Research

Publications

Walker, Douglas, and Michael Giles. Tocqueville Reconsidered: On Secular Morality and Religion’s Place in Liberal Democracy. Forthcoming in The Political Science Reviewer. 

Alexis de Tocqueville attempts to harmonize religion and politics in liberal democracies by providing both believers and unbelievers reasons to support politically powerless but socially dominant religion. He argues that disestablishment strengthens religion in democratic society, and that disestablished religion in turn benefits society by sustaining moral beliefs and mores. This paper analyzes Tocqueville’s reconciliation of religion and liberal democracy in Democracy in America and in his correspondence with Arthur de Gobineau. It reveals two assumptions underlying his case: that morality will be recognized as dependent on religion, and that democratic moral views will be homogeneous. These assumptions, we find, are questionable. Secular moral theories have thrived, leading to the proliferation of competing moral worldviews. Consequently, the harmony between believers and unbelievers assumed by Tocqueville has broken down, intensifying moral and political conflict along religious lines.

Working Papers

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 brings out this tension in Montesquieu’s thought, a tension that reveals why Montesquieu 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.

 

Cruel Master and Disobedient Servant: Augustine on Desire’s Fall from Eden

Politics has been called, not without reason, the playground of desire. But how should we articulate the human experience of desire? Beginning in Book XII of The City of God, Augustine argues that we live in a condition of slavery to desire. We also experience desire as a “disobedient citizen” in our efforts to live a good life. Our longings and loves are corrupted by a cataclysmic event – namely the Fall – and the wrongful choice that preceded it.

First, I parse out what Augustine sees as the primary objects of desire. What do we desire, and why do we chase after these things? I take a close look at sexual desire, the desire for possession, and finally political ambition as a species of desire for power. It soon becomes clear that the problem is not with the goods themselves, but with our desiring of them. Hence, I parse out Augustine’s full explanation of our condition with respect to desire. Desire is both cruel master and disobedient citizen in the human heart and mind. Finally, I look at desire from another direction relating to the Fall, and that is the memory of happiness as Augustine relates it in his Confessions.