Happiness and the Common Good

Today I gave a lecture at the ITI in Trumau on happiness and the common good. It was a version of the talk that I gave in March at Notre Dame.


Against Universalism

Someone sent me the following question via Curious Cat:

What is your view of David Bentley Hart’s argument for a form of universalism in his article God, Creation and Evil (and a lecture of which is available on YouTube)? Relatedly, how can a will teologically oriented to the Good and to the Truth fail to “choose”the Good/Truth/God, for example, in the case of the angels pre-Fall and humans after death?

I want to respond at greater length than is possible through Curious Cat.  I think the whole framework of Hart’s argument is wrong. The difficult question is not “how can God allow anyone not to go to Heaven,” but rather: “how can God elevate any human being so high as to bring them into Heaven, giving them a share of the Divine Life.” Continue reading

The Josias Podcast

The Josias has started a podcast, in which I and two other Josias writers talk about ethics and politics and Catholic social teaching. In the first episode we discuss the common good— what it is, what it isn’t. The conversation touches on many things including the relation of practical and speculative virtue, Alexander the Great’s complaining of Aristotle’s publishing decisions, and an esoterically anti-Nazi book published by a German professor under the nose of the National Socialist censors.

A Series of Social and Political Liberations?

“The history of modernity, insofar as it has been a series of social and political liberations and emancipations from arbitrary and oppressive rule,” Alasdair MacIntyre writes in his latest book, “is indeed in key respects a history of genuine and admirable progress.” Twitter user @areyousurebruv brought this quote up as a challenge to traditionalists who make use of MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, but would not see a series of liberations in its history.

The traditionalist could respond by saying that modernity did not begin as a movement of liberation against arbitrary power. On the contrary, it began as a movement for arbitrary power: the movement that brought about the modern state, with its violent understanding of sovereignty (cf. A.W. Jones’s Before Church and State). Only in a secondary dialectical moment did it become a movement for liberation from absolutist state violence. But that secondary moment preserved many of the problems of the absolutist modernity against which it rebelled. And both in its totalitarian and in its liberal guises it brought about societies no better than the ones it overcame. The Reign of Terror and Stalinism were worse than the Bourbons and the Romanovs respectively.  And liberalism is worse than the Stewarts.

Vermeer’s The Art of Painting

Peregrine Magazine

By Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.[1]

In one of the smaller rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there hangs a small painting by Vermeer. It shows an artist sitting with his back toward the viewer, painting a girl dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The left of the painting is dominated by a curtain, partly flung back, which gives the viewer the impression of a scene suddenly revealed. The figures have not yet noticed his presence. He holds his breath not wanting to break the spell. What is the spell? It is not the spell of the Rembrandt self-portraits in the last room, which the viewer has already spent so much time looking at—those dark mysterious eyes like wells, those furrowed brows. No eyes look at the viewer from this painting. The girl, bathed in beautiful afternoon sunlight from a source obscured by the curtain, is looking dreamily down…

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Sancrucensis in the Catholic Herald and First Things

The cover story of this week’s Catholic Herald is something that I wrote on Angela Merkel and Pope Francis (but more the former). I briefly refer to the  influence of Jacques Maritain on post-war, European, Christian democracy. For a fuller account of the shift in Catholic politics that Maritain and others helped bring about I recommend a paper by Tom Pink, and Alan Fimister’s book.

I also have a book-review in the current issue of First Things of A.W. Jones’s brilliant Before Church and State. I mean to write more on Jones in future— right now I am working on something on his interpretation of St. Thomas’s account of law in the Summa.

When Josef Pieper Asked Carl Schmitt About the Common Good.

On the very first evening I asked him why, in his book on “the concept of the political” he had not written a syllable about the bonum commune, since the whole meaning of politics surely lay in the realization of the common good. He retorted sharply: “Anyone who speaks of the bonum commune is intent on deception.” Of course it was no answer; but it had the effect of initially disarming his opponent. (From Josef Pieper’s autobiography, via Incudi Reddere)

Two Ways of Staging the Marriage of Figaro

Andrea Carroll as Susanna

There are two ways of staging The Marriage of Figaro. There is the old-fashioned way, as a comedy; and then there is a regietheater way of staging it as a tragedy. Both ways are legitimate. As I once wrote, “Mozart’s (and Da Ponte’s) Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro sparkle with comic brilliance on the surface, but under the surface is a deep sadness, and an unbearable pain.” To stage it as a tragedy one has only to take the background sadness and bring it into the foreground. A brilliant example of such an approach is the 2006 Salzburg Festival staging by Claus Guth  with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting. It is a wonderfully sad and moving performance and completely riveting. Like all regietheater, however, it is meant for an audience that already knows the opera well. It would be a pity to be introduced to Le Nozze through that performance. For first time listeners, the old-fashioned approach is better. Continue reading

Steven Wedgeworth’s Response to Thomas Pink


The Regensburg Forum is hosting a debate between Thomas Pink and Steven Wedgeworth (a Reformed Protestant) concerning the compatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with the historic teaching of the Church. Pink (famously) says it is compatible because it concerns only the coercive power of the state and Wedgeworth says it isn’t compatible. Pink’s opening argument is here. Wedgeworth’s reply is here. Wedgeworth’s argument is that DH is just too enthusiastic about religious liberty and the fact that it is a fruit of the Gospel for the Declaration to be merely a grudging concession that the state alone has no power to coerce in religious matters – but don’t you worry when we have our hands on the temporal power we will be burning heretics again by right of the spiritual power to coerce (via the temporal). DH does not, Wedgeworth contends, merely observe that modern secular states cannot coerce in religious matters in a…

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