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MODERN LIBERALISM AND PRIDE An Augustinian Perspective

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In “Toward an Augustinian Liberalism,” Paul Weithman argues that modern liberal institutions should be concerned with the political vice of pride as a threat to the neutral, legitimate use of public power that liberalism demands. By directing our attention to pride, Weithman attempts to provide an incentive to and foundation for an Augustinian liberalism that can counteract this threat. While Weithman is right to point to the centrality of pride in understanding the modern liberal tradition, an investigation of the early modern reflections on pride in politics reveals a deeper tension between Augustine and modern liberalism than Weithman's analysis acknowledges. This essay discusses this tension by focusing on Hobbes's account of pride and equality in the commonwealth, asking whether Hobbes can be understood as a thinker in the Augustinian political tradition. In order to provide a background on pride as a political vice, this essay contrasts Aristotelian magnanimity with Augustinian humility. Finally, Aquinas's attempt to reintroduce magnanimity into the Augustinian political tradition is considered as a more consistent development of Augustine's thought, thereby revealing more pointedly the tension between Augustine and modern liberalism. By way of conclusion, the possibility of deflating this tension is briefly addressed by considering Jean Bethke Elshtain's discussion of an Augustinian liberalism that does not rely upon a “secular” conception of human nature.

Keywords: Aquinas; Aristotle; Augustine; Hobbes; liberalism; magnanimity; pride

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Emory University

Publication date: September 1, 2007


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