instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Great mind thinks; I like

Bill White links to a page of nuggets from the writings of Fr. James V. Schall, SJ. The full collection begins here, and repays browsing.

One nugget in particular has caught my eye. In a 1984 article in The Thomist, Fr. Schall wrote of St. Albert the Great:
Albert ... realized the wonderful paradox that the human and political life, to remain human and political, somehow must recognize the place of the contemplative order, that politics without metaphysics and theology, in its own fashion, becomes itself a metaphysics and a theology, becomes an attempt to create what is, but by criteria other than the what is of primary being.
I think it is tremendously important that any proposal to order human life -- be it at the individual, family, or social level -- accurately account for what is.

It's an obvious enough principle when applied to something like cooking. I doubt my family is unusual in having stories of someone using salt instead of sugar in a holiday pie or trying to eat biscuits made without the requisite baking powder. If you make a mistake about what is in the kitchen, people will notice. In the old Scholastic formulation, the proof is in the pudding.

And yet in politics, metaphysical mistakes are made all the time. We either assert that what isn't is, or that what is isn't, and for some reason we believe the fact of the assertion establishes the truth of the assertion.

I'm not thinking of Big Lie policies, of repeating an untruth until people believe it. I'm thinking of people who believe, for example, that "I am a victim" is necessarily an objectively true statement if it is stated with sincerity.

Human words, it shouldn't need pointing out, don't work that way. In the real world, my saying "I have an apple on my desk" doesn't cause there to be an apple on my desk, any more than my saying "I am adding salt to the eggs" makes it metaphysically impossible that I am adding sugar by mistake.

As you know, though, God's words do work that way. "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." And I don't think it's entirely coincidental that, in today's "politics without metaphysics and theology," we try to do ourselves what only God can do. Nor is creation ex nihilo the only Divine power we seem to think we possess.