The Progress and Future of Radical Orthodoxy

Mention “Radical Orthodoxy” in a room of people who are either quite intimately or only remotely acquainted with contemporary theology, and one surely will receive equal parts of praise and scorn. Whether it is being praised or scorned, however, it is plain that Radical Orthodoxy has worked its way deep into the fabric of contemporary theological discourse. Since the publication of John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory in 1992, Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing in 1997, and Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, edited by Milbank, Pickstock, and Graham Ward in 1998, the Radical Orthodoxy movement has done what any explosively innovative intellectual movement will do after the hype settles down: mature or wither away.

In their article “What is Radical Orthodoxy?” (Telos 123, Spring 2002), John Hughes and Matthew Bullimore map out, in a short space and yet with crisp detail, the main themes in the Radical Orthodoxy project. For those familiar with the movement, their points will not come as a shock: that a deep metaphysical violence underlies modernity, political liberalism, and capitalism; that the philosophical and theological dualisms of modernity must be named and then overcome with the aid of both premodern and postmodern thought; and that in the face of proliferating violence it is Christian orthodoxy—in line with Aquinas, Boethius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and Iamblichean Neo-Platonism—that presents truly “radical” alternatives to the prevailing political, philosophical, and theological orders.

Continue reading →

Community After Capitalism

When Karl Marx described the commodity, he invoked the language of faith. For him, the commodity remained “a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”[1] Marx, a dedicated secular economist, hesitated to pinpoint the exact power of the commodity. He could not fully understand it without recourse to a mythology he abhorred, one that far predated his radical recasting of accepted historical narratives. Here religion colors economics: the logic of exchange resembles a curious mysticism.

Continue reading →

The Perpetual State of Emergency

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 created a chain of events that has led not only to the “othering” of Islam and its followers, but also to an increase in the securitization of society as a whole. In “Sovereignty, Empire, Capital, and Terror,” John Milbank examines the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, notably the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing intervention of governments into the privacy of their respective populations. He questions the wars and the increasingly illiberal turn by the government in regards to dealing with terrorists and criminals and the elimination of due process and, in some cases, habeus corpus. He writes that, “the question that one should ask in response to the immediate aftermath the events of September 11 is why there was outrage on such a gigantic scale” (146). He goes on to identify two reasons: first, the threat against the sovereign, and second, the increasing legitimization by Western governments to intervene in so-called “rogue or failed states,” to ensure the spread of the neoliberal market and prevent the defection of these states from the Western dominated capitalist system. Although there are indeed questions concerning the delineation between national security and the democratic process, the answers to these questions are harder to come by.

Continue reading →

Post-Secular Enchantments: The Non-reductive Materialisms of John Milbank and William Connolly

The following paper was presented at the Seventh Annual Telos Conference, held on February 15–17, 2013, in New York City.

The philosopher John Caputo starts off his review of Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank’s debate book, The Monstrosity of Christ, by claiming that “Materialism just isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays everyone wants to be a materialist, even the theologians, while the materialists want to look like they lead a spiritual life.”[1] Caputo goes on to claim that today’s battle is “no longer between materialism and idealism, or hard-nosed Newtonians and far out spirit-seers, but between ‘materialist materialism’ and ‘theological materialism’,” and he continues and qualifies, “between crude soulless materialism and materialism with spirit.”[2]

Continue reading →