Augustine and Contemporary Republicanism: On Speech as Domination

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-182h3bvHz8d61B/input 871617PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919871617Political Research QuarterlyKabala
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(1) 15 –26
Augustine and Contemporary
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Republicanism: On Speech as
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919871617
Boleslaw Z. Kabala1
I argue that Augustine can inform contemporary republicanism in a way that has not yet been considered: by means
of the utility of “overlapping consensus.” I first unpack Philip Pettit’s theory of republicanism and demonstrate that
his work contains a significant “blind-spot,” namely, more deliberation is required than Pettit allows to establish
“arbitrary” interference in the lives of citizens for the sake of maximizing non-domination. But the deliberative
settings leave an opening for domination through rhetoric. It is here that Augustine enters: although both the
Confessions and City of God contain multiple striking examples of the use of rhetoric, they also provide evidence of a
distrust of rhetoric given its potential for domination. It is only in Book IV of De Doctrina Christiana that Augustine
lays out explicitly and theoretically a positive use of rhetoric. I then argue that, to minimize domination in the
deliberative settings required to better understand the changing definition of “arbitrary” interference, Pettit may
profitably look to Augustine’s explicit theoretical conceptualization of rhetoric. I end by pointing out that this does
not require accepting Augustine’s ontology and metaphysics. Indeed, through an overlapping consensus, agreement
may be reached on rhetorical practices that do not contribute to domination.
overlapping consensus, republicanism, St. Augustine, speech, domination
But what is meant by the term arbitrary? I argue that
even once the recent work he has produced is considered,
The political ideology of republicanism calls for organiz-
Pettit leaves the term undertheorized, mentioning only
ing a state as a republic in which citizens hold popular
that through discussion and the give-and-take of political
sovereignty. The roots of republicanism and its links to
debate, people will have to agree, at the end of the day,
major figures in the history of political and religious
what is arbitrary and what is not. There is both a proce-
thought are the subject of active research, as evidenced
dural and substantive dimension to arbitrariness, as
by two recent articles, one in this journal, exploring con-
“Pettit’s Republicanism and Two Anti-domination
nections of republicanism to the theologico-political
Strategies” and “Pettit and the Relation of Deliberation to
problem (Herold 2014; Pena 2018). In this spirit, I ask
Domination” sections of the article demonstrate. But
and address a related question: what does Augustine’s
although Pettit motions in the direction of deliberation in
thought contribute to an understanding of contemporary
his work, I show that for him the necessary consideration
republicanism? I argue that the answer is “a good bit.”
that will have to take place is itself significantly under-
The contemporary paradigm of republicanism, which
theorized. This is true with respect to the definition of the
can be traced to the work of Philip Pettit, provides a wel-
term arbitrary as it applies to both procedural and sub-
come alternative to the two other major possibilities in
stantive safeguards in the context of changing times and
political theory, those of liberalism and communitarian-
conditions. It is also true, and perhaps more importantly,
ism (Pettit 1997, 17–50). While highlighting distinctly
modern concerns, it also provides a provocative interpre-
tation of the republican tradition, not in terms of the com-
1Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX, USA
mon good or the shaping of individual citizens through
the law, but in terms of non-domination.1 A republican
Corresponding Author:
system of government will not admit of domination in the
Boleslaw Z. Kabala, Department of Government, Legal Studies, and
Philosophy, Tarleton State University, O.A. Grant Bldg. 349, 1333 W.
lives of citizens, understood as arbitrary intervention in
Washington St., Stephenville, TX 76402, USA.
the choices they make.

Political Research Quarterly 73(1)
with respect to the culture of civility that plays such a
of republicanism understood as non-domination today?
prominent role in Pettit’s theory.
The Rawlsian concept of an overlapping consensus
It is here that an unappreciated potential for domina-
(Rawls 1981, 1987) is helpful, not requiring that repub-
tion materializes. More need for debate and deliberation
licans accept the whole of Augustine’s ontology or
means more possibility for the showcasing of rhetorical
metaphysics. There are indications that Augustine
skill. But as many ancient authors understood, rhetoric
himself accepted the rudiments of the idea.
cunningly applied can most certainly be used not just to
Fourth, therefore, I unpack the concept of the overlap-
persuade but also to influence and to dominate. Therefore,
ping consensus and show how it has already been used by
the increased need for debate and deliberation in Pettit’s
Eric Gregory (2010) to put Augustine in dialogue with a
theory, insofar as it provides a wider arena for the display
number of thinkers who are not usually found in conver-
of rhetorical skill, also contains potential for dominating
sation with him today. Whereas Gregory does so for the
others through rhetoric.
sake of pushing back against Rawlsian orthodoxy in
Enter Augustine who was, famously, a teacher of rhet-
political theory, I seek an overlapping consensus for the
oric for most of his life. In his Confessions and the City of
sake of those actually interested in furthering an under-
God, however, despite consciously and consistently
standing of republican politics as non-domination. The
employing the art of rhetoric, he also points to its decid-
overlapping consensus, which may already exist, makes
edly negative potential to bring about domination. Almost
possible a specific agreement between followers of Pettit
thirty years after writing the Confessions, in the fourth
and Augustinians (two groups that need not be mutually
volume of De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine demon-
exclusive) with respect to normatively acceptable rheto-
strates a major change in his thinking at least insofar as he
ric. The agreement, to the extent that it cuts down on the
presents a positive and explicit theoretical defense of
use of sophistic rhetoric that can lead to domination,
rhetoric: correctly understood, it can increase our access
increases justice.
to truth and effect a decrease in domination that occurs in
Pettit’s Republicanism and Two Anti-
The article proceeds in four parts. First, I unpack
domination Strategies
Pettit’s republicanism. I take the reader through his origi-
nal book and recent work, presenting the basic distinc-
In Republicanism, Pettit (1997) attempted to change the
tions upon which he relies and the means on which he
conversation in political theory that had reached an
depends (a culture of civility) to attain the republicanism
impasse between liberalism and communitarianism. He
for which he strives.
argued that the competing alternatives of positive and
Second, I point to a deficit in Pettit’s understanding of
negative liberty articulated in the famous essay by Berlin
republicanism, which remains the same in his book and
(1958) had missed a third, and arguably more significant,
more recent work: what is the definition of the term arbi-
possibility. If positive liberty, which is associated readily
trary, on which he relies to determine what is and is not
with Rousseau, can be taken to mean the freedom to par-
unreasonable intervention in the lives of citizens for the
ticipate, and negative liberty, which is to be found in
sake of understanding non-domination? The definition, it
Hobbes, conveys the sense of freedom from interference,
turns out, will have to be arrived at continuously in delib-
republican liberty, which Pettit claimed to identify as a
erative contexts. But this opens the door to domination
consistent pattern of thought among publicly minded
through rhetoric, a type he does not consider. It is here
thinkers throughout history, refers to a third distinct alter-
that Augustine, who in teaching rhetoric became aware of
native of non-domination. His book raised important
its danger with respect to domination, and who moved to
points that are still being debated today.2
consider the possibility of a specifically Christian rheto-
Pettit identified three features of a relationship of
ric that does not dominate, enters the argument.
domination: (1) the capacity for interference, (2) the arbi-
Third, I tell the story of Augustine’s using rhetoric
trariness of the interference, and (3) the impact of the
in both the Confessions and City of God at the same
interference on choices that the other is able to make
time that he warns against its negative potential for
(Pettit 1997, 52). The key to domination is the dimension
domination. Rhetoric as understood by the ancient
of arbitrariness of interference, which always makes
sophists and exemplified by...

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