The third annual “Austin Graduate School of Theology – First Things Lecture” is in the books. Once again, the event was a great success.
On Monday evening, September 11, Patrick Deneen, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 in downtown Austin. The lecture topic was “The War of All Against All: The New Aristocracy and the Revolt of the Masses.” It was an especially timely lecture, given the deep divisions that are apparent in the United States. What follows is my summary (not Deneen’s) for those who missed the event.
Deneen discussed how, in Plato’s Republic, the noble lie, or founding myth, included the dual notion, first, that all people have a common origin and, second, that the city-state will be composed of different classes that will inevitably be hierarchical and, in all likelihood, will be perpetuated over generations. Plato is pointing out that such inequality only contributes to the flourishing of the city-state if those inequalities exist for the sake of the benefit of all citizens.
In antiquity, the difficulty was to persuade the ruling class of everyone’s common origin; otherwise, they took the inequality for granted. Today, conversely, the future ruling class has no tolerance for inequality, but thinks very little about what binds society together. Thus, the irony is that the cultural elites who cry out for greater equality are, in general, the greatest beneficiaries and perpetuators of generational privilege. And, as a result, those in the lower classes no longer accept that inequality as a deeper feature of a common good.
Ideally, the aristocracy’s privileged position came with a responsibility to defend and care for the lower classes. Instead, the ideal often breaks down, and the ruling class that is supposed to defend against oppression actually becomes the oppressor. For example, in our day, it is not uncommon to hear cultural elites denigrate so-called middle America, that is, the lower classes that they allegedly support. As a culture, we have abandoned the belief that, if a humane polity is to be restored, differences can be complementary and point to a deeper unity.
We at Austin Grad are grateful to Patrick Deneen for sharing his insights with our community, and we are grateful again to First Things magazine for co-sponsoring the event. We look forward to future collaboration with First Things.
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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others. Austin Grad -- one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas -- is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.