Sunday, 3 May 2015

Paul Camacho: Ours and Not Ours: Desire, Delight, and the Good in Augustine's Account of Freedom

In the City of God, Augustine characterizes the relationship between the earthly city and the heavenly city as one of diametrically opposed loves. What distinguishes the cities is the relative ultimacy of the good desired, and the organization of public life based on what a community loves. Throughout his corpus, Augustine holds that what delights and draws us always appears under some intentional representation, i.e., according to a value that we either set or recognize. We can discern the relative value of a thing by determining whether we ought to desire that thing as a means to something else, or for its own sake. I examine the implications of this account of love for politics. I call attention to an early distinction that Augustine makes between desire for "private" goods and "common" goods. I argue that the same logic is at work in his critique of private property and his analysis of idolatry. In both cases, we desire a limited thing rather than a comprehensive good, with tragic results: a limited good cannot bear the weight of our infinite desire, and the result of such misdirected love not lasting peace, but rather the need to consolidate power and extend dominion. I consider the example of amor laudis, which illustrates how love of anything less than God leads to an inversion of the good intended. I conclude that latreia names the orientation of a community to its most common good, such that right worship is constitutive of true political freedom.

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