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Aquinas’s Mediated Cosmopolitanism and the Impasse of Ancient Political Philosophy

Aquinas’s Mediated Cosmopolitanism And The Impasse Of Ancient Political Philosophy

While Saint Thomas Aquinas roots his political thinking in the natural law whose community is cosmopolis, with God as its ruler, he provides the basis for affirming the justice of, and citizen attachment to, particular regimes. All human relationships, with one another and with God, are mediated through a dense network of civic, social, and ecclesial ties. Aquinas would agree with the slogan that we should “think global, act local,” though he would further qualify this that in thinking globally we are also thinking locally.

Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism arises out of an impasse he saw in Aristotle’s reflections on the best regime and whether a good citizen can be a good human being. That identity can only occur in the best regime, and, even by Aristotle’s own lights of natural reason, that best regime can only be identified with the Christian city of God, because it is only in that regime where the natural human inclination to live in political society is fulfilled and perfected. Cosmopolis is therefore a symbol that arises out of Aquinas’s thinking through of the natural basis and purpose of politics.[1]

Aquinas’s Christianity enabled him to see this natural completion. However, while the mystical city of God is said to complete humanity’s natural inclination to live in political society, the city of God is apolitical, because it is not of this world. Even though Aquinas compares the Mosaic regime under the Old Law with Aristotle’s understanding of the best regime, Aquinas provides only an incomplete picture of what the best regime would look like in the time of the New Law, of Christianity. This incomplete picture of a best regime under a Christian dispensation gives special weight to cosmopolitanism as a political ideal within Christianity (symbolized as the sacrum imperium during the Middle Ages). Even so, Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism, unlike other cosmopolitanisms, both medieval and modern, provides a way of affirming both cosmopolitanism and attachments to particular regimes.

Must a “Perfect Community” Be a World State? A Clarification

Pope Benedict XVI surprised some in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate by calling for international organization to serve as a common political authority for all nations.[2] In doing so, though, he seems to have been following a line of reasoning in twentieth-century Catholic political thought that lends support to international governmental institutions. Previous examples include Jacques Maritain’s work on the International Declaration of Human Rights and the support Pope Pius XI lent to the League of Nations.

Pius argued that Roman Catholic support of international organizations is based on the Christian view of human equality before God, and that whatever our obligations to our individual political community, our obligation to God is paramount. Pius appealed to Aquinas to support this view: “It is therefore to be hoped that the doctrines of Aquinas, concerning the ruling of peoples and the laws which establish their relations with one another, may be better known, since they contain the true foundations of that which is termed the “League of Nations.”[3]

In his 1949 St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture, former University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins took up Pius’s appeal and set forth numerous texts by Aquinas, purporting a basis in his thought for a “world state.” He argues that Aquinas’s apparent argument for a world state derived from his Aristotelianism, whose logic could be fulfilled only by Christianity. Writing in the wake of World War II, Hutchins drew from Aquinas’s apparent argument, from De Regimine Principum, whose authorship has more recently been called into question, that a world state is necessary because the very existence of a plurality of states causes war, which therefore makes peace impossible. War is not only possible, but it is likely, because states, in Hutchins’s view, “are specialized, each in a certain way.”[4]

In other words, each state takes itself as the carrier of absolute truth. Put in biblical terms, the state is an idol, which makes it warlike in its very nature. A world state, conversely, would solve this problem because it would negate the possibility of war. Aquinas’s political teaching surpasses and fulfills that of Aristotle, whose best regime still has to prepare for war and thus cannot achieve perfection, a condition that must include peace. Hutchins does not explicitly address whether a world state would be itself idolatrous, but he seems to reject this view by identifying the world state with the Roman Catholic church. He does not consider how the Church would wield political authority.[5]

However, he cites Aquinas’s apparent argument, in De Regimine Principum, that kingship is the perfect community. He sees Aquinas extending Aristotle’s argument for the self-sufficiency of the polis to kingdoms, which encompass poleis. Hutchins attributes to Aquinas a form of Averroism found in Dante’s argument for a universal monarchy. Dante sought a new emperor precisely because the universalism of the Christian church is not up to the task of wielding political authority.

Since Hutchins’s lecture, scholars, including James Blythe, J.P. Torrell, and Mary Keys, have called into question the authorship of his main source text, De Regimine Principum. The best that can be claimed is that Aquinas authored part 1 (of four) and for a specific political purpose, for the King of Cyprus. Blythe points to a fundamental difference between this treatise, whose primary author was in fact Ptolemy of Lucca, and Aquinas’s more systematic political writings in the Summa Theologia, which is that the argument for the superiority of absolute kingship in De Regimine Principum contradicts the argument he makes in the Summa for kingship restrained by law.[6]

The efforts of these scholars have made it possible to reconsider the question of Aquinas’s qualified cosmopolitanism in light of his more systematic discussion of ethics and politics in the Summa Theologia and to treat De Regimine Principium as either spurious or, at best, an unreliable and incomplete guide to Aquinas’s systematic political teaching.

Aquinas signals his cosmopolitanism directly in the very first article of his discussion of law in the Summa by claiming that “a law is nothing else but a dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler who governs a perfect community. Now it is evident, granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence . . . that the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason.”[7] Following this, human laws are “particular determinations” of the first principles of practical reason that are available to all and universal.[8] Aquinas’s characterization of human law, which would specify a particular regime, as derived from universal first principles of practical reason, point to the transpolitical or cosmopolitan dimension of his teaching. Instead of looking to a universal empire as the instantiation of cosmopolis, as Hutchins and Dante before him do, Aquinas argues that the Church “completes” what politics has begun:

“Wherefore there are several authorities directed to one purpose, there must needs be one universal authority over the particular authorities, because in all virtues and acts the order is according to the order of their ends (Ethics I.1, 2). Now the common good is more Godlike than the particular good. Wherefore above the governing power which aims at a particular good there must be a universal governing power in respect of the common good, otherwise there would be no cohesion toward the one object. Hence since the whole Church is one body, it behooves, if this oneness is to be preserved, that there be a governing power in respect of the whole Church, above the episcopal power whereby each particular Church is governed, and this is the power of the Pope. . . . Thus the community of a province includes the community of a city, and the community of a kingdom includes the community of one province, and the community of the whole world includes the community of one kingdom.”[9]

Hutchins was correct to see in Aquinas that the perfection of a society requires unity at its head, though not necessarily in the form of a monarch. He was incorrect to see Aquinas making the case for a universal emperor, because Aquinas does not see the perfection of the city “perfected” in the political domain, nor even in the ecclesiastical domain, but in the city of God, which the ecclesia, not the empire, instantiates. As we shall argue, however, Aquinas leaves hanging what might be called the nature of the nature of politics, because he does not elaborate what the natural perfection of the city (or kingdom) consists of. His is therefore a mystical and ecclesiastical cosmopolitanism that leaves it possible to regard political cosmopolitanism as a default possibility on account of the incompleteness of his political teaching.

Cosmopolitanism and Particular Regimes

Scholars have noticed the incompleteness of Aquinas’s political teaching and the role it plays in triggering his cosmopolitanism. However, they have not been able precisely to identify the nature of that incompleteness, which is the purpose of this essay. Our discussion of the scholarship, therefore, is meant not only to provide an overview of commentary on Aquinas, but also to delineate the contours of Aquinas’s incomplete teaching.

Some, like Leo Strauss, regard Aquinas’s view as a departure from Aristotle and ultimately corrosive to the notion of politics: “Thomas . . . virtually contend[s] that, according to natural reason, the natural end of man is insufficient, or points beyond itself or, more precisely, that the end of man cannot consist in philosophic investigation, to say nothing of political activity.”[10]

E.L. Fortin elaborates this insight:

“Through knowledge of the natural law man accedes directly to the common order of reason over and above the political order to which he belongs as a citizen of a particular society. By sharing in that law he finds himself, along with all other intelligent beings, a member of a universal community or cosmopolis ruled by divine providence and whose justice is vastly superior to that of any human regime and the perfect social order is further accentuated by the Christian and Thomistic teaching according to which the entire natural order is in turn subject to the order of grace or divine law. Hence, the simply best regime is not, as it was for Aristotle, the work of man or of practical reason guided by philosophy. It is synonymous with the kingdom of God and is actual or attainable at all times through God’s saving grace.”[11]

While Fortin is more reticent than Strauss to regard Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism as politically corrosive, both wonder whether the addition of Christian revelation to Aristotelian political philosophy corrodes our ability to regard particular regimes as worthy of allegiance. Fortin points specifically to the problem of best regime, which has now been subsumed in Aquinas’s theology. The city of God replaces the best regime, to which “one can pray,” that Aristotle discusses in books 7 and 8 of the Politics. If this is lost, then how can one have a proper understanding of the natural good of which politics consists?

While more willing to see continuity between Aristotelian political science and Christian differentiation in Aquinas’s great achievement, Eric Voegelin expresses similar reservations about his political thought when he questions his characterization of civitas as a perfect community: “From the sky, he drops the quotation from Aristotle that the civitas is the perfect community because it leads to felicity.”[12] Aquinas’s great achievement was in reconciling the noetic philosophy of Aristotle with the pneumatic religion of Christianity. His effort shows cracks in his political program, however, because he was unable to reconcile the order of the polis, which is rooted in the soul of Aristotle’s “bios theoretikos” with the Christian vision of the gifts of grace. This problem is hardly unique to Aquinas. Indeed, the central medieval symbol of political order was sacrum imperium, whereby “universal empire as a power organization and the universal spiritual community tended toward each other and finally met, but they did not amalgamate.”[13]

The sacrum imperium ideal of the Middle Ages, which Aquinas attempts to evoke with his cosmopolitanism, could not form a stable concrete political community, because the authenticity of faith (the basis of the universal spiritual community) was mortgaged to political forces (the basis of the universal empire as power organization). Even so, sacrum imperium was a crucial symbol of medieval order. One might say it was its constitutive myth of political order. We shall return below to the problem of constitutive myth and its problematic place in Aquinas’s political thought.

Those who think Aquinas’s Christian cosmopolitanism undermines his political thought point to the uncertain status of the best regime, and thus the naturalness of the city, as the trigger that leads Aquinas away from a full consideration of particular regimes. Even so, John Finnis speaks for those who, for this same reason, regard Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism as liberating from the strictures of particular regimes: “Aquinas will consider the civitas rather as if it were, and were to be, the only political community in the world and its people the only people. All issues of extension—of origins, membership, and boundaries, of amalgamations and dissolutions—are thereby set aside. The issues will all be, so to speak, intensional: the proper functions and modes and limits of government, authoritative direction, and obligatory compliance in a community whose ‘completeness’ is presupposed.”[14]

Finnis does not claim that there is only one civitas, because he explains that Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism gets expressed, on the political level (as opposed to the universal Christian church or the mystical city of God), as a plurality of political societies, which in alliance, collectively promote the common good of humanity under God. Finnis cites Aquinas’s Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics: “For: it belongs to the love which should exist between human persons that one should seek and preserve the good of even one single human being; but how much better and more godlike that this should be shown for a whole people and for a plurality of civitates. Or: it is lovable that this be shown for one single civitas, but much more godlike that it be shown for the whole people embracing many civitates. (‘More godlike’ because more in the likeness of God, who is the universal cause of all goods.)”[15] The cosmopolitan goal of happiness for “a plurality of civitates” is sufficiently vague, because Aquinas, as Finnis shows, regards concrete questions of political form (“all issues of extension”) as secondary.

Aquinas considers them secondary because political life is given; political life is natural and therefore needs no elaboration. For Strauss, Voegelin, and Fortin, this explanation for the gap in Aquinas’s political thinking that triggers his move away from the civitas and its accompaniment, his claim for the perfection of the civitas, is problematic, while Finnis regards his cosmopolitanism salutary.

Cosmopolitanism and the Completion of Nature

None of these commentators adequately clarify the reason for this gap in Aquinas’s political thought that simultaneously holds politics to be natural (in particular regimes) and that its nature is completed only in cosmopolis. The main reason Aquinas holds to his cosmopolitanism, while taking for granted the perfection of the civitas and not feeling compelled to discuss “issues of extension,” is that in taking the naturalness of politics as given, politics provides the conditions in which we practice and reflect about it.

We cannot step outside politics because politics constitutes part of the order of being. Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism, therefore, enumerates the boundaries of politics without actually stepping outside of politics. To draw on Alasdair MacIntyre’s insight concerning Aquinas’s ethics, politics is a practice best known from within; its goods are internal to itself.[16] We can see him reflecting on politics from within the horizon of politics in the quotation above regarding the “plurality of civitates” as well as in his conception of the universal community as the city of God and the problems this poses for political authority. Neither the city of God nor the ecclesia is political, but the city of God is situated in the given political realm, which people in the Middle Ages referred to as the sacrum imperium. This is why, for instance, the city of God is a city.[17]

Aquinas points to this paradox of understanding politics from within the perspective of politics in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics:

“We say that the nature of each thing is what belongs to it when its coming-to-be is complete. For example, the nature of human beings is the nature that they possess after they have completely come to be. . . . But the disposition that something has when it has completely come to be is the end of all the things that precede its coming to be. Therefore, the end of the natural sources from which something comes to be is the thing’s nature. And so the political community, since it comes to be from the aforementioned associations, which are natural, is itself natural.”[18]

This is a dense passage, as one might expect from its subject matter. The context of this passage is Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s discussion of how the polis exists when its constituent parts (i.e., households, villages) come to be. A thing cannot “be” until it has reached its perfection or fulfillment. Thus, the fulfillment of the household is to be a constituent part of the polis. Aquinas applies the same logic when he claims that things fulfill their nature when “they have completely come to be.” But this is problematic, and for the same reason it is problematic to speak of the nature of the human being as having been achieved when “its coming-to-be is complete.”

When has a human being completely come to be? At adulthood? When he has achieved perfect wisdom and is no longer a mere lover of wisdom? But would that in fact make him a god? At approximately age thirty (the age our body takes at Resurrection, according to Augustine)? For Aristotle, this paradox takes the form of his raising the question of when a human being can be said to have lived a happy life (the purpose of virtue, after all).[19] If happiness, the goal of our nature, can only be viewed in retrospect at the conclusion of a life lived toward virtue and happiness, then can we be said to be happy only upon death? For Aquinas, the question of the nature of man found in his coming-to-be can only be taken up in light of man’s supernatural end.[20]

The same is true of the nature of the polis. Its nature can only be discerned from what stands beyond it.[21] This is where the problem of Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism arises. The ecclesia and then the city of God stand beyond the polis. However, neither is political or “natural” in the common-sense understanding of politics, so their adequacy to stand as standards for the political common good or for statesmanship is problematic. I shall argue below that the closest Aquinas gets to filling in this gap is the telling example of his treatment of Mosaic Law as an example of Aristotle’s practical regime. He problematically uses an example of a best practical regime that Christianity makes obsolete, except in certain of its practices and political obligations, which shows the deep problem for thinking politically in a Christian dispensation and explains the tendency toward cosmopolitanism as the highest fulfillment for politics after the crucifixion of Christ.

If these are the plausible reasons for Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism, Mary Keys provides compelling details that allow us to see why precisely the question of the natural perfection points to cosmopolis. Keys argues that, for Aquinas, Christian revelation adds to the Aristotelian understanding of the naturalness of politics, but Keys argues that, instead of distorting it, Aquinas brings out its implications. She demonstrates this by pointing to the impasse that Aquinas sees in Aristotle’s thinking regarding regimes, and Aquinas’s own “third political philosophical foundation.” Keys shows how Aquinas regards Aristotle’s account of the relationship between human virtue and civic virtue as deficient. Aristotle questions whether the good human being can ever be simply a good citizen.

Aristotle runs aground when, in attempting to clarify this relationship, he only considers particular regimes, such as oligarchy and democracy:

“[Aquinas] finds cracks in Aristotle’s foundations, fissures that come from not taking the common good of justice and its transpolitical reach quite seriously enough, or from forsaking foundational work too quickly in favor of focusing on regime particularities and preservation.”[22]

“There is no human virtue, or ethical virtue simply, if one’s interest and action are oriented toward ruling or wholeheartedly supporting an imperfect regime; and yet there is likewise no full human virtue if one does not care and work for the welfare of one’s political society, which cannot exist as such without a particular regime.”[23]

The particularity of regimes makes it impossible to unearth either the nature of politics or full human virtue. The good human being can only be a good citizen in the perfectly good regime, which Aquinas thought only exists as the city of God.[24] As a result, Aquinas must have recourse to a universalistic virtue theory to account for both:

“Where the political dialectic of regimes leads Aristotle to a thorough inquiry concerning the best regime (or to his third political-philosophic foundation) in Politics 7 and 8, for Aquinas it prompts a return to the source, to the common and even universal moral dimensions of social and civic life, relating to virtue, law, and the common good.”[25]

Aquinas ceases his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics at book 3 because Aristotle reaches an impasse in his thinking about civic virtue and full human virtue. In order to find full human virtue, Aristotle must look outside the polis for a transpolitical virtue, but his own philosophical anthropology forbids or at least hinders this, so he is left sifting through particular regimes, or finding the regime “one prays for” elucidated in books 7 and 8 in the Politics.

Particular Attachments as Mediations of the Good

Instead of following up on the regime for which “one prays” in Aristotle, Aquinas prayed, of course, for the city of God. Thus, his focus is the perfect and universal community ruled by God. God is the final good of human action, and the universal community would be the regime in which our actions were directed. Even so, one of the source texts Keys uses to demonstrate his cosmopolitanism also shows how Aquinas requires intermediate or proximate causes to carry the universal goal of our intentions. It shows that his cosmopolitanism was mediated in principle by particular attachments.

Particular attachments, including one’s particular regime or even particular friends, are not mere placeholders for universal qualities, which would make one indifferent to the individuality or particularity of one’s attachments. In ST I–II.19, “Of the Goodness and Malice of the Interior Act of the Will,” which Keys describes as an “apparently apolitical section of the ST with surprising political-theoretical import,” Aquinas describes how the will must intend “the good of the whole universe . . . apprehended by God, Who is Maker and Governor of all things.”[26]

Aquinas raises the problem that as mortals who necessarily have particular attachments and perspectives, we necessarily will particular things. He cites the example of the wife of a thief who wishes that her husband not be executed. It is perhaps reasonable for the wife as a wife to wish this. Aquinas argues that it is unreasonable for the wife as a citizen or a human being who intends the common good to wish this. Instead of regarding particular attachments as things to be wished away or as regrettable, Aquinas affirms the creaturely nature of human beings who wish particular things. Even so, this still produces conflict between particular and universal goods. Is there a way of willing a particular good with a right will?[27]

A way out of this conflicted choice is Aquinas’s next move. He argues that for a human being to “will some particular good with a right will, he must will that particular good materially, and the Divine and universal good formally.” Keys distinguishes what is “willed materially” as that which is willed or desired immediately from what is “willed formally” as the “overarching cause of that thing’s being desired.” She uses the example of swimming at the end of a long day’s work. She wants to swim, and it so happens that this conduces to health, which is an integral component of the good life: “in willing swimming materially, I am evincing and rendering concrete my formal desire for the good.”[28] The divine good is intended immediately, but it is instantiated proximately and in a particular mode. Aquinas’s distinction does not get us out of the necessity of making tragic choices, because those particular modes can overlap and conflict. If we refer this insight to the question of why Aquinas chooses not to follow up and consider the best political regime for which one should pray, we might hypothesize that he did not consider this because even that regime, which would be the best one in nature, would conflict with the city of God. Even the best practical regime is an idol. In the deepest part of his political thought, then, Aquinas would appear to be more Augustinian than Aristotelian.[29]

Charity’s Reconciliation with Friendship: Cosmopolitan Implications

Another source text that follows this line of reasoning and that can be used to see how we ought to will materially things in proximity is Aquinas’s entire discussion of charity, which consists of an attempt to reconcile charity with Aristotle’s understanding of friendship.[30] While Aquinas goes a long way toward synthesizing charity, which is universal, with friendship, which is preferential and particular, his treatment of this synthesis provides a philosophical (or theological) anthropology showing the necessity of cosmopolitanism arising from the very nature of those particular attachments.

Citing both Aristotle’s discussion of friendship in Nicomachean Ethics VIII and John 15:15, Aquinas argues that charity is friendship and that “we ought to love one neighbor more than another. The reason is that, since the principle of love is God, and the person who loves, it must needs be that the affection of love increases in proportion to the nearness to one or the other of those principles. For as we stated above (a. 1), wherever we find a principle, order depends on relation to that principle.”[31]

Our proximate neighbor is our friend, and our distant neighbor is loved, though not directly, at least as a friend. Aquinas, like Aristotle, gives weight to the importance of physical proximity in friendship. Also like Aristotle, he does not feel the need to speculate on the optimum number of friends to sustain the good life, because, friendship being a moral practice understood from within, such numbers cannot be formulated in advance, as if friendship were an object whose meanings can be discerned externally to it.[32]

Similarly, we do not love God absolutely, but proximately in the love of neighbor.[33] This is Aquinas’s answer to those who think loving God, the final good, makes us neglect our neighbor whom we love on account of God. This criticism asks why not simply eliminate the middleman and love God directly? Aquinas’s answer would appeal to the heart of any lover of the sacred space provided by Gothic cathedrals:

“For every act of the one species belongs to the same habit. Now since the species of an act is derived from its object, considered under its formal aspect, it follows of necessity that it is specifically the same act that tends to an aspect of that object, and that tends to the object under that aspect: thus it is specifically the same visual act whereby we see the light, and whereby we see the color under the aspect of light. Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor.”[34]

Aquinas appeals to our experience of viewing sunlight through stained glass windows as a way of understanding how our love of God and love of neighbor are the same act. We do not see light as light except under its aspect of color. The natural world replicates this phenomenon. We view the sun, the greatest manifestation of light in our lives, as giving off a range of colors, from Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” to whitish yellow at midday to deep red at sunset. We do not see light simply. So, too, love of God and love of neighbor are the same act, because love of God is manifest through our actions toward our neighbor. Borrowing the language from above of the four causes, we love our neighbor materially, but God formally.

Before drawing out how Aquinas’s point concerning proximate aspects qualifies his cosmopolitanism, it is worth noticing that Aquinas’s discussion of friendship, which seeks to reconcile Aristotle with Jesus Christ, also, by appealing to the teaching of Jesus, enables Aquinas to show the coming-to-be of friendship. Aquinas argues that “mutual indwelling” (mutual inhaesio) is one of the effects of love.[35] This is a significant discussion, because it shows Aquinas grappling with one of the central problems in any discussion of love and friendship, and therefore of politics, which is what and who is it that we love when we love another? What is a self? What is a soul? How is it that souls know and love one another? Can one speak, as Bertrand Russell does, of a “central fire” that friends adhere to in one another, and can one speak, as Aristotle does, of joint perception (sunaisthesis) of friends with one another?[36] Without clarity of this inner experience of mutual indwelling, all discussion of civic obligation and cosmopolitanism will be further confused.

In his discussion of mutual indwelling, Aquinas refers as frequently to the book of John and to Dionysius the Areopagite’s Divine Names as he does to Aristotle. This signals that even though he regards caritas as consistent with friendship, the scriptural tradition provides an equal and even a more complete account of its effects. One can see in Aquinas’s treatment a greater attention to interiority than that found in Aristotle’s discussion of friendship, where such questions are subsumed under his observation that a friend is another self. The interiority that Aquinas explores, though, deepens friendship with another instead of signifying a withdrawal of the self from the other. Turning inward means also turning outward at a deeper level.

Mutual indwelling involves the lover’s “penetrating” into the heart of the beloved, and vice versa. It is the act of the lover touching the soul of the beloved. Union, ecstasy, zeal, and “wounding” are the other effects of love discussed in this question of the Summa. In his answer, Aquinas says something somewhat startling that clarifies how cosmopolitanism is implicit in the nature of things. He reasonably claims that “the lover is said to be in the beloved, according to apprehension, inasmuch as the lover is not satisfied with a superficial apprehension of the beloved, but strives to gain an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved, so as to penetrate into his very soul.”[37]

Aquinas here describes the soul’s act in knowing and loving the other. One can find an equivalent statement by Aristotle near the conclusion of his discussion of friendship: “But one’s being is choice worthy on account of the awareness of oneself as being good, and such an awareness is pleasant in itself. Therefore one also ought to share in a friend’s awareness that he is (or share his friend’s consciousness of his existence [sunaisthanesthai hoti estin]), and this would come through living together and sharing conversation and thinking; for this would seem to be what living together means in the case of human beings.”[38] For Aristotle, knowledge and love of our friend comes through a lifetime of “living together and conversation.” The ethos of our friend gets revealed to us through his speeches and his actions, which we must observe over the course of a life.

Aristotle’s action-based account of friendship explains why the number of our good friends is necessarily few and the optimal number of fellow–citizens in a self-sufficient polis is also few. Citizens of large societies commit daily injustice against their fellow citizens simply in not knowing them while expecting to live together at some level. Aquinas’s greater focus on the interiority of love, with its discussion of mystical ecstasy between friends, does not lead him to forget Aristotle’s point about the knowledge and love of our friend as a practice. He agrees with Aristotle that friendship is a form of “communication” (communicatio), a term rich in meaning but one that signifies the activity of living and conversing together as is appropriate for rational beings.[39]

This point is crucial to understand Aquinas’s “action-based” notion of the common good that qualifies his cosmopolitanism. Aquinas seems to indicate that, despite his argument about friends’ being neighbors in closer proximity, the nature of love itself is universal. Even though he claims we love God by loving neighbor, he also indicates we love all our neighbors when we love our friend. In the quotation on mutual indwelling, Aquinas notes that the lover, not satisfied with superficial apprehension of the beloved, seeks to gain intimate knowledge of the beloved by gaining “knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved.” In seeking intimate knowledge, we seek to know everything about the beloved. Aquinas does not seem as troubled as Kant was by this prospect. One reason for Aquinas’s apparent lack of restraint is that, strictly speaking, the communicatio conducted by friends is related toward a third party, God, and is not about themselves. To be fair to Kant, however, friendship is situated within the moral law that structures their friendship. For his part, Kant thought respect needed to balance love and prevent friends from revealing too much of themselves “for the sake of decency, lest humanity be outraged. Even to our best friend we must not reveal ourselves, in our natural state as we know it ourselves. To do so would be loathsome.”[40]

Aquinas, who had as good a sense of our “natural,” sinful state as Kant, does not have his sense of reticence when it comes to self-disclosure in friendship. Aquinas’s insistence on this degree of “knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved” raises the obvious problem of whether such a level could ever be achieved in a lifetime. Aquinas can comfortably answer in the negative and yet maintain the coherence of friendship, because the lover’s deepest yearning for such knowledge can only be achieved in the city of God. This is where Aquinas’s understanding of friendship points to its completion in caritas for all. In loving our particular friend, we thereby seek to know all of him. However, one of the key ways of knowing all of him is to know those whom he loves and who love him, including family, friends, business colleagues, fellow citizens, and perhaps teachers above all.

Aquinas would have agreed, in a deep sense, that the friend of my friend is my friend as well. By extension of this logic, to know one’s friend is to know all human beings.[41] Only in the city of God do we find friendship completed, for the same reason that only in the city of God do we find the city completed. This would be another example of our formal end being God and our material end being the friend immediately before us. As with his argument that loving God and neighbor is the same act, Aquinas, in distinguishing formal and material ends, is pointing to the unity of the individual human agent.[42]

Customs as a People’s Expression of Their Particular Good

Our look at Aquinas’s understanding of friendship, which is a moral practice whose formal end is universal and divine but whose material end is immediate and proximate, clarifies why we need to regard his cosmopolitanism as qualified. The formal end of politics is universal, and its material good is immediate and proximate. Keys shows this in her demonstration of Aquinas’s understanding of common good as an “action-based, associational theory.”[43] Politics and political science are about action, and so there is a sense in which the common good is made and not predetermined:

“Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s version of constitutive community is constituted not by a shared identity, but rather by a conversation and a sharing in actions and in the goods they instantiate and seek: every human association (communicatio) is based on certain acts, and ‘human beings naturally communicate with one another in reference to [the useful and the harmful, the just and the unjust, and other such things]. But communication in reference to these things is what makes a household and city.’”[44]

As we have seen, there are limits to the scope of this activity that can be worked out only from within the practice itself. Finnis is partially correct when he points to Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism for the reason he feels no need to consider questions regarding the extension of the city. The deeper reason is that the extension of the city, as with the number of friends one has, is discovered only in its practice. One cannot measure just how deeply one has mutually indwelt with one’s beloved; rather, one can perceive this depth only in the reaching out of one’s soul in a lifetime of “living together and conversing.” Similarly, the city cannot fully know the limit of its extension except by reflecting upon how well it is governed and the quality of life for its citizens. Moreover, the city knows this extension because its citizens are already practiced in friendship. Citizenship without prior experience of mutual indwelling will lead to a deformed form of citizenship that is either overly nationalistic and parochial or superficially cosmopolitan. Without a solid basis in friendship, a citizenry, whether national or cosmopolitan, will be little more than a mob.

There are a number of activities that, in Aquinas’s “action-based” account of the common good, citizens can perform with their rulers. Keys mentions communication of the just and the unjust, which is part of Aristotle’s formulation of the object of citizens’ deliberations and expressive of the human inclination to live politically (based on our capacity to speak of the just and the unjust and of the praiseworthy and the blameworthy).

While in some way intimated, the ends for which citizens deliberate (and deliberation is about means) are not always obvious or pregiven, but neither do citizens “create” them out of thin air (otherwise, citizenship would give way to faction). A moral practice implies that its goods are uncovered from within the practice itself, and therefore it exhibits a degree of discovery of what exactly those goods are and in what particular mode they are to be sought. As noted above, human law determines the natural law in its particular, but, as Robert Miner has noted of Aquinas, the end is discovered in the practice of deliberation: “The acquisition of true knowledge about particulars is not anterior to the process of law-making, but is acquired through the very performance of the activity.”[45] In deliberating and judging, citizens form customs. Customs are the accumulated determinations of the natural law in the form of human law, and they have authority over legislation because the actions of the ruler must finally receive consent by the community of free citizens: “Custom has the force of law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law.”[46] Customs thus express the historical life of a self-governing community’s common good.

Key to self-government is equality in the sense that all citizens take part in its activity, which is again one of the reasons Aquinas ceased his commentary on the Politics. Aquinas does not accept Aristotle’s distinction between ruler and ruled and his acceptance of masters and slaves. Here again is an example of Aquinas’s cosmopolitanism showing how the nature of politics gets completed. However, this case differs from others we have seen. Our previous examples of this, such as the implicit love of all contained within preferential friendship, have shown how Christian revelation completes the logic of our understanding of nature. In this case, equality seems asserted or to follow exclusively from the irruption of grace, which reveals that the distance between man and God is greater than the distance between a man and other men. In his more systematic Summa, Aquinas insists that “if they are free, and able to make their own laws, the consent of the whole people expressed by a custom counts far more in favor of a particular observance, than does the authority of the sovereign, who has not the power to frame laws, except as representing the people. Wherefore although each individual cannot make laws, yet the whole people can.”[47]

Mosaic Law as the Best Regime That Points to Cosmopolis

Aquinas specifies the role the people take in self-government in his discussion of the Mosaic Law, whose mixing of regime elements he equates with Aristotle’s best practical regime: “For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e., government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.”[48]

The best practical regime, in this case the Mosaic one, is the epitome of civic friendship, where the laws accustom citizens “to give of their own to others readily.”[49] Aquinas cites the example of vineyard owners who are obliged to feed the poor to the extent that the poor eat their fill but do not take any away. Aquinas assumes the poor are genuinely needy (and not free-riding) and that, because the poor leave enough for others (including enough for the vineyard’s owner to make a living) and return to their own residences, the regime enables citizens to judge who is needy and to ensure responsibility.

This is not a large welfare state with abstract and overly rough determinations of poverty that are based not on the ethos of rich and poor, but on statistics, “for among well behaved people, the taking of a little does not disturb the peace; in fact it rather strengthens friendship and accustoms men to give things to one another.”[50] “It is the essence of a nation that the mutual relations of citizens be ordered by just laws.”[51] Yet, as we have seen, the number of friends, and of citizens, is something that is determined internal to the practice of friendship and citizenship.

Aquinas does not consider extension of this regime, but, in the next article, he does provide a principle for determining the difference between those who are one’s fellow citizens in this regime of friendship and those who are not. Aquinas’s discussion “Whether the Judicial Precepts regarding Foreigners Were Framed in a Suitable Manner” explains that this regime is based on virtue and an understanding of the specific common good of this regime, which are prerequisites to membership. Citing Exodus 12:48, Aquinas explains that the Law sets down the principle that a society may never “exclude the men of no nation from the worship of God and from things

pertaining to the welfare of the soul.”[52] Moreover, one may be admitted to citizenship on account of “some act of virtue,” such as Ruth and Achior.[53] Citizenship in the best practical regime is, in principle, open to all. This is a cosmopolitan principle for immigration, insofar as citizenship is not based on ethnicity, race, wealth, or some other principle frequently used today to restrict immigration.

Even so, would-be immigrants must also subscribe to and understand the worship of God in this regime in particular, because otherwise “many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.”[54] For this reason, nations with the best relations with the Israelites could obtain citizenship after the third generation. Aquinas, following the Old Law, thinks of the common good as a tradition handed down from one generation to the next, and not something a single individual can adhere to in isolation of a dense network of familial, religious, and civil obligations that extend across generations. Given the difficulties that many contemporary immigrants, especially children, have in North America and Europe in negotiating old ways with new ways, the Old Law’s rule of the third generation makes a certain sense.[55] Even so, Aquinas’s action-based notion of the common good necessitates a lengthy time period of acculturation and education into the customs of the best practical regime.

The status of the Old Law in Aquinas’s thinking gets to the problematic root of the status of best regime in his thought, and therefore the trigger that points to his cosmopolitanism. The Old Law is part of the divine law, and of course the Old Law foreshadows the New Law, which is Christ. While the moral precepts of the Old Law can be known naturally, the root of the Mosaic regime is divine. Thus, while the Mosaic regime and the best practical regime of Aristotle are comparable at a certain external level, their inner substance is quite different. While it is true that the two are very similar in the ways that the laws order the relations of citizens, and this order expresses the essence of the regimes,[56] there is a deeper level where they part ways: “It must be observed that the end of human law is different from the end of Divine law. For the end of human law is the temporal tranquility of the state, which end law effects by directing external actions, as regards those evils which might disturb the peaceful condition of the state.

On the other hand, the end of the Divine law is to bring man to that end which is everlasting happiness; which end is hindered by any sin, not only of eternal, but also of internal action.”[57] Theorizing about the Mosaic regime as equivalent to Aristotle’s best practical regime faces the thorny problem that the Old Law has been replaced by the New Law, and one of the ways the New Law advances from the Old is that it regulates internal action, whereas both the Old Law and the laws of Aristotle’s best practical regime regulate external action. Moreover, the very notion of “law” in Christian revelation is problematic and can only be spoken of in approximation. This makes speaking of political analogues further problematic.[58]

Regardless of these complications at the heart of any attempt to consider the question of best practical regime under the Christian dispensation, it is important to note a complication it produces in Aquinas’s thinking of the common good of any particular political regime. In Politics books 7 and 8, Aristotle considers the mythic or cultic aspects of the best regime. Its focus is on education, but on the type of education that makes citizens amenable to the highest form of leisure, philosophizing. In educating citizens in music and poetry, Aristotle prepares citizens in a form of liturgical contemplation that mimics philosophical contemplation. Today we might consider major sporting events as serving an equivalent function.[59] Thus, he devotes considerable effort to explaining how education in music, for example, is meant to produce citizens well-versed not so much in playing instruments as in judging players of instruments. Aristotle has in mind the kind of education in taste required by a citizenry that expresses its citizenship by being spectators at the tragic festivals.

Music expresses not just harmonies, but also the songs that reflect the regime. For this same reason, the Athenian Stranger of Plato’s Laws argues that poets in the Magnesian colony are, on the whole, unwelcome because they are redundant. He advises citizens to tell poets that “our whole political regime is constructed as the imitation of the most beautiful and best way of life, which we at least assert to be really the truest tragedy. Now you are poets, and we too are poets of the same things; we are your rivals as artists and performers of the most beautiful drama, which true law alone can by nature bring to perfection.”[60] The regime of the Laws, as well as the best regime of Aristotle, is a religious poem, which is a point reinforced by recollecting that nomoi, in addition to meaning “laws” and “customs,” also means “songs.” The city understands itself as a city not only by regulating economic commerce and communication concerning the just and the unjust, but also when it experiences itself as a unity. The city as festivity is the city acting in itself, and it expresses its essential particularity in this manner. In festivity, the city observes its founding myth. As F.W.J. Schelling observed, “Nations do not make myths. Myths make nations.”[61] Thus, the laws always return to their author, the myth.

Aquinas’s political thought rarely reaches this depth of analysis, either by design or by negligence. Aquinas’s decision to cease his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics seems to be intentional, and the “religious” aspect of politics might be one reason for this. If so, then this would be the point where Aquinas saw politics, understood under the exclusive light of reason, to be idolatrous. This is where Aquinas’s Aristotelianism gives way to his Augustinianism. On the other hand, Aquinas still faced the problem of explaining how a particular regime expresses its inner substance. If “it is the essence of a nation that the mutual relations of citizens be ordered by just laws,”[62] then it would be strange for Aquinas not to recognize that the spirit of those just laws must be expressed in the myth that unites the people.

The common good must be more than a set of external laws regulating debates concerning the just and the unjust, because such an arrangement serves only to mitigate faction, not to express what those factions have in common. As a Christian, Aquinas of course does not subscribe to the myth of nature, as the citizens of Plato’s Magnesia and of Aristotle’s best regime do, but he subscribes to the myth of the Incarnation of Christ. His understanding of human law, which touches externals only, prevents him from identifying Christian faith with the human law; Christianity does not serve as a civil religion for Aquinas.[63] This is one of the reasons the sacrum imperium could be nothing more than an ideal. This is also one reason why medieval political thinkers had to cope with the crack-up of this ideal with the rise of national churches, and eventually with the Reformation.[64]

Thus, Christianity puts into question the status of the myth that sustains particular regimes. By leaving this status in question, there is always the potential for Christian cosmopolitanism to serve as the “civil religion” by default, at least at the level of the myth that legitimates the regime. Complicating matters further is the status even of Christian cosmopolitanism that has been in question since the Enlightenment (proclamations of Pope Pius XI and Pope Benedict XVI notwithstanding). The Augustinian myth of the two cities is one competitor in a competitive field of cosmopolitanisms. Kantian cosmopolitanism, based on international law and history’s progressing toward a single state, is one competitor. The Islamicist ideal of the universal caliphate is another competitor.[65]


Aquinas held a modified version of political cosmopolitanism that is instructive for considering cosmopolitanism today. He shows us the role Christian revelation plays in raising up transpolitical virtues that can liberate from insular particular attachments. Even so, he reminds us that transpolitical virtues are always mediated by one’s particular regime. One cannot be simply a cosmopolitan, any more than one can love God without loving God in the practice of neighborly love. Aquinas would likely insist that there are no cosmopolitans simply, but rather French, American, Canadian, or Ugandan cosmopolitans. While salutary, there is something unresolved about this state of things, because the essence of these particular attachments is less than fully articulate.

The difficulty with incomplete articulations of particular attachments is that it leaves the field open to attributing particular attachments to qualities less wholesome than virtue. If the cosmopolitan ideal is the only legitimate substance for a regime, then race and xenophobic ethnicity become the default ways of expressing the particular substance of a regime. Moreover, if the cosmopolitan ideal is held up as the ideal of the particular regime, there is the danger of its being imposed upon from above, as the example of Aquinas’s own thoughts on coercion suggest. One might also consider the plight of nations under the rule of European bureaucrats as an example. Conversely, the quasi-sacral terms in which the American regime gets expressed might serve as an instructive way of giving civic piety its due without its becoming essentially idolatrous. Viewing oneself as an “almost chosen people” is a suggestive way of giving due weight to both cosmopolitan and particular attachments.[66]

Keeping this balance without its distorting into excessive cosmopolitanism that disregards one’s own regime, or excessive nationalism that exaggerates its claim to justice, requires an extraordinary degree of statesmanship and humility. Keeping this balance depends in large part on abiding by Aquinas’s observation that we love the universal in the particular (i.e., loving God in loving one’s neighbor and in loving one’s neighbor who is most nearby) and on recollecting his insight that the common good, of friends and of citizens, is action-based, which reminds us that we judge our actions by what we see before us in face-to-face interactions with other persons. Aquinas reminds us that loving God and neighbor is to love persons. Our cosmopolitanism and our political obligations suffer when we forget persons.



[1] Historically, the symbol cosmopolis comes down from the Stoics. For Aquinas, however, this symbol arises meditatively out of the impasse he saw in ancient thinking regarding the nature of politics and of human happiness.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, According to James Schall, “The proposal about a better world international institution goes back to Robert Maynard Hutchins and Jacques Maritain, to the Hague Conventions, to the League of Nations, and even the Holy Roman Empire. The pope defines the need for authority at a higher level, but with sufficient restrictions to prevent it from being either a world government or a tyranny.” “Caritas in Veritate: A Symposium,” Catholic Thing, July 8, 2009,

[3] Pope Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem, June 29, 1923, as quoted and translated by Robert M. Hutchins, Aquinas and the World State (Milwaukee: Marquette Univ. Press, 1949), epigraph.

[4] Hutchins, Aquinas and the World State, 15.

[5] See Dante, “On Monarchy,” trans. Philip H. Wicksteed, in Medieval Political Philosophy, ed. Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1963), I.ii–xi.

[6] James M. Blythe, introduction to On the Government of Rulers: De Regimine Principum by Ptolemy of Lucca with portions attributed to Thomas Aquinas, trans. James M. Blythe (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 5–7. See also Jean-Pierre Torrell, O. P., St. Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 2003), 2:303; Mary M. Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), 64.

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, 5 vols., trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (1948, reprint, Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1981), I–II.91.1 (hereafter abbreviated as ST). See also ST I–II.21.4.

[8] ST I–II.91.3; 94.2.

[9] ST Supplement, 40.6. I thank David Goldman for alerting me to this passage. For a contemporary reflection on its political import, see Spengler [pseud.], “Why Do Nations Exist?” Asia Times, July 29, 2008,

[10] Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1953), 164. See also 157–59 and 163.

[11] E.L. Fortin, “The Political Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Classical Christianity and the Political Order: Reflections on the Theologico-Political Problem: Collected Essays, ed. J. Brian Benestad (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 2:160–61.

[12] Eric Voegelin, The Middle Ages to Aquinas: History of Political Ideas II: The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, ed. Peter von Sivers (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1997), 20: 219.

[13] Ibid., 20:66. For a summary of Voegelin’s treatment of sacrum imperium, see my “Post-9/11 Evocations of Empire in Light of Eric Voegelin’s Political Science,” in Enduring Empire: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics, ed. David Edward Tabachnick and Toivo Koivukoski (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2009), 192–97.

[14] John Finnis, Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), 221.

[15] Aquinas, Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics, I.2, cited and translated by Finnis, Aquinas, 115, emphasis added by Finnis.

[16] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1981); MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1988).

[17] See also Torrell, St. Thomas Aquinas, 2:292–93. For another example of the kind of argument made here on how politics provides the conditions for its understanding, with reference to Kant, see David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), 62–63.

[18] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, trans., Richard J. Regan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007), I.18.

[19] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1100a10–20.

[20] This is not the place to take up the perennial debate over “faith versus reason” in Aquinas. A good place to start, though, and one that suggests that “faith versus reason” is a false dichotomy because there is no such thing as “unassisted reason,” is his statement that “every truth by whomsoever spoken is from the Holy Ghost as bestowing the natural light, and moving us to understand and speak the truth, but not as dwelling in us by sanctifying grace, or as bestowing any habitual gift superadded to nature.” ST I–II.109.1.1.

[21] See James Schall’s discussion of this paradox with special reference to friendship. At the Limits of Political Philosophy: From “Brilliant Errors” to Things of Uncommon Importance (Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1996), chap. 12.

[22] Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 88.

[23] Ibid., 91.

[24] In pointing to the wise legislator or statesman as the epitome of political virtue, ancient political thought (as well as Judaism and Islam) appear to confirm Aquinas’s criticism. The wise legislator or statesman, if he is to be understood as the perfection of his regime, would be alone in that perfection, which means he has no regime. For details, see Remi Brague, The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007).

[25] Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 88. Keys goes on to demonstrate how Aquinas’s argument concerning the first principles of practical reason are his own innovation in virtue theory, because he found Aristotle’s arguments on the teachability of virtue deficient. His argument is part of his larger argument that Aquinas thought Aristotle did not go far enough in seeing the social nature of human beings.

[26] ST I–II.19.10; Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 119–20.

[27] Aquinas’s argument for the civic justice of execution for theft is unconvincing, as the thief’s wife could also appeal to the injustice of execution to seek clemency for her husband. We twenty-first-century cosmopolitans might find his medieval sense of justice barbaric, but we would be incorrect to blame Aquinas’s historical milieu. After all, Augustine opposed capital punishment. A better example of a particular good conflicting with a universal good might be a battalion commander trying to save his troops from the incompetence or injustice of the army’s commanders in an otherwise just war.

[28] Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 120n6.

[29] Or is Augustine more Aristotelian than Thomistic? Augustine appears to affirm the naturalness of politics. See my Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2001), chaps. 5–6.

[30] On this attempt, and its significance for politics, see Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, “A Companionship of Caritas: Friendship in St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, ed. John von Heyking and Richard Avramenko (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 139–62.

[31] ST II–II.23.1 and 26.6.

[32] One cannot expect the same level of circumspection from evolutionary anthropology. See Robin Dunbar, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? (New York: Faber and Faber, 2010).

[33] ST II–II.25.1.

[34] Ibid.

[35] ST I–II.28.2.

[36] See my “‘Sunaisthetic’ Friendship and the Foundations of Political Anthropology,” International Political Anthropology 1, no. 2 (November 2008): 179–93.

[37] ST I–II.28.2.

[38] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Joe Sachs (Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2002), 1170b10–12.

[39] ST II–II.23.1. See also ST I–II.97.3.

[40] Immanuel Kant, “Lecture on Friendship,” in Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship, ed. Michael Pakaluk (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), 215.

[41] When asked why he wrote a history of civilizations, Arnold Toynbee replied that he had originally intended to write a history of England. However, he quickly realized that a history of England can only be understood by knowing the history of the European continent, which, in turn, can only be understood by knowing the history of Asia, Africa, and so on. The same logic led Toynbee to abandon his history of civilizations and turn to a history of world religions, which he regarded as the intelligible units of history. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1935–1961). Voegelin thought that even then Toynbee had not gone far enough and so regarded his own inquiry into universal humanity, which became an account of human consciousness.

Voegelin, “Toynbee’s History as a Search for Truth,” in Published Essays, 1953–1965: Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2000), 11:100–112. It should be noted that Soren Kierkegaard, in the voice of Johannes Climacus, makes a variation of the phrase unum noris, omnes [if you know one, you know all] the centerpiece of his friendship thinking.

Kierkegaard’s thoughts on friendship and cosmopolitanism (of which he is very critical) are more paradoxical than those of Aquinas, but they at least are free of the confusions introduced by Aquinas’s insistence on treating friendship and love with the language of the four causes. See my “Friendship in Light of the Modern Philosophical Revolution,” Fideles 4 (2009): 37–76.

[42] Aquinas insisted that the completion of human nature is found in the individual human being in community, and not in monopsychism, as argued by the Latin Averroists. In On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists, Aquinas agrees with the Averroists insofar as a single agent is needed to bring perfection to a plurality of individuals. This is the basis of Dante’s vision of world empire. However, asserting that individual human beings lose their individuality, including their capacity to think, as the Averroists assert when they argue for a single intellect for all of humanity, “is clearly false, impossible, and repugnant to what is obvious: it destroys the whole of moral science and all those things that pertain to civil interchange, which is natural to man, as Aristotle says.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Against the Averroists: On There Being Only One Intellect, trans. Ralph McInerny (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Univ. Press, 1993), IV.89.

[43] Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 77.

[44] Ibid., 85, quoting Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics I.1n37.

[45] Robert Miner, Truth in the Making: Creative Knowledge in Theology and Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 2004), 10–11. Keys agrees with this characterization of the “determination” of natural law: “Natural law as informing legal justice is thus too general to serve as a comprehensive architectonic norm; it constitutes the indispensable foundation, but it cannot direct the entire building of our ethical and civic lives.” Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, 194. Both Miner and Keys restate, from different angles, the point made above that our understanding of the end of politics comes from within politics itself.

[46] ST I–II.97.3. Aquinas lists the customs of a country to be “one of the conditions of law.” ST I–II.97.3.2.

[47] ST I–II.97.3.3.

[48] ST I–II.105.1.

[49] ST I–II.105.2.1.

[50] Ibid.

[51] ST I–II.105.2.

[52] ST I–II.105.3.1.

[53] Citing Ruth 3:11 and Judith 14:6.

[54] ST I–II.105.

[55] On the other hand, it can reasonably be argued that being granted full citizenship sooner makes it easier for immigrants to get acculturated. The migrant groups with the greatest difficulties are those on the fringes of their host society (e.g., Turkish guest-workers in Germany or Arabs in France).

[56] ST I–II.105.2.

[57] ST I–II.98.1.

[58] The Incarnation of Christ replaces law as the standard of action with the person of Christ, even though he fulfils the law. Aquinas constantly struggled against those who took the Incarnation into antinomian directions. See my “God’s Co-workers: Remi Brague’s Treatment of the Divine Law in Christianity,” Political Science Reviewer 38 (Spring 2009): 76–104.

[59] James Schall, “On the Seriousness of Sports: Watchers All,” Vital Speeches of the Day 49 (February 15, 1983): 271–74. I have attempted to demonstrate that rodeo, where the athleticism of the cowboy is confounded by the wiliness and strength of the horse or bull, exemplifies the relationship of liberty and equality for citizens of liberal democracies, especially those who live in the western part of North America. “The Zen of Stampede,” Calgary Herald, July 1, 2000, Canada Day Edition, OS8. The recent addition to the urban space of Calgary, Alberta, of a statue commemorating Outlaw, a champion rodeo bull, exemplifies this myth. “Statue of Legendary Bull Unveiled,” CBC News, May 27, 2010,


[60] Plato, The Laws of Plato, trans. Thomas L. Pangle (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), 817b–c. See Eric Voegelin’s comment that as a “religious poem,” the regime of the Laws is the Platonic equivalent to the city of God. Order and History, vol. 3, Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1957), 217–28.

[61] See F.W.J. Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, trans., Mason Richey and Markus Zisselsberger (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 2008), 49 and Lectures 4 to 6. I thank Steven McGuire for this reference.

[62] ST I–II.105.2.

[63] The glaring exception to or hole in this theory is Aquinas’s acceptance of the coercion of heretics. See E.A. Goerner and W.J. Thompson, “Politics and Coercion,” Political Theory 24, no. 4 (November 1996): 620–52.

[64] See Voegelin, The Later Middle Ages: History of Political Ideas III: Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 21, ed. David Walsh (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1998). Nicholas of Cusa is an instructive example of a thinker grappling with the problem of how national churches can contribute to the universal Christian church (see my “Prophecy and Politics in Nicholas of Cusa,” in Propheten und Prophezeiungen—Prophets and Prophecies, Eranos—Neue Folge 12, ed. Matthias Riedl and Tilo Schabert [Wurzburg, Germany: Konigshausen und Neumann, 2005], 143–60). Other than Giambattista Vico, F.W.J. Schelling, and Eric Voegelin, few thinkers have taken up the problem of political myth and Christian cosmopolitanism. See Voegelin, Revolution and the New Science: History of Political Ideas VI: Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, ed. Barry Cooper (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1998), 24:82–148; and Voegelin, The New Order and Last Orientation: History of Political Ideas VII: Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, ed. Jurgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Hollweck (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1999), 25:193–242.

[65] It is questionable whether any vision of cosmopolitanism, or empire (its frequent political instantiation), is viable today. See my “Post-9/11 Evocations of Empire.”

[66] There are numerous studies of America’s “civil religion.” Examples include essays in Civil Religion in Political Thought: Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America, ed. Ronald Weed and John von Heyking (Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 2010); Jurgen Gebhardt, Americanism: Revolutionary Order and Societal Self-Interpretation in the American Republic, trans. Ruth Hein (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1991); Ellis Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2002).


This excerpt is from Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization: Citizens Without States (University of Kentucky Press, 2011). Also see “Cosmopolitanism: Citizens Without States“;”Introduction to Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Globalization“; “Ibn Tufayl’s Critique of Cosmopolitanism in Hayy Ibn Yaqzan“; “Kant’s Teaching of Historical Progress and Its Cosmopolitan Goal“; The Limits of Modern Cosmopolitanism“; “An Introduction to Martin Heidegger“; “The Postmodern Condition of Cosmopolitanism.”

John von HeykingJohn von Heyking

John von Heyking

John von Heyking is a Board Member and Book Review Editor of Voegelinview as well as a Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. He is author and editor of several books, including The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship (McGill-Queen's, 2016) and Comprehensive Judgment and Absolute Selflessness: Winston Churchill on Politics as Friendship (St. Augustine’s, 2018).

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