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Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship
University of Chicago Press, 2008
434 pp., 69.0
Like many good books, this is an act of faith. It has faith that secular liberals will listen to a religious voice, hear its consonances with theirs, and be open to learning from its wisdom. And yet it keeps faith with Christian audiences who think (rightly) of Augustine as more than just a resource for contemporary political thought. The Augustine who emerges is both astutely political and unapologetically theological. If non-religious political theorists have one chance to hear an Augustinian voice, it should be Eric Gregory's. This is a major contribution to contemporary discussions in religion and politics. While I disagree with some of the project's fundamental strategic choices, that disagreement is precisely the sort of productive dispute that contemporary political theology ought to be exploring these days.
Before I go on, a caveat lector is in order. Eric Gregory and I are good friends. We both teach religious ethics and theology. We email regularly. We go to the same conferences, and talk excitedly between sessions like teenagers at a rock concert. I've invited him to UVA, where I teach, and he's invited me to Princeton, where he teaches. In 2007, I published a book arguing for a reappropriation of Augustine's insights for politics. In 2008, he published a book arguing for a reappropriation of Augustine's insights for politics. I even blurbed his book. Now I'm supposed to review it? Talk about over-determination.
In truth, though, our books are quite different. Mine is primarily theological, detailing how Christians should understand their civic obligations from a faithful perspective. Gregory's is primarily political, detailing how Augustine and his heirs may help all citizens, religious and non-religious alike, to understand the distinctive political challenges and opportunities inherent in a liberal democracy. It is fundamentally a contribution to discussions of political philosophy—though Christian readers will find hearty theological nourishment, ...