Perfectionism Without Perfectibility

Assumed audience: ‘Little-o’ orthodox Christians interested in political theology, or others curious about what a healthier (because more robustly!) Christian political theology might look like.

Augustinian Christians, according to their own theological lights, should establish political friendships necessary to sustain liberal democracy threatened by entrenched elite interests. They should offer more than their conventional contribution to liberal politics: a demythologized notion of original sin as a basis for anti-utopian foreign and domestic policy. They should offer a vision of citizenship open to social transformation by attending to virtue. More philosophically, I argue that an Augustinian ethics of citizenship can be perfectionist without trading in sentimentalism, Pelagian notions of achieved perfectibility, or elitist conceptions of undemocratic politics.

 — Eric Gregory, Politics & The Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship, p. 9

This is a framing I find fascinating, and I’m curious to see it play out!

I have to confess, though: the terminology in play here is out of my wheelhouse, and I expect a great deal of reading this book to consist of two things that aren’t exactly how I read most other books:

  • reading a few paragraphs and then going and looking up a bunch of definitions and articles to fill out the gaps in political economy and political theology that are part of the reason I’m reading this book in the first place!

  • opening my copy of City of God and reading Augustine for myself, in order to see exactly what it is that Gregory is trying to cash out in his argument — and whether I can track with his reading or not!