Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kraynak: Modernity vs. Christianity

By Robert P. Hunt

The following is a small excerpt from this essay:

"Nowhere is Kraynak’s effort to baptize classical political philosophy more evident than in his treatment of Plato's and Cicero’s defense of a "mixed regime." The ancients understood "the advantages of a mixed regime in promoting a stable and balanced order that combines freedom and virtue in the citizen body with feelings of filial affection and piety for the foremost ruler" (Kraynak, 236). "The only point [at which a worldview inspired by the New Testament supplied an "important amendment"] that is missing in the classical philosophers is a proper distinction between the spiritual and temporal realms that the Greeks and Romans (and non-Christian cultures in general) were unable to grasp in all its implications" (Kraynak, 236-37).
The Greeks and Romans were unable to grasp the implications of a proper distinction between spiritual and temporal realms because they made no such distinction in the first place. Christianity has done more than merely construct a second-tier "amendment" of supernatural ends over a foundational tier accessible to unaided human reason. Christianity has, in the words of John Courtney Murray, "destroy[ed] the classical view of society as a single homogenous structure, within which the political power stood forth as the representative of society in its religious and in its political aspects."Moreover, it has "freed man from nature by teaching him that he has an immortal soul, which is related to matter but not immersed in it or enslaved to its laws....It has taught him his uniqueness, his own individual worth, the dignity of his own person, the equality of all men, the unity of the human race." This conception of man’s personal spiritual dignity does not sit atop the classical conception of man as a rational animal. Rather, it transforms that conception with the light of its radiance into something other than "Platonic" or "Aristotelian" Christianity. And in freeing man from nature, it has rendered the most fundamental of classical "regime questions" (What is the best political regime?) largely irrelevant since no "regime" short of the Kingdom of God in its fullness can satisfy man’s thirst for heaven. In fact, the very effort to answer such a question in political terms may be indicative of the fact that one has applied categories of analysis more characteristic of a resident of the earthly city.
At other points, Kraynak’s acknowledgedly Christian commitments seem to be subordinated to a view of human nature and of the role and purpose of the state that is more overtly Platonic. For example, Kraynak decries "the replacement of a culture that aspires to spiritual, philosophical, artistic, and heroic greatness with one dedicated to mundane pursuits and the tastes of ordinary people" (Kraynak, 26-27). This aristocratic distinction between a "high" culture of aspirational greatness and a "low" culture of "ordinary" tastes leads Kraynak to argue that Jesus Christ himself distinguished between "higher" and "lower" human beings. By distinguishing between innocent and guilty human beings, Kraynak argues, "Jesus’ very words require us to distinguish between higher and lower human beings and imply that fundamental human rights can be negated in order to satisfy the demands of divine justice" (Kraynak, 174)." (Bold face is mine)

I found this essay by googling Robert Kraynak after he was cited by Jon Rowe in the comments section of this post. I found it germane in light of Dr. Hall's post on the Constitution and federalism and the ensuing discussion about various views on human nature and how it ties into Federalist 51. Accordingly, the bold faced part of this excerpt shows two distinct views of Human nature. The former is what many who have been influenced by Augustian thinking deem as being tainted by rationalism but is nonetheless historically Christian.

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