Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Human Flourishing: Founded Upon Stability

In the essay The Vow of Stability: A Premodern way through a Hypermodern World "Mennonite Catholic" Gerald W. Schlabach paints a sympathetic portrait of Benedictine stability and that accountability which only stability can make possible:

What is arguably most important about democracy are the ways that it holds powerful leaders accountable. But if we study premodern traditional cultures carefully and respectfully we begin to notice that modern democracy does not have a monopoly on accountability. Christian polities should strive toward the accountability of all, but in fact, modern democratic processes do rather poorly at holding their electorates accountable. When congregationalist polities, using modern democratic processes, allow dysfunctional churches to run out one pastor after another, we have only exchanged one abuse of authority for another. And where congregational participation is a matter of consumeristic taste, we gain the accountability of the marketplace but undermine growth in discipled Christian virtue. At minimum, then, patterns of accountability in premodern communities deserve a second look if not a reappropriation.

This calls to mind Stanley Hauerwas's summation of liberal democracy as "an attempt to give an account of democracies as just, without the people that constitute such a society having the virtue of justice." The problem of absolute sovereignty is a key problem of modernity. Beginning as monarchical absolutism, sovereignty has shifted into democratic absolutism with nationalism and legal positivism its constant companions.

Professor Schlabach, in his ruminations on Benedictine life, remarks upon the most famous contemporary signpost to Benedict, Alisdair MacIntyre's conclusion to After Virtue:

MacIntyre's call for a new and "doubtless very different" St. Benedict" missed one crucial point. At least as a writer, Benedict was not very original; most of his rule is a thoughtful redaction from earlier, often longer, documents on monastic life. His innovation was simply the wise and enduring balance he struck between solitary and communal ways of searching for God, asceticism and realism, insularity and hospitality, rigor and flexibility. And if Benedict was rarely altogether original, he sensed no need to claim originality. Neither do I.

By happy paradox, to reject originality and novelty is itself novel. Thus with the coming of its last Galileo, cultural neomania must at last make a meal of itself.

(Essay discovered by way of The Japery)

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