Dec 13, 2016
Can we achieve our highest moral aspirations through political effort? Can we even expect significant, long-term moral improvement in government? If not, what kinds of community are most worthy of our time and energy? Peter Kaufman and I discuss these questions, drawing on the countercultural, pessimistic political theories of Saint Augustine and Giorgio Agamben.
The first part of the interview is about Augustine’s political theology. Kaufman argues that Augustine turned away from his own early political ambitions and became increasingly convinced that politics was fueled by a corrupting lust for domination. We discuss Augustine’s City of God, his comparison of Christians to pilgrims on a journey that led through but beyond “this wicked world,” and his attempts to create communities devoted to Christian love that remained in the world but not of the world.
In Part Two we discuss contemporary Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. We focus on Agamben’s suspicion of conventional political ideologies and his hopes for a new kind of community that would support the pursuit of individual creativity and authenticity. Kaufman draws on Agamben’s work to theorize how Augustine’s political pessimism might apply to a post-Christian society. We close by reflecting on a specific case: the Scholars Latino Initiative, which Kaufman founded in 2003.
Peter Kaufman’s recent work on Augustine includes Incorrectly Political: Augustine and Thomas More (Notre Dame): http://undpress.nd.edu/books/P01117 and Augustine’s Leaders, forthcoming from Cascade Books.