Not Quite Secular: Montesquieu on the Political Utility of Faith
Is religion a useful or dangerous feature of political life? This paper analyzes an argument made by Montesquieu, a liberal philosopher whose writings were highly influential in the American founding. Montesquieu contends, in Book 24 and 25 of The Spirit of the Laws, that the moral and political effects of a religion depends on its doctrines. Such a claim links faith closely to mores. In other words, doctrine as doctrine cannot simply be expelled from the political realm – each article of faith must be weighed in the balance of political utility. Montesquieu therefore seems to reject Pierre Bayle’s famous defense of a society of moral atheists. At the same time Montesquieu quietly argues that these doctrines are often matters of indifference, and suggests that some key Christian doctrines – in particular – are less than salutary. This paper tracks Montesquieu’s handling of this question, a handling that explains why he fails to go along with Pierre Bayle’s more radical enlightenment secularism.
The Undoing of Work in St. Augustine, Compared to Locke and Marx.
The moral status of work is a central concern of political theory. From Aristotle to Marx, philosophers have expressed unique interest in the goodness and potential limitations of work, on both the levels of theory and practice. In addition, much discontent with the liberal-democratic way of life can be traced to a loss of faith in work. So there is an urgent need to think hard about the nature of work.
This paper discusses the origins and contemporary experience of work as depicted by a famous Christian thinker, St. Augustine. He depicts work as good in its original condition. Yet as with every human institution, work is subject to the Fall. To wit, work is not a curse, but has indeed been cursed. This dissertation chapter articulates Augustine’s defense of the original goodness of work and its subsequent corruption in his theory of the Fall. It then compares Augustine’s theory to Locke’s articulation of the labor in work and Marx’s description of the alienation we experience, in this activity.
By Nature Social, by Corruption Quarrelsome: Sociality in St. Augustine’s Account of the Fall
In the history of political thought, much ink has been spilled for and against the contention that people are social beings. Are they naturally sympathetic and friendly, or are they by nature contentious, irascible beings, prone to erode the possibility of a common good? Augustine believes that mankind is by nature social, yet quarrelsome by corruption. This paper unearths Augustine’s definition of human sociability in light of the Fall and shows that it is a profound longing for unity, which can be expressed in and through political life. Yet because of the Fall, the human beings becomes a quarrelsome creature. This tendency motivates our involvement with politics, and complicates it, in fascinating ways. Ultimately, Augustine believes in mankind’s natural and original sociability; the restoring of this sociability constitutes a real good that the City of God can render to the City of man.