On Sunday I was the invited speaker at the magnificent National Cathedral in a series devoted to the exploration of political themes. The subject was “The State of Political Language.” The event was recorded, and is available here.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Thank you for sharing. Great topic. I hope the evening bears fruit, among the chattering classes in Washington and those you form as future leaders.

    I found myself chuckling in gratitude though when the theology question came up, since your reliance on a mere historical reference, sympathetic to Luther, Calvin and the Puritans (de Toqueville’s POV), was IMHO not sufficient to warrant questioning the utopian utility of maximum good to maximum number as a passable definition of the common good in a liberal democracy where ‘good’ is subjectively valued not at the margins of subsidiarity limiting the harm of man’s fallen nature to those most likely to be affected but now by federal FIAT afflicting absolutist fallen nature’ harm with impunity on all.

    Absent respect for a word in our “State of Political language” for a public transcendent end in ‘the other city,’ the private politics of ‘this city’ may be malfunctioning regardless of operating system or application programs presently installed. Bugs and defects abound. Updates and security patches are external, graced gifts that heal the interruptions of hardware crashes that will inevitably transpire without an back-up intervention. In “animal spirits too-big-to-fail” central banking, of course, they’re a feature not a bug: we’re all now suspended in bubble limbo. If cost to the common good is prohibitive to the continuance of Leviathan, civic regulations are simply not applied (see MF Global theft, you can do evil that good may come of it or ‘some pigs are more equal than others’).

    Where does the receptacle of grace, the heart, reside in the frontispiece you mentioned? Am I to take it the backs of the heads of the citizens imply their gaze of idolatry is aimed at an absent idol, or merely the possibly ‘occluded’ mind of a heartless absolutist sovereign? In advocating Locke’s arguments was Toqueville aware of the popularity of the chapbook Schola cordis emblem of Benedict van Haeften among fellow Northern Europeans of Locke’s era (composed by a Catholic in Latin in 1640 during the absolutist atrocities of Richelieu against French Hugenots, and localized* into Anglican English in 1687) that resisted the mind-over-matter raison d’etat dissociation of rationality from reality in the Machiavellian Jansenism that prevailed then (and persists in some quarters down to the present day consider, for example, its ramifications in the deeply-corrosive fall-out in the sex abuse scandals in both Boston and now in Ireland, see “Human heart and Sacred Heart: reining in religious individualism. The heart figure in 17th century devotional piety and the emergence of the cult of the Sacred Heart” http://www.enid.uib.no/texts/achen_1.htm)

    As an aside — one that is apropos to ‘prosperity’ from a cosmological (universal human rights) perspective — allow me to share an insight I gained just this past St. Paddy’s day/Laetare weekend. I had the privilege of accompanying a group of confirmandi on retreat to the St. Katherine Drexel shrine in Bensalem PA where the director spoke on God’s sacramental economy of gift: while on earth the wealthy heiress extended her generosity to her apostolate, theretofore unique on North American soil, amongst the residents who prior to the founding of her order had not been considered worthy of the rights of citizenship, native Americans and descendents of slaves, nor equal treatment within the local Churches. The trust fund that financed her largess however was never her own property, all her works were funded by the dividends on the principle, which returned to her male familial heirs upon her death. Her sisters must — as now must we all — rely on the ‘credits’ she accrued dutifully and filialy in her heavenly bank account. a mutual fund of intercessory prayer, detachment and suffering offered up, of inestimable value in the Father’s economy of Gift.

    While Augustinian theology certainly was amenable to the historical method favored of National cathedral audience inclined or listing exceptionalism, is not JPII’s Trinitarian personal phenomenolism (his theology of the body) the proper remedy for what ails the common good locally, in this barren dualism of the belly and the members ?
    Compare frontispiece engravings, where the former creature was absent a heart, this is absent a head, absent a mind — or the appetites, the accident of the senses now rules in place of the mind — both represent fractus ventris vs fructus ventris, as Shakespeare’s treatment of the meme makes clear in “Coriolanus” written a couple of decades prior to the van Haeften’s chapbook). Heartless order is no order.

    Man’s virtue is not primary, its secondary, a mere fruit. God is the fructifier, the fecund life-giver, the primum mobile, first cause. To attain balance assumes knowledge of a cause, a mean worthy of relating to. Absent such benchmark value (Christ’s self-emptying atonement) what represent “units” on a scale for vice in a polity of competing unsatiable appetites? The subjective value of an Absolutist authority is no more or less indifferent (a sin against charity) to prospering of the common good than the sum of the subjective valuations of his subjects.

    Pls excuse the lengthy comment, much to chew on!

  2. * “localized” is a term used in merchandising prevalent in global branding to distinguish a mere translation of advertizing copy that retains the words of the originating language in their literal meaning, risking clumsy style and misunderstandings of ignorance or worse, grave offense in the transmitted version, from a fine-tuned redraft that will adopt stylistic colloquialisms or turns of phrase familiar and therefore inoffensive to speakers of the local language.
    In the Restoration version, the School of the Heart of Christopher Harvey purposely REJECTS the excesses of the British embodiement of puritanism: an iconoclasm of the spirit courtesy of the roundheads, see

  3. Kant’s deontological Kritik der reinen Vernunft would appear to gel with BXVI’s critique of the tyranny of relativism, only in so far as he, like you, appeals to our duty to think

    “Kant proves himself, further, to be a genuine and great thinker in another way, namely, by doing for the moral law in the ” Practical Philosophy ” what he had done for the theoretical laws of knowledge in his theoretical philosophy, namely,
    demonstrating its originality, its oneness with the very nature of mind. Empiricism and materialism, on the contrary, represent even the moral law as imported into or generated in man by education and custom, and have therefore never been able to account for the necessity which characterizes it. Education and custom are competent, indeed, of themselves to produce in man a certain habit of conformity to the moral law ; but no education and no compulsory measures can beget
    in him the feeling of duty or of respect for the moral law. This is a feeling which no motives lying outside the law itself can generate; it always absolutely presupposes itself. No rapport of intelligence could ever exist between the educator
    and the pupil, unless the latter could be assumed to be naturally endowed with a capability of distinguishing between that which should and that which should not be. This moral feeling may be misled or neglected, and, as a consequence, degenerate or become atrophied ; but never can it be imported into man from without ; it can only be awakened and developed in him so far as it is already a part of his nature.”

    Acting man is a mere subject of the prior action of unbounded dynamic grace. he is not an objective rule unto himself. Man can act under an axiom of cooperation, where his sacrificial price discovery in exerted effort is modulated by a necessary humility that future gain is NEVER certain. A sovereign that risks attrition of present goods in an unhedgeable gamble for acquisition of unknowable future gains was a heretic even under the pagan order (one need not resort to Revelation or Thomism to discern the imprudence of such a patriarch… yet that is exactly what the monopoly of force of our culture of death abrogates to itself tearing the social contract apart by sundering the covenant of trust between the generations).

  4. More on axioms, contra Kant and pro the economy of gift:
    “By first arguing endogenously, i.e. from within “economic logic” (§ 32, 36), Caritas in Veritate opens up innovative types of deliberation”

    “Caritas in Veritate builds on Benedict’s long-standing teaching that religion must not be reduced to a social or individual ethics, as Kant proposed to do, and that morality must be distinguished from moralism. Expecting too much of man means moving him into the sphere of the divine. By expanding the distance between divine and human standards, morality becomes increasingly “footloose” and serves a social or political purpose rather than being embedded in a comprehensive vision of meaning. Already long before the beginning of his papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger had argued not only that economic decisions must not be divorced from an ethical perspective. Rather, he entertained the bolder claim that true morality requires economic analysis: “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality” (Ratzinger, 1986, 204).”

  5. IMHO the categorical imperative of moral hazard as understood in the Austrian school is the only one capable of solving Adam Smith’s Diamond-Water Paradox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_water_paradox
    in that it makes room for the inalienable dignity of human life as motivating factor in an acting man’s social intercourse, ie the value of monetary units is never a fixed good (an end in itself) but is always a means to production of marginal subjective value under THAT individual’s use of free-will discernment. If I’m a drought stricken farmer of cattle with a large family to feed, the value of diamonds is neglible. Aping a popular promotional tagline: a Catholic non-profit excavating a well in my community? Priceless!
    CRS | Water for Life | Malawi

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