Nihilism as Onto-Agon

“For nihilism, the flux is a medium of perpetual conflict, a pagan agon where the most powerful rhetoric will temporarily triumph, only to succumb to an apparently or effectively more powerful discourse in the future”
~John Milbank, The Future of Love.

In other words, for pagan (and nihilist, which is essentially postmodern paganism) ontologies there is always a violent other over against the One/Being/Cosmos.  Christian Rhetoric, by contrast, is one of peace.  Violence and struggle is not necessary to the Christian view.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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6 Responses to Nihilism as Onto-Agon

  1. cal says:

    This sounds good, and I believe it is a fundamental difference, but as Millbank’s critics level: what does this actually mean? How does his brand of Western, nominally affiliated (at least) Christendom imperialism functionally operate according to peace when it has been/is/will be involved in all sorts of conflicts?

    I think his idealized Platonism gets the best of him and he incoherent, even if this general thrust is true. Yes, creation, according to the Divine plan, is good and at peace, violence isn’t at the heart of things. Yet, we live in a world where the devil is the god of this age.

    If we want to be less polemical, we could say that Nihilists, and post-modern philosophy, whether Deleuze/Guattari or Levinas, are describing the conditions of this age without the Incarnation, without the hope of the age to come.



    • Evan says:


      I think you’re right. We live between to ages, this age and that which is to come: this present evil (albeit passing) age and the age of perpetual peace when the consummation of all things comes. Perhaps, Milbank’s eschatology is over-realized? However, it doesn’t follow that we should not strive for such an ideal.


    • JB Aitken says:

      Milbank specifically eschews that “Christendom-violence” at the end of Theology and Social Theory.

      *** Yet, we live in a world where the devil is the god of this age.***

      But according to the Christian narrative, violence wasn’t necessary to creation, and that anticipates eschatology


      • Evan says:


        I think we actually agree. The problem is when Christendom doesn’t take this to its logical conclusions.


      • cal says:

        I’d be curious where he directly eschews the whole project, not merely decrying violent functionings. How can a State exist without the exercises of violence? How does violence not end up radiating all the way down, so to speak?

        Though it’s not a part of the topic, this is a fundamental problem with Radical Orthodoxy. It’s highly ideological and the current post-modern fixation on ‘language’ allows what seems patently absurd. How can Milbank claim the “catholic” tradition when his wife is a priestess? Sometimes these disconnects are less accidents, and programmatic errors.

        Now, to be up front, I’ve not read Milbank, only heard some clips and read his disciples of RO.

        Yes, we must anticipate eschatology, but also be torn by the currents of this age. It’s why we need to be both innocent as doves and wise as serpents, living eschatologically while being mindful of what this means in a world at war with such things. One of those being a certain wariness of systems, power, and philosophy that Paul warns of.


        I’m realizing the insufficiency of a concept like “pagan world”. Now, I’ve said this enough times. But I’m wondering if this privileges a kind of heavily subjective “world-view” approach. Maybe, rather, we ought to speak more as a realist, and affirm duality of two ages, one present and one to come. Different Pagans try to reconcile themselves to this world with different account of metaphysics or ethics (i.e. Platonic Oneism, Appollonian or Dionysian, etc.). It’s all about trying to run out the clock on Death.


  2. Evan says:

    In other words, the most successful in the pagan world are sophists.


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