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Augustine, Aquinas, and Fusionism

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thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • RogerMcKinney

    “marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government.”

    That makes no sense at all, especially since government didn’t get involved in regulating marriage until the mid-19th century. Through most of history, states did not regulate marriage. Marriage was a contract between families. Abolishing state regulation of marriage would be nothing more than a return to a more rational perspective and limited government.

    “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.

    Libertarians are much further along the road to that goal than conservatives.

    Also, it would be nice if the model of libertarianism was someone like Hayek instead of Rothbard. Rothbard was a genius at economics, but nuts when it came to social issues and developing his own morality, almost as bad as Ayn Rand.

  • RogerMcKinney

    “marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government.”

    That makes no sense at all, especially since government didn’t get involved in regulating marriage until the mid-19th century. Through most of history, states did not regulate marriage. Marriage was a contract between families. Abolishing state regulation of marriage would be nothing more than a return to a more rational perspective and limited government.

    “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.

    Libertarians are much further along the road to that goal than conservatives.

    Also, it would be nice if the model of libertarianism was someone like Hayek instead of Rothbard. Rothbard was a genius at economics, but nuts when it came to social issues and developing his own morality, almost as bad as Ayn Rand.

    • As to the privatization of marriage and the cause of limited government, in the article at least, Girgis, George, and Anderson do not argue it so much as assert it in light of their views regarding the role that families play in nurturing good citizens and market actors.

      You’ll need to clarify your claim regarding government and the novelty of its involvement in marriage in the nineteenth century, though, since at least in the sixteenth century the marriage court (Ehegericht) was a defining feature of the Zurich branch of the Reformation (e.g. Zurich, Bern, Basel).

      The conversation didn’t develop enough for me to discuss the question of who should be in dialogue, but I was planning at some point as appropriate to introduce the question of Roepke vs. Rand. Although I suspect you won’t like his treatment of the Austrians, John Mueller’s Redeeming Economics has some interesting observations as to which representatives of which schools tend to make good conversation partners.

      • RogerMcKinney

        It has been a long time since I read it, but I was referring to the US. As for the Zurich court, I don’t have any problems with courts getting involved in settling disputes about marriage contracts. Even Rothbard insisted on the need for courts to settle disputes based on natural law. He considered his ethics to be “advances” to natural law but a lot of people would consider them aberrations.

        Rothbard is part of the libertarian camp, but his ethics make it a fringe element. I doubt Rothbard would have considered Hayek libertarian and Hayek didn’t like the term. He preferred “classical liberal.” A lot of Rothbard’s followers call themselves anarcho-capitalists to distinguish themselves from non-Rothbardian libertarians.

        The proper term for those who agree with Hayek’s view of government is liberal and that is how Europeans still refer to them. Socialists have made communications nearly impossible by their kidnapping of the term in the US. The US is the only place I have found where socialists call themselves liberals, the very opposite of socialism. They wouldn’t have succeeded with such dishonesty if historians and journalists didn’t aid them.