Published Humanitas, Volume XII, No. 2, 1999

The relationship between Christianity and politics is paradoxical. On one hand, many Christians are inclined to shun politics and to wash their hands of the evils of the world, but, on the other hand, they cannot resist the temptation of creating God’s state—a state that surrenders to God and that testifies to the need for salvation, the necessity of the redeemer, and the utter depravity of man.

I do not believe that Christians are necessarily doomed to this contradictory view of politics. Nevertheless, the contradictory stance toward politics described above has been a recurrent feature of Christian thought and sensibility. And it is clearly manifested in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo and his admirers. It is to be understood that Augustinianism is not the whole of Christianity. Nor are the aspects of Augustine highlighted here the whole of Augustine. But it seems to me that they are the predominant aspect of Augustine’s political thought, and, in my view, have inflicted great harm.

In this article, I will argue that the political excesses of Augustinian Christianity have their source in the insistence on radical transcendence. However, I also believe that Augustinian Christianity is unable to sustain its own posture of radical transcendence. The latter position is so harsh, so immoderate, and so inhuman that it leads its advocates to succumb to an extremism of another kind—it leads them to the political temptations of using the power of the state for dogmatic ends. I will borrow some ideas from Hegel to show how the excesses of radical transcendence can be overcome, and I will defend a Hegelian position against the histrionic criticisms of Eric Voegelin, whom I regard as one of the representatives of Augustinianism in our time.

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