the just man wages even just wars in tears

It is, perhaps, the most fundamental of all political questions whether and to what extent judgment is possible. How are we so to pronounce as to establish? How are we to make the truth appear effectively?

…Are we given to renew the life of human communities by a word of truth, or is this an unattainable ideal, from which we have to fall back upon the “messiness” and “compromise” of politics?

…”It belongs to judges to direct the people solely by God’s law, and to kings to use civil compulsion.” This “contemplative” government, which should be represented in Christendom, Wyclif believes, by the bishops, is a real alternative to coercive government, “nearer to the state of innocence,” more apostolic, more like the heavenly state, and so “more perfect.” Only “accidentally” (i.e., “circumstantially”) may the rule of kings be preferable in the face of extensive sin, though even so “human law and kingly office have no worth unless they are directed by the evangelical law.” Here we encounter a form of the “idealist” tradition, derived from Plato’s famous conception of the rule of philosophers in the Republic, where the whole action of government is contained in its expression of wisdom and rationality. Coercion is not essential to judgment; it is an ancillary for a less than ideal world, an accident that befalls the act of judgment.

…The question may present itself in various guises: in terms of the practical fragility of human judgment, the insufficiency of propositions to pass over into action, the shame attached to force, the limitations on our perceptions of the truth, and our restricted capacity for constructive and forward-looking initiative. These different forms of the question are interrelated, constantly leading back to one another and to the theological root-question underlying them: can we imitate God’s unity of thought and action so that the reasonableness of a judgment will be sufficient to give it effect?

…So for Augustine the just man wages even just wars in tears. The realist critique of idealism is that it fails to acknowledge the brutal rupture implied in the transition from speech to action. The idealist critique of realism is that it allows too little distinction between rational force and irrational violence.

The Ways of Judgment (Bampton Lectures) by Oliver O’Donovan, pages 13-15.

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