies would still form the basis of most conflicts in the 21st century. The ‘stopping power of water,’ as he called it, limited the capacity of a state to project power on another landmass for any great period of time. Insular landmasses protected by water boundaries – the US, Britain, Japan – would always be easier to defend than Germany and Russia. It’s possible that Mearsheimer had internalised the unique geographical conditions of US power, a country-continent flanked by two oceans, as the ideal situation of a great power. Even so, he believed that America’s global ambitions were logistically impossible to realise.
He also dismantled the neoconservative assumption that the way to preserve American hegemony was to create a world of liberal democracies, each with its allotted place. He argued that democratic peace theory, which holds that two democracies can’t go to war with one another, was empirically mistaken. In the First World War, a nominally representative democracy (Great Britain) had gone to war against another nominally representative democracy (Wilhelmine Germany). The decade he was examining offered the example of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan – two democracies that had been poised to destroy each other since Partition. There was no guarantee that a world of liberal democracies would be a world of peace. And, as he pointed out, ‘democracies are somewhat more likely than non-democracies to target civilians.’
Jonas’s claim is that modern hostility to immortality is to our own detriment, especially in times of ethical crisis. His way in is, again, through feeling. “And yet, we feel that temporality cannot be the whole story,” because it is man’s “self-surpassing quality, of which the very fact and fumbling of our idea of eternity is a cryptic signal,” he writes. For Kierkegaard, we also feel the weight of eternity yet, it represents an eternal force touching down in the temporal. This generates anxiety as the paradox of the God-man cannot be comprehended by reason. Yet, in Jonas’s estimation, eternity transforms moments of extreme decision where “we feel as if [we are] acting under the eyes of eternity.” Unlike Kierkegaard, these moments under the eyes of eternity revive a sense of agency in individual human deeds rather than a destabilizing angst. Jonas’s moment is one of affirmation where “the moment places the responsible agent between time and eternity.”
This odd feature of our temporal existence where two irreconcilable domains meet reveals that we are active, not passive recipients such that we are “wholly subject and in no way object.” In this way, the moment shares more affinity with Heidegger’s resolute decision. To be sure, Jonas does not fall for the same trap that Heidegger sets for himself—that is, the inability to make temporal discriminations in light of ethical responsibility. That is to say, the only standard by which a decision can be made under Heidegger’s temporality is a Dasein’s attitude towards death. Heidegger then lacks the tools with which to separate ontological and ontic happenings. Because he cannot say precisely what it means for Dasein to own his own death and face it resolutely (for that can only be answered by a particular Dasein) nor can he make a judgment about the content of a historical decision, he is forced to render historical happenings ethically neutral.
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