John Milbank vs Mark Lilla on the Theologico-Political Problem

I had never heard of Mark Lilla till I read his angry review of Brad Gregory’s book on secularization. Lilla’s review caused a certain amount of stir among the sort of people that are interested in the sort of Christian critique of modernity that Gregory represents (See e.g. Matthew Milliner and Modestinus (with a follow up). Now I thought Brad Gregory’s book was brilliant, and disagreed with Lilla’s critique, but it still seemed to me that Lilla was at least an articulate critic who grasped what was at issue. That is, Lilla understands the sort of critique of Enlightenment liberalism made by the likes of Gregory and Aladair MacIntyr , but still defends liberalism. This would seem to make him a helpful interlocutor with “anti-liberal” thinkers, so I was pleased to find the following debate between Lilla and John Milbank:

It is a quite fascinating debate. Lilla puts the question thus: do human persons legitimately rule themselves (as Lilla holds) or do they rather need a divine warrant for political authority? This is what Leo Strauss used to call “the theologico-political problem.” Milbank’s defense of the anti-liberal position is all right as far as it goes, but it is a bit too soft. Lilla rightly presses Milbank on what exactly politics would look like given his theory, and Milbank is shy of giving any very concrete answer. This is because Milbank is too attached to the positive achievements of liberalism, and is not willing to push his premises all the way to their logical conclusion, which would be a lot more authoritarian than he wants to admit. As an irate commentator on this blog once wrote it’s not really clear how anti-liberal Milbank really is. As Modestinus has pointed out, “postmodern” anti-liberals like Milbank could learn a thing or two from good old reactionary Catholic integralism…

2 thoughts on “John Milbank vs Mark Lilla on the Theologico-Political Problem

  1. Pingback: Liberalism | Opus Publicum

  2. Pingback: The Fundamental Conflict in Joseph Bottum’s Thought | Sancrucensis

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