Joseph Capizzi spoke at Baylor University about Catholic political theology.
Ordinary professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America. He is also the executive director of a really important and powerful institute there at the catholic university of America, which is the Institute for Human Ecology. They have partnered often with Baylor in Washington we’ve enjoyed participating together on a panel. I know Joseph Capizzi and I’m really excited that he said yes to come here and give a talk on Augustinian optimistic political theology it was kind of a gift that fell into our lab we have a mutual friend named Mark Tooley. Tooley runs the Institute of Religion and Democracy in Washington DC, it’s a protestant think tank of sorts, they put out the journal for Providence and he emailed me a few weeks ago and said we would love to have students talk more about political theology, and to that end here’s a list of 25 people I would pay to have come to your campus, and Capizzi was on the list and I said I’ll take Capizzi immediately please. I think I was the first one to respond, I said I want Joe to come and it’s worked out and by the grace of God he’s here. His flight was cancelled but he hopped in a rental car at Dallas and he arrived the exact same minute I did about three minutes ago. So, we’re lucky to have him, Joe Capizzi welcome to Baylor.
Joe Capizzi: Thanks David. So much for that introduction. I do enjoy working with you guys you guys are fabulous and Baylor is a great university at the Chandler School of Theology I got a master’s degree there which is in the Methodist tradition, so I think I’m you know relatively versed in different perspectives on things. So, I’m going to make an argument today, but you know and the argument’s kind of like a self-contained little unit a little space that I’m claiming within political theology. But I range much more widely over it and since this may be new to some of you and perhaps even a little bit foreign sounding to some extent, don’t hesitate to ask any sorts of questions you know, feel free to you know sort of to pet the animal or whatever you know you’re getting an opportunity to talk to you know a real live catholic theologian from a Catholic University of America which you know we call ourselves the bishops university I am actually pontifically approved, which means my whole file went to Rome and Rome looked it over and said at least at that point it looks okay. They haven’t probably looked at it recently, not that I think there’s any problems on it so, again don’t hesitate to ask anything that strikes your mind or about anything that you think that I raise, and I don’t quite fully explore.
So, I’m going to be talking a little bit about the problem of authority more or less and what I’m calling the necessity of politics, and you’ll see there are different reasons why I think it’s important to start talking about these things. Again, for many decades social commentators have been aware of a crisis of authority across the entire spectrum of social phenomena in which authority typically resides. There have been many prominent cartographers of this crisis of authority including the political theorist Hannah Aaron who’s a Jewish theorist from the middle of the 20th century, who’s quite prominent in exile and you know a really brilliant thinker. Her writings remained popular in part because of her description of this crisis of authority, authority she wrote in 1954 has vanished from the modern world for Aaron the comprehensiveness of authorities’ crisis undermined the possibility of politics itself. In her book, The Human Condition an essay is like the end of tradition she describes a modernity marked by the eclipse of authority that diminishes the capacity for individual action and ultimately politics. She describes a situation so dire even such pre-political areas as child rearing and education have succumbed to the devastation of authority. Unique because of their natural necessity, their loss, she argues strips us of these powerful models, that is like a child rearing education these are powerful models for a great variety of forms of government that depend upon authority. We are left no longer in a position to know what authority really is, okay that’s our claim. According to Aaron modernity has witnessed the demise of man therefore as a political animal and his transformation into what she calls a working animal an animal laborers, an anonymous, powerless, labor taken together she argues these conditions make mass society possible and create the conditions for human manipulation by propaganda and despotic governance. Liberals and conservatives she adds, have been equally powerless to make sense of these changes and arguably each side contributes to them. Put differently, the problem the problem that she’s diagnosing the loss of authority and the vulnerability of the masses to manipulation and despotism is not a left-right problem, neither side is equipped to fix it.
In the United States the combination of the pandemic and partisan reactions to it the catastrophic end of an equally catastrophic 20 years’ war assaults on elective processes and disorder in major cities and a continuing series of sexual crises among religious leadership have cemented the apparent demise of authority to many elite and popular critics political, religious, and even military leadership have ranged from incompetent to impotent. According to Pew, trust in government is at an all-time low and that is a 2017 study the situation is no better in our churches within the catholic church the one I know better right and I’m sure you’ve all seen the news the authority of the American Bishops is challenged routinely by renegade priests and laypersons when the bishops are not challenging each other likewise breaking centuries of unspoken commitment not to undermine the public’s regard for the military, military leaders have each taken to the press to attack each other.
Finally, the scientific community having enjoyed a decades-long tour of unchallenged authoritativeness has finally run aground in the shallow waters of a deeply politicized pandemic. Follow the science has proven as effective as a teacher yelling at his class to pay him attention. As Aaron described in the 1950s populist, nationalist, and illiberal forms of governance have emerged as coincident to have emerged coincident with this near comprehensive evacuation of common sources of authority, the ground finds itself plowed, seated, and fertilized yet again for new modes of despotism. The connection between the demise of authority and threats to human freedom has been apparent for some time. For some of course the demise of authority corresponds to the growth of reason and thus to freedom as authorities understood is always extrinsic to the person and the community. In this view, freedom blossoms as authority withers. Authority always external to the human subject guides or commands from the outside, sometimes of course that guidance may coincide with the desires or the intentions of the subject, but such an alignment is only coincidental and not an expression of the true subjectivity of the person. Located outside the person authority appears inessential to personal flourishing, one can contingently ascend to the impressive authority but that ascent is only temporary and in some ways substitutional for the person’s capacity for judgment.
For instance, I can substitute the authority of a nutritionist to help me set up a diet for my health, but she serves that role only because I have chosen for whatever reason not to learn what she knows and to substitute her knowledge and her guidance for my own. As I grow in wisdom or knowledge, as my reason expands the rationale for substituting her authority for my own would no longer exist, I could get a book on nutrition learn as much as she knows and set about constructing my own diet. There’s nothing essential about my relationship to my nutritionist, I don’t have actually, I really don’t have one this is hypothetical right, I need only the time and the will to augment my reason and to be gone with her. The key for seeing this way, for this way of seeing the relationship of freedom and authority is in terms of the will. The person must take the leap exercise courage to follow him or herself alone, the person would be truly independent at that point, truly free. Kant’s description of this right is of course the most famous one for you know modern thinking that’s the one that comes in his essay what is enlightenment from 1784, this is like a canonical statement of authority’s relationship with the subject I’m sure many of you read it I’m just going to read you a passage or two from it from the very beginning.
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed knowledge right his childhood or his immaturity this is the inability to use one own one’s own understanding without another is guidance right, its self-imposed right, this this immaturity is self-imposed if it’s caused lies not in a lack of understanding but indecision, and a lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another guide without another’s guidance, dare to know God tells us right, have the courage to use your own understanding, that is the motto of the enlightenment he continues. He goes on laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remained minors all their lives minors’ adolescents right not in coal mines and things long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set them up as themselves as guardians it is so comfortable to be a minor if I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay, others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Again fear, weakness, weakness will in particular laziness cowardice this is what prohibits us right from becoming truly free according to this understanding of things we do not need authorities they are not essential to our flourishing.
In this model of authority and its relationship per person there is as Joseph Bratzinger who’s a catholic theologian right who became Pope Benedict the 16th there is no bridge between the subject and the object of authority there’s nothing that can take us from me right as you know sort of the essential authority to something external to me, what I understand to me external to me and that thus everything which does not come from me is some sort of violence on me right. If I allow it into my life or allow it to become an authority for me, it actually acts as a kind of constriction on my own freedom. Humans then are liberated from situations of oppression when they slop off these external authorities allowing new forms of community to emerge so it’s not simply a kind of subject object relationship or individual relationship it actually pertains to the kinds of communities that we’re going to inhabit. He continued this in a document he wrote called space Alvino on hope where he writes progress is understood progress to this account right to modern thinking on these kinds of questions is as the overcoming of all forms of dependency it is progress towards perfect freedom, likewise freedom is seen as a promise in which man becomes more and more fully himself. In both concepts freedom and reason there is a political aspect, so it’s not merely again an individual question, the kingdom of reason in fact is expected as the new condition of the human race wanted it once it has attained total freedom. The political conditions of such a kingdom of reason and reason and freedom however appear somewhat ill-defined, reason and freedom seem to guarantee by themselves by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and a perfect human community, a community without authority.
In other words, the continued rise of reasoning the correlated diminishment authority will produce a community of self-ruling individuals with no need of political authority. Recall Aaron’s point about the replacement of political man with laboring men, we will not need politics in other words in this kingdom of reason right, it would again be some sort of external intrusion on the own action our own exercise of our reason and also our freedom. His skepticism the pope’s skepticism about this project is obvious like Aaron he suggests the consequence of this conception of freedom and its relationship to authority portends tyranny. It’s actually right this is actually not going to bring a kingdom of reason into being it’s going to bring it into being a kingdom of tyranny. These are false views of the relationship of authority the person and life and community.
These views promise freedom they promise new forms of community, but they offer instead oppression and variations on tyranny. This assault on tradition and legitimate forms of authority church political and so on leads to the demise of those sources of authority. Instead of freedom their disappearance churches, political institutions, other social institutions in which human beings typically have sort of made their lives including the family right as Aaron pointed out will eventually disappear and it exposes human beings as individuals to the operations of more and more authoritarian forms of governance, or so is Aaron’s claim, so is pope benedict’s claim and you know so others argue as well of course they argue. I know I agree that human beings actually need authority our dependence upon authority is not a limitation of our freedom but in fact is necessary to our freedom of course the mere fact of the human need for authority which i think is an essential need built into who we are as human beings exposes human beings as individuals and communities to abuse and neglect in authority’s name right. And the kinds of the kinds of instances that I described like for instance the stuff that’s going on the catholic church the stuff that’s going on in other churches in the United States right in part is a consequence of people’s essential need for authority they’re looking, they’re yearning you know for authoritative figures to act well right and making themselves vulnerable to authoritative figures acting poorly right.
So, this need does expose us to abuse and neglect in the name of authority. The response of this from the classical tradition from Plato through Aristotle to the major figures of the Christian tradition including of course Augustine and Aquinas connects the necessity and exercise of authority both the necessity of authority and his exercise to truth. It begins with the assertion that we are the certain kinds of beings that need authority okay, so begin with the truth this is the kind of being we human beings are right to be a human being is to be a being that needs authority which is itself a truth claim that it begins also with a claim that the genuine exercise of authority connects to truth, right in order for truth to be assuming for authority to be acting well it has to be connected to truth, and in particular to the specific sorts of truths that are dependent upon the nature of the authority. For instance medical or scientific truths in the case of the medical or scientific authorities and political and historical truths in the cases of political and historical authorities. When utterances of these authorities are shown to be false especially intentionally false, not only do these utterances cease to bear the gravity of authority, the sources of the utterances, the authorities themselves, suffer a decrease in their authoritativeness. People resist the exercise of authority that they no longer trust.
Again, think just a pandemic of what it’s doing to us we have all seen this right very recently the pandemic in part has not merely exposed that the crisis of authority has affected political and scientific authority, I think an argument could be made the pandemic was caused to some extent by those crises, much as famines are almost always a combination of political and natural catastrophes. We were simply unprepared to respond adequately in part because of the collapse of authority we’ve been discussing, including the demise of our trust in the truth orientation of these authorities, political authorities, medical authorities, scientific authorities, and so on.
Authority then according to the classic account which you know I consider myself a part of trying to rehabilitate proceeds in relationship to its ordering towards truth when shown to be consistently false or mistaken or to have no regard for truth at all it is exposed as about power alone. And again, Ratzinger wrote man’s capacity for truth is in fact a limit on all power, right we are the, we are truth-seeking beings, again you know truth claim about what kinds of beings we are and that truth that truth pursuing capacity does and ought to limit power. If this analysis is right, you should not welcome but fear what we are seeing which is the demise of the institutions that we associate with politics right their collapse is coming right now, sort of happening right in front of us. We are entering what some people are referring to as a kind of post-political age and for people who believe that we are political beings right this is not a utopia this is not the kingdom of reason but in fact the kind of nightmare that we’re watching come into being.
Often to say that we are as I just said very quickly political beings in our sort of essence is seen as a point of departure between the Protestant and Christian traditions and I want to assuming Protestant and Catholic traditions – that was a slip right, oops, this is how we think about the water fountain where I am. I want to sort of wind my comments down at this point I’ll finish off with a couple of comments on this where I think there’s more commonality in part traceable to the sort of relationship of Augustine and Thomas to each other. So, like I said this is often seen as a part of a point of departure between protestant and catholic thinking in particular is the point of a divergence between Catholicism is understood as following Thomas Aquinas and variants of magisterial Protestantism following Augustine. Catholicism this kind of reaction goes, embraces the essential sociality of man and his related need for life and political community, while often right, people claim a protestant Augustinianism rejects this man by nature may be social but not political. Political society according to this view is a consequence only of human sinfulness, right. Had humans not sinned there would be no need either for politics or authority to sort of typical salt right against this kind of protestant approach, or this this read of Augustine.
You can see that if in fact that read is true right, you’re only a few steps away from that view that political society is only a consequence of the fall in other words it’s not essential to man to perhaps getting to where I was describing before where you have human beings searching for a non-political society a kind of kingdom of reason that will be truly liberated right, and this is often, if you read bad catholic theologians these days you’ll see them blame everything on Protestantism right, it’s because of certain developments in Protestantism that we find ourselves with Kantian views or other sorts of enlightenment views that they’re connecting sort of very quickly to certain kinds of protestant moves the reaction.
The reaction to that claim I think is manifestly false right and quite frankly makes Protestantism and Augustine seem rather foolish. Of course, there are important differences between and within the true tradition sort of Augustinian tradition and optimistic tradition and in particular regarding the place of coercion in politics. But on the essential political age of the human being, we all should agree, and by this I do mean a political nature requiring life and political community requiring the exercise of authority. Let me provide one example to finish my comments. So, we’re going to go to Augustine the city of God right, which at least some of you will have perhaps read a little bit of right maybe all of you have read a lot so, if so congrats to Baylor.
So in the city of God book 12 Augustine focuses on God and his creative activity seeking to defend Christian biblical claims in chapter 22 of that book he points out that God’s choice to create the human race in one man distinguishes the human race from other animals, some of which god made solitary and lone ranging and some he made gregarious right, so he’s talking about how God created the world and in particular how he created the different kinds of animals of which humans of course are a certain kind of animal. He created human beings through one man and on the other hand he created animals in a different way and some of these animals are quite different some are solitary and lone range they hang out on their own right they do their own thing; some are gregarious they live in society. In both cases with regard to the and the non-human animals, all animals were produced not from a single individual as human beings right there’s not one, lion right or armadillo or you know roach right, there’s right there were roaches and there were whales and there were things like that right.
There’s however as we know one human being the reason God did this Augustine argues is plain. And this is a quotation not that man might be alone and bereft of human society but by this means the unity of society and the bond of concord should be commended to him more forcefully mankind being bound together not only by similarity of nature like say lions and eagles right they’re bound together by their similarity of nature but by the affection of kinship. So, he’s arguing right, by creating us in this way through one being God is cementing a kind of sociality in human beings like kinship, right. that sort of always calls us back right. Human sociality kinship even is the essence of the human being it is built into God’s creation of all men including Eve throughout Adam.
Our unity is rooted in the moment of our creation that is not the end of the story of course but it’s beginning for just as kinship is rooted in the one man so is human sinfulness that results from the fall. Later in verse 12 he writes there is not nothing so social by nature as this race no matter how discordant that is it has become through its own fault. Right, so nothing is as social as human beings are he’s claiming in all of God’s creation because of this kin relationship that God you know exhibits to us through his creation of all human beings through Adam, right. So, for the there are some people who even deny sociality in Augustine, it’s pretty clear it’s manifestly false right, he makes this plane. But this is despite what we see right what we see is you know if you just look at anybody even if you look at a family right what you see is discord, right. What we actually see is discord, right. human beings who live miserably with each other I’m sorry right sorry to you know debunk any you know your views right we’re actually kind of miserable with each other, but the sociality is built into us.
Nonetheless, we are naturally social divided by our own activity the essential unity of humankind rooted anatomy continues this tip again admonishes man to preserve unity among the whole multitude okay we constantly have to call ourselves back to this fundamental unity that is the nature that is built into us that is that is our essence we cannot flourish in other words if we’re not moving back towards sociality despite discord. He makes this point after acknowledging man’s division by sin, the preservation of this unity is a human task given to human beings. what do we call that task? We call that task politics right. That is what politics is trying to drive people back towards a unity that is essential to them some people claim that Augustine may have conceded the essential sociality of the human being but not a political sociality that is they argue he believed the need for politics stemmed from sin alone. The unity with any political community is sought by the activity of political authority or government which exercised his power to direct the community towards its sheer love, primarily by protecting the innocent and punishing evil. Like much of the tradition that follows him Augustine makes ample use of saint Paul’s letter to the romans in chapter 13 God ordains government into being governments serve human goods by pursuing the more full expression of this original unity, but he adds in chapter 15 of book 12 which I’ve been citing from, that though god did not intend human beings to have lordship over each other right, he does not intend human beings to have lordship over each other, that’s not built into our essence right, this kind of rule the kind of rule that we associate with masters over slaves or lords over their servants, their peasants. Instead, he did set into place the authority of the first just men as shepherds of flocks, okay, that’s a quote from him he did set into place the authority of the first just men as shepherds of flocks.
Now look I’ve not spoken about how political authority is exercised and I think there there’s clearly in that space, in the exercise of political authority there will be sort of deep differences between Augustine and Thomas. I’m merely trying to show that the Christian tradition catholic and protestant at least is invested in the re-establishment of authority that serves the human community including political authority. there’s no question generally that Augustinian and Thomas domestic inflections of political authority will differ and I should add, there’s different versions of tomism right and there’s different versions of Augustine right I mean I’m trying to make that point about the different versions of Augustine for sure but there’re also different versions of tomism, and there’s also believe it or not non-touristic versions of Catholicism right. you know there are people who are Bon venturing or you know phenomenological right there are very different ways of approaching things Catholicism you know brings it all in at some point.
There’s so there’s no question generally that Augustinian and domestic inflections and political authority will differ and again particularly with regard to you know how we understand the operation of coercion, and perhaps also certain kinds of questions about the possibilities of government with regard to the development of virtues and individuals. However, there’s no question, I think, that Augustine had a conception of political authority one model perhaps more on the household right or the shepherd of the flock, and I submit that this is enough to enlist Catholics and Protestants side by side in the work of rehabilitating political authority. Thank you.
Speaker: We’ll take some questions. Who’d like to ask a question. Matthew
Joe Capizzi: Right, no, look that’s a great question basically I’m in complete agreement, I’m just going to talk through some ways that I think that this spells it out. So sometimes people who argue about a crisis of authority will make it, will make it seem as though there is nolonger any authority right, and maybe there are ways in which I was even saying that. Right, but part of that’s distinguishable from a claim that traditional sources of authority right havecollapsed and been replaced by other ones. That’s right I think it’s you know in my mind there’s no question in essence that human beings are always looking for things to be authoritativeright. And so, where churches and teachers and military you know leaders and heroes and you know whatever else in the past, they have service authorities they kind of find it locating somewhere else right.
So, we can think of obviously technology right, technology is a space where it acts more or less authoritatively on our lives. And if you think about what makes something authoritative or what are the qualities of authoritative things it’s typically that when it commands, I will exceed the command almost without thought right. You know if I respect my father or my mother or my doctor and they say you know you know make your bed or take your pills, I don’t typically question you right you know okay my doctor said take the bills you know you see my you see in my charts I take the pills right. We’ve often relocated it I think rather than it’s just gone right, and we’ve relocated it in weird things right. Like you know what Taylor Swift think about politics does right you know I mean like these kinds of strange things matter. I’m sorry, I know what Taylor Swift a dated reference is right, but right but these things matter. First, it’s always kind of weird or like again around Catholics I don’t know if you guys, I don’t know if you guys do the same sort of thing, you’ll do this every once in a while and somebody like oh my God Aaron judge is a catholic, right it’s like who cares. Like but you know but for some reason for some reason you know that some figure is also on our team has bears a kind of gravity for us in our community, so I think that’s a great point it’s a conflict. It’s a complicated thing I think to describe really what this crisis is and I think there’s there are even different ways to approach what exactly is going on right and from one way of looking at it you could trace and a very catholic way to look at the story would be to trace it through the French revolution unless right you know and say that look you have the collapse of the borders right of French society and the assertion of the egalitarian right relationships of you know human beings within those orders and it kind of collapses typical sources of authority right, the nobility, the clerics you know and so on and it replaces it with what? Well, something eventually does step in right it becomes extremely authoritative right and acts in you know manifested despotic way. So, it’s a great question and you can tell I’d love to go on about it.
Questioner: I’m wondering how your argument fits in with the readily observable phenomena of tribalism and whether it’s not so much the collapse of authority as the selection of a particular authority that we wish to believe and follow to the exclusion of others that we don’t. So, it’s you know thinking about competing news with networks for instance I mean people tend to more or less accept you know the authority of Fox or CNN right now but not the other.
Joe Capizzi: Right yeah. No right. So right. So, in a way that we tracked onto is it, Mark? Matthew’s question right. In some ways you know people are looking for sources of authority. I think the piece that I you know that I that I would also connect that to is the relationship to truth. Right, you know in what sense are these are these things or do these tribal or rearrangements of things detach themselves from concerns about truth as opposed to affirmations of myself, right. You know, so I see this a lot on Twitter you know that our Twitter becomes really a kind of affirmation of myself. You know both in the way that one curates one’s followers and so on and blocks youknow certain kinds of discordant voices and the likes and so on, so it’s, it I think it would try to my mind this would be part and parcel with the kind of analysis you’re seeing Aaron do but obviously much more contemporaries are doing as well as they look at the way technology is influencing a lot of this. It’s about the subject, it’s about me right, and I am choosing which things are authoritative in my life to some extent independent of whether they’re true and more whether they actually affirm my thinking or my feelings, perhaps you know. So, it’s a great, it’s a great point.
Speaker: Let me take one, let me take one, I wanted you to know that’s my theology colleague Matthew Whalen and this is Matthew Lee Anderson with a question now.
Joe Capizzi: Okay. Okay great. Thank you.
Questioner: Thank you very much for the talk. It could be that I missed it, So as I understood you, I’d like to hear you say more about what you think authority should be? And how it’s different than the modern accounts. As I understood you it seemed like the modern account you gave it account of a party where it’s reasons that I would have thousands of other reasons. So, it’s sort of like directive reasons but it seemed like the problem with modern account was basically that I would only grant that those reasons have legitimacy on the basis of my own willingness, so right because insofar as those reasons fit with my self-image is so it’s really all about me at the end of the day. Is the mystic the understanding of the account you tied to truth, but you tied what to truth? Like my question is what’s the actual nature of authority there is it’s still an account of reasons that I have to act in the absence of other reasons or is there actually something different about that possible conception of authority intrinsically that might explain some of these other sorts of phenomena? Such that beauty has its own authority, even if it’s directed in a non-compelling way like we tend to think of it?
Joe Capizzi: Look that’s like that’s a great question. In a way okay, you didn’t miss it because I didn’t say it, right so you know fair enough. Right, you know, yeah sure. So, look the. That attracts onto truth right that in the classical account. Look and I think even to some extent right you want to say that that that’s also not missing from the contemporary account, but I’ll leave that, I’ll leave that aside just for a second right because I think it just complicates things. That it tracks on to truth is another way of saying it tracks onto a certain kind of givenness of the way the world is right for the classical account. And the given of, the givenness of the way the world is revealed to us in this account in different ways beauty reveals it right, argument reveals it and of course there are there are institutions that reveal it right both in the personal sense, people, and also the church and so on. But there are reasons also given for why those different sources of authority are intelligible as sources of authority. So, it’s, so I’m not sure if this is the force of the point but if it is I would certainly concede the idea that reasons are there, right, and reasons are never absent from us right. So, some of the reasons are exactly why you listen to your pastor right, even when you don’t understand right, and it’s not like everybody needs to be capable of understanding, right we understand that. There’s lots of different reasons why people for whatever, you know for whatever reason right, there are lots of different reasons why people will not understand the dictates of authority. And we can give reasons for why it’s not necessary for them to do that, which are intelligible in terms of the givenness of certain things. Am I getting, like it’s a great, it’s a great longer question to get at, and it does deserve?
Speaker: Let me, can I answer the question. I’d like to just build on that. I mean everything you’re saying about reason and authority attracts really well with you. But there’s another side to Augustine and I’m thinking of that passage where he tells the story of Alexander the Great arresting of a pirate and Alexander’s like what do you think you’re doing being a pirate and the pirate says oh please, what do you think you’re doing being an emperor, you’re the same thing right and then Augustine reflects in the abstract all kingdoms are but bands of robbers. And I don’t see the reason there, I do see Romans 13 and obey those who are in authority, but it’s not as if the authority tracks with reason.
Joe Capizzi: You don’t see the reason why we obey the king or the emperor?
Speaker: Other than, other than a command to do so.
Joe Capizzi: Right. Yeah, and so is it. Would the question be at that point that with the question maybe I’m, maybe I’m someone at this point would the question be at that point that we cannot provide a reason for why it’s still appropriate to do you know to. Right because he’s ordained right of God would be the explanation and why should we why should we do things that are ordained of God and so on. Look I don’t know that confounds reason so much as in my judgment unless I’m missing it as more as raised questions about the role of justice and governance right and presumably justice and reason sometimes at some point aligned right and Augustine seems to recognize that even I think right even though we’re going to have arguments about to what extent he thinks the point of governance is justice, as opposed to something other than justice right, which would be like O’donovan. I think you know right if you read Oliver O’donovan, you know he’s got the lean, right he’s got the lean doctrine you do it’s right governance is not really about justice first and foremost but about judgment right you know in a like sort of an instance we can’t build the kingdom of God right that’s built for us instead what we’re trying to do is make judgments. But there’s still reasonable judgments right in part because of our relationship to a tradition right and the tradition is what helps us discern the reasonable judgments that we need, and I think like you know in these differences.
Questioner: To what extent would you say this modern like crisis of authority is due to like a cultural change in the attitude towards authority versus like a genuine failing of authoritative figures? And if it is due to like a genuine failing, what’s the collect correct classical response to that?
Joe Capizzi: Yeah, so I think it’s very moderate to think it’s about the failure of the individual’s right in authorities, you know I think that that’s what we think, like these bishops and priests and so on and politicians would just be better right, then you know then we’ll then we’ll give them the authority that they deserve. And I don’t, so I don’t think it’s primarily about that, I think it’s a deeper cultural transformation right. Where again certain kinds of institutions and societies that have built themselves around, for instance conceptions of tradition right, have dissolved over time and so they make up, they look to human beings, we look to human beings instead to bear the burden of their of this kind of authoritativeness be the kind of guy that we can believe in right and I mean that’s superhero you know movies right, you know like and of course the in a way the truth of you know contemporary superhero movies is these guys can’t bear that burden, right, you know they’re wracked with anxiety over this like, I’m just doofus, like you know spider-man or whoever were like I can’t bear the burden of this kind of expectation from me so in a way they’re kind of interesting and subverting I think what we expect. So, I don’t think it’s primarily about failures I think the failure is just as I said kind of cement our sense that these institutions are just bereft of any meaning, you know sustaining capability where they may have been in the past.
Questioner: So, follow up, what is the correct response to failures in institutions in the classical tradition?
Joe Capizzi: Prayer. I mean seriously like you know, like if you’re thinking from within the Christian tradition and especially right Augustine’s pretty clear about this and Aquinas’s I think as well. It’s a sense of right, God’s control of the situation and something is being said to us by what’s happening right now, right in the failures of these institutions the failures of these people right. There’s, there’s something beingcommunicated I think is the right word right, to us by God that as believers we should be capable of reading and seeing and to saying sustaining ourselves, despite the failures. We don’t generallythink like that right, we think get them out, fix it right, if we can’t fix it, get them out, fix it again like you know and right and I mean that gets frustrating after a while, but it just seems to be getting worse and worse. Yeah, I think Tom you said it next and then that fellow right there.
Questioner: I’m not sure exactly how to formulate this but I’m wondering about the pieces that Connor arena in the origin to alit Arianism that one of the conditions of modernity that makes us susceptible to totalitarianism is that what was once a marginal experience, is now pervasive and that’s loneliness, right. What you just said about erosions of institutions and so forth might bear upon this but I’m wondering if you have thoughts on the base of these two approaches to authority or your own thoughts about the sources of modern loneliness and their relationship to authority, and just how we would analyze that claim that the increased experience of loneliness in modernity makes us susceptible to populism, fascism, totalitarianism, and actually makes us susceptible to the worst forms of authoritarianism.
Joe Capizzi: Right andlook, I think her analysis and you know you’re familiar with other analyses that are relatively similar right, we’ll couple the term loneliness with alienation right as well as sort of you know the response of Marx and others to you know the same kind of problem. I look, I think it’s rooted in the loss of these institutions or the social cultures, these smaller social cultures that gave meaning to people. I think that’s typically that’s her analysis and that’s analysis of others. Mac right as well that once you have like if you look you know the standard analysis of the French revolution which I sort of pointed, once you have this collapse of these orders that provide meaning right and they also obviously provide occupations right, they provide you know also like sort of a kind of busyness that is structured within something and you and you assert the common equality of all human beings independent of station and so on, the argument goes you kind of cast people on their own lawns right. And whether it’s Aaron or Maritan or you know any of these other figures, they all describe, Tocqueville, and so on they all describe again the kind of diminishment of the local communities that give meaning to people, right. And instead, it’s them versus the state right, it’s them in their relationship with a source of government that is completely detached from them, and they have very little access to, right. I think it’s McIntyre right who says, maybe it’s in Ethics in Modernity, right you need you have to hire specialists right to help you even navigate, right, through the state. Right. Which we all know right like I mean if you want to figure out like you know where did my tax money go, or how much do I owe, or do I get a refund, or whatever you need to enlist specialists just to be able to get you through this maze of bureaucracy.
Questioner: So as a Roman Catholic, what, to fill the void that I have with the authorities you mentioned, what should I turn to? Should I turn to the strengthening and advocacy of papacy to fill the authority in a more theological way?
Joe Capizzi: Turn to prayer, no. I think look, I think you’re one way of arguing you know again going back to certain descriptions or net ways of narrating what’s happened is this is exactly what the church does in reaction against this is it strengthens the papacy, right. So the modern papacy that becomes the sort of centralfigure of catholic institutional life is itself a consequence of a reaction against this dissolution over time of local churches, of bishops, right, you know episcopacies, and so on and it’s a way the church herself tries to resist this corrosive power of the modern age on institutions and also resistthe state. So, I guess what I’m saying is you don’t have to do it, right it’s already been done for you or being done it’s great it’s that kind of thing is happening at different levels. Now, I mean what should you as a young man do? Not trouble yourself with it right, I mean you know justyou know focus your life on building something around you right family or youknow friendships, relationships with people that are you know meaningful, and work that’s life giving. I mean this is happening at a higher level, like sometimes we’re talking about deep forces here and trying to diagnose what’s happening andthank God neither you nor I are responsible for fixing them. Again, like I said to this young man in front of me, part of this for Christians in particular should be what’s going on here? Right.
Trying to figure out what is going on here what is the message that God is giving to us. And what are you know the things that are being rebuked by what is happening, like the thought that we can control all this right seems to be pretty manifestly getting rebuked right now. Right, I mean to me the great lesson of the pandemic is we had right, it’s exposed our conception of control right and if you have, if you’re not seeing that you know I don’t know what you’re looking at because, I mean if you assume good intentions you know most of the actors which I think we should, right you know I think you see wow we don’t know what the heck we’re doing still, right we thought we knew so much but we still don’t know so much about viruses, transmission, disease curing, you know antibiotics. We still look like this there’s a lot of lessons we should be learning, and I think that’s the same for all of this kind of stuff as well. Young man?
Questioner: Yes, all right. So, you talked about how we kind of need authority and then authority is properly ordered when it’s based on the truth that is relevant through structure. And so I think as Christians, we can safely say that like the greatest authority or the model authority would be God’s authority over people right? And so human authority would you say that it’s structure based on truth is the way in which it reflects God’s authority and is thus best structured in doing so?
Joe Capizzi: Yeah, you’re trying to model itself on God’s activity or crisis activity even more approximately right since yeah, I think that that serves as a good model,for it ought to serve as the model for Christians. But only a model right. It’s you know it’s we’re making an analogy right to it and we have to be careful about you know to careful remind ourselves that it’s only analogical and our expectations for it have to be quite different, and perhaps even the exercise of it, right knowing the expectation should be different should look different as well. And we should also look to natural institutions that we claim as Christians or natural, like the family and like politics like life in political community that’s right it’s an essential claim and I think also of Augustine of the Christian community, these are natural to us, and we should look to those and see how the shepherd right, how he deals with his flock or how parents relate to their children as models too. I have this fellow over here and then will come back to you. I don’t want to be ignoring this row, or any young women you know if you want to ask questions.
Questioner: Thanks for a very thought provoking talk. I am wondering to what extent do Augustine and Aquinas propose authority per say as a source of mean. they both acknowledge the need for authority so rather that’s the church’s authority which Augustine always comes back to especially in the city of God, describes the need for a mediator and in revelation and someone to pass on, so there’s ecclesial authority. And then Aquinas gives a shockingly Mathewin account of the need for authority, I’m not saying that’s the only thing that’s there but when he discusses the rule of law, he even admits that most people will not be able to live in accord with a life of grace, they’re going to need some kind of external forces. And he seems to be echoing Paul’s letter to Timothy about, or Titus perhaps, sorry, about the role that the law has to play. Even though it would be better to not need the law. I am not sure if either of them suggests that authority itself is a source of meaning, but rather there is something behind authority that there’s something behind itwhich is the reason why we obey the first place, that there’s an object of devotion or veneration.
So, Augustine goes on in book 19 to justify citizenship through duty of charity, which is a duty derived from a loving generation of a holy God who loves you, but that wouldn’t be derived from the meaning of authority per say because otherwise you would have the danger of, you are just picking an arbitrary authority. Just like anything, anything would be as good as anything else. In which case you might run into things that seem to have been very concerned about. But so I guess I’m wondering since to what extent does it make sense to discuss this crisis of authority without reference to what’s behind that authority? Do we derive meaning from authority per say or is it actually something notable that human beings think is worthy of being obeyed? That would be the more primary question.
Joe Capizzi: Yeah no, I think that’s right. I don’t disagree with that I think that’s right. Yes, I agree. Yes?
Questioner: So essentially, I was wondering, you mentioned that as we’ve stopped adhering to authoritycom basis that people do not trust or that they have departed from the truth, I was wondering if essentially do you think that the crisis of authority exists through the wide social redefinition of what truth itself is? Because when you see people all over social media kind of discussing that what this is my truth or something contrary to what. So that’s it.
Joe Capizzi: Sure, so that’s yeah, I think that’s right. That’s a good point I mean right, it’s good to track language in the way you just spoke about it and see like the way that people speak and whether that’s expressive of you know more fundamental things that they might hold right. So, I hear it all the time, I never heard it before it seems like until you know the past few years or so this is my truth you know and that’s obviously a kind of subjectivist type claim right it makes it invulnerable to criticism right, it’s a kind of claim to you as a hearer, you can’t really question this right. I’m giving you what I what I happen to thinkabout the world so it’s an assertion of my own authoritativeness with regard to my own life right or my own experience of life. One of the things I think that like Augustine is particularly good foris questioning our capacity even as individuals to make claims about ourselves. You know like if you really sit down and think about yourself you know for long enough and well enough you’re gonna be like holy crap the you know the discord I see in the world right actually is to some extent in need, you know and what I my truth today might not be my truth from three you know three hours from now or maybe it wasn’t my truth yesterday and I’m not sure I’ll do that tomorrow. So, I think there’s all these great resources in our tradition for questioning exactly that kind of claim.
Questioner: I’m similarly wondering why you take political authority to me because I heard it talked about as sort of this expert clause like I’ve heard about bureaucrats and specialists or you know experts like the CDC where we rely on these sorts of experts for certain sorts of specialized knowledge that we just can’t have, and that seems that seems totally right, like that’s that is a clear sense in which we need authorities because we’re just really limited. But to me that only seems like half the battle, because authorities in development sense should be able to have like the power to coerce us to do things or stop us from doing things, like the CDC if it just acts on its own not as a governmental entity but just as an expert group that wants to tell me how to live well – they try to conversely in some way I feel like I have a right to resist that, there’s no principled reason why them just being an authority claw experts means they can coerce me and similarly you might think like for the church, however Augustine or Aquinas were thinking of the church as an authority they might be a sort of like moral or spiritual expert where they say you have reasons to do XYZ because they’re more than good, they unite you to God, but it seems like an entirely different question as to whether or not they have the power to coerce me to do those things. And that seems again like a pretty important feature of authority especially if we’re thinking about how you know Romans 13 is in any way relevant to what we think of authority right now which you know part of Romans 13 has a kind of coercive mechanism in stopping injustices so, do you have any thoughts about what’s like maybe what Aquinas or Augustine about filling in the gap as to why authorities aren’t just like experts but there are actually entities that coerce us to do things?
Joe Capizzi: Look I think you’re right in fact in fact you might say that authorities are not perhaps not even experts right the language of expertise might be a particular like kind of language that is not essential to authoritativeness right. So I mean like the bundling kings right and popes ofhistory were known no less kings and popes of history despite being fools right and not competent. So, expertise might not even be appropriate to it. It’s something about the station right and it’s its directive power with regard to our lives including the possibility of sanction I meanforget about whether it can coerce our will, because I think that actually sort of raises another kind of question about the capacity of the, whether coercion can actually act on the
will right to force people to act against their will you know, but whether they can sanction our behavior because we have chosen to disobey, right. And both the church and political authority historically have said of course, right, these are essential features of what it means to be authoritative right. So, I think almost every Christian community has conceptions of the kinds of sanctions the community can exercise against people who act against the good of the community right whether that’s described as being heretical right, in terms of certain kinds of beliefs, or just you know the sorts of activities human beings engage in, stealing money from the you know the church or you know engaging in adultery you know et cetera et cetera, right. So, I think all of them would think that that kind of capacity to be directive and to act with, to exercise power on behalf of the good assuming, on behalf of the community over which it is in authority would be features of authority. You know, I think that’s pretty common does that get to the question?
Questioner: Yeah, I think so. I mean I think I understand that authority should have some sort of coercive mechanism I think my question is more or less like what is the story that’s told for why some authority has that kind of mechanism?
Joe Capizzi: There will be different stories about this to some extent and this may be partly too where you’re going to seecertain kinds of departures within Christian views. Right, some will be sin, you know that look humans fail and they’re nasty as a consequence of sin and because of that we have to you know exercise force against them in order to drive them you know, drive the herd back together. Some maybe less coercive based, or something or less you know less course of inclined and let’s just say this is just the nature of the good and the diversity of talents that are distributed among the people right, this could be a kind of you know mortalistic inflicted way of seeing it right which is there’s just diversity of talents you know and sometimes you just, you know to be an authority is to be capable of acting and justify in pushing these other people directing them guiding them towards what is in fact good for them. So yeah, that’s a good very good question.
Questioner: At the beginning of your talk you kinda outlined how there were sort of two
camps of where you get authority from that kind of enlightenment one where it stems from reason and personal choice and then they kind of understanding and to mystic view that it comes from truth that it’s heaven-sent I think you know good or bad authorities haven’t sent. And then you’d mention the pandemic of 2020 how it was acted as this sort of great you know imposition rule of more, yeah imposition, I’d say of vying groups and it seems to me like a third kind of authority separate from the enlightenment reason or the catholic optimistic Augustine view of truth, but do you think that that kind of rule of imposition is comes from like a decay of authority or do you believe that authority kind of always transitions towards imposition, rather than the two kind of optimistic views of where they originate from?
Joe Capizzi: Yeah look I guess I’m hearing the question and the force of the question is being directed towards is the exercise of authority always going to be decadent? Is it always going to decline or decay over time? Is that right is that really what you’re asking?
Questioner: Is it within authority’s nature to kind of turn sour and go bad and take a self-serving direction?
Joe Capizzi: Yeah, this may be where the distinction introduced but fell on the back might be helpful like in essence, no I don’t think so. But in practice because we’re talking about human beings exercising authority, probably right, maybe yes simply. And it’s not so much you know the power corrupts type you know concern just that more that something about the way we live in community right as human beings as fallen human beings, inclines to dissolution over time you know and I don’t really know, I don’t have a handy explanation as to why but I think that that’s, I think that if that’s your instinct that’s probably right. I would think that might beright yeah. Thank you.