Modernity and the Economics of Gift and Charity: On Ivan Illich’s Critique of Abstract Philanthropy

This essay explores the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the work of the radical Catholic social theorist Ivan Illich (1926–2002), via a discussion of the changing meaning of charity in Western thought and practice. It is argued that Illich’s thought is animated by a traditional theological understanding of charity as anchored in local, personal bonds and networks of reciprocity, and that his critique of Western economic modernity has much to do with the gradual depersonalization and institutionalization of charity, theoretically and in society, linked to its transmogrification into “abstract” philanthropy. Drawing on debates around the nature of love and the gift in contemporary theology, philosophy, and social anthropology, the conceptual dynamics of Illich’s account of human sociality are made clear.

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Telos 173 (Winter 2015): Gillian Rose

Telos 173 (Winter 2015) is now available for purchase in our store.

Gillian Rose (1947–1995) had an influence in excess of her literary output and treatment in secondary literature. Author of eight books, two articles, and four book reviews, she also had important, though perhaps hidden, effects on the UK academic scene through academic friendship, doctoral supervision, and interdisciplinary work. She inspired many students and colleagues, even where she does not appear in bibliographies or citations. She made major contributions to introducing the Frankfurt School to the UK; aided the Hegel renaissance in English-language scholarship; and was an early critic of post-structuralism and political theology. Several of the papers gathered here were first given at a conference at Durham University on January 9, 2015, to mark the twentieth year since Rose’s death. That conference and this special issue of Telos are premised on the view that Rose’s work still has much philosophical insight and inspiration to offer. The authors of these papers were students, colleagues, and/or friends of Rose, or studied her work as part of their doctoral research. The diversity of their fields reflects some of the range and interdisciplinarity of Rose’s own work: Hegel, social theory, Marxism, politics, race, recognition theory, education, and theology. We hope that this issue provokes a renewed interest in what Rose can still offer us today.

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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.

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The Production of the Subject in Late Benjamin

This article places Benjamin’s late work in dialogue with recent attempts in media theory and structuralism to think the subject and historical contingency together. It argues their apparent incompatibility is reflected in Benjamin’s writing in the form of a recurrent contradiction between historical materialism and transhistorical theology. Through a reconstruction of the theorist’s historicization of an earlier theological theory of the fall of language in his Marxian-inflected work of the 1930’s, it claims that Benjamin initiates a historicist reconceptualization of the impasse of the Kantian subject onto being as the product of a particular field of mediation arising with mass modernity. Yet following the rejection of his nascent version of the Arcades Project by Adorno and the Marxist Institute for Social Research in 1938, theology returns as an attempt to reconceive of an aesthetic-formal break with this impasse. Benjamin’s late theorization of his materialist historiography thus represents a dialectical attempt to think materialism and theology, history and being together, with the aim of mediating not only distraction, but a revolutionary destruction of the subject and the historical order producing it.

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Milbank on Theology, Authority, and Democracy

In his article “The Last of the Last: Theology, Authority, and Democracy,” from Telos 123 (Spring 2002), John Milbank argues that theology’s proper role is within the Church extended through time and space, rather than as “‘a public discourse’ answerable to the critical norms and liberal values.” Yet his claim does not come without qualification. Many aspects of theological inquiry that were once held together have splintered since 1300 CE: faith and reason, scripture and tradition, and theology under ecclesial authority, in particular. Here the Church is actually more to blame, both Protestantism and Post-Tridentine Catholicism, than some (fictional) increasingly enlightened and liberated society.

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On the Liturgical Critique of Modernity

Catherine Pickstock’s “Liturgy and Modernity,” from Telos 113 (Fall 1998), is an effort to find an alternative to liberal individualism and social fragmentation in modernity. Pickstock finds this alternative in liturgy: a liturgical critique of modernity where “liturgy” functions as a thoroughly political category. Liturgy is specially equipped to confront modernity due to its nature as ritual behavior (and therefore universal among humans). Yet the liturgical is to be favored over “ritual” for two reasons. First, ritual has already been relegated to its own “delimited sphere” in modernity, where it is viewed as a private superstructural category. Furthermore, ritual in the modern mind is regarded merely as “mechanical repetitions divorced from any informing narrative.” Liturgy, on the other hand, responds to the former challenge by its nature as “a pattern of social action” (not a delimited sphere) and responds to the latter by its foundation in a “privileged transcendent signifier.”

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