Posted by: captainfalcon | December 6, 2011

Athens and Jerusalem (or whatever)

When I rein they poor, as Kim Jong Santa Claus might say. But sometimes when it rains it pours. To that end, Ken Kersch has an excellent post exploring the psyche of movement-conservative constitutionalism and its relationship to rightwing constitutional scholarship. This is not the crux of the post, but it should resonate with some people in these parts (edited for readability):

Straussian political philosophers – students of the émigré University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) (and students of students, and, now students of students of students) are often taken to be atheists – it is hard to tell, in many cases, for, even if you ask them, given their beliefs about esotericism in philosophy (the threat posed by true philosophers the extant political order), you can’t trust their answers. For our purposes, I will note that one of their animating tropes is the indispensability of reconciling “Athens and Jerusalem” (or, put otherwise, “Reason and Revelation”) in the construction of a just and good political order.

In Straussian Harry Jaffa’s highly influential account in Crisis of the House Divided (1959), Abraham Lincoln’s world-historical accomplishment was in doing just that, by incorporating the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence into the U.S. Constitution – thereby redeeming the American Founding, which was all but fatally compromised by its acceptance of chattel slavery.

Much of contemporary Catholic constitutional thought, beginning with John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths (1960), holds that Thomist theology has itself successfully reconciled Reason and Revelation, or, put otherwise, that the Rome is situated at the ideal point between Athens and Jerusalem. (In recent work, the influential Catholic political philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler has accordingly offered Thomism to the United States as the “just right” common ground for evangelicals, whose emphasis is on Revelation alone, and secularists, who prize Reason above all).  In all three [evangelical, secular, and Thomist] perspectives, what is distinctive about the American political and constitutional tradition is that (through the Founders, through Lincoln, through the work of America’s “accidentally Thomist” Founders (Lawler’s pregnant characterization)), it has arrived at the Goldilocks “just right” solution to the central problems of political and moral life.

The paragraph about Jaffa nicely illustrates why I never had any idea what the underdeveloped pseudo-Straussians I’d sometimes eat lunch with were saying. They’d say things like that. (I guess my mistake was in thinking they were underdeveloped pseudo-Straussians, as opposed to “Straussians simpliciter,” as I might have said back then.)


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