The Future of Love (Milbank)

I’ve been critical of Radical Orthodoxy in the past.  I think it’s ontology mutes all distinctions, or wants to anyway.  Nonetheless, John Milbank is just fun to read.  And check out his twitter account.

I’m posting this old review of The future of love so I can have most of my book reviews on one site.

The dichotomy of left and right represents a nominalist social ontology (Milbank loc. 99).

The Christian revolution doesn’t side with noble or base, but it democratizes the noble: hence Paul addresses his hearers as “kings” (loc. 111).

The role of the monarch

  • “The kingly role remains Christological insofar as it foreshadows the integrity of the Resurrected body, when the material will fully shine with the glory of the spiritual” (loc. 154).

Imagination as a Mode of Knowing

In the first section of the book Milbank’s hero is Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  In God alone subjectivity and “outness” are finaly co-extensive and yet the differential relation remains irreducible (464).

Kant’s noumenal distinction fails because it doesn’t take account of mediations of being “with being” (484). Coleridge has in mind the “linguistic network of signs,” of “human participation in the communicative Logos.”

All knowledge is an anticipatio of “a later concrete discovery.”

Conclusion: imagination mediates between reason and understanding “in such a fashion that the ‘resistance’ it receives from external objects has no merely negative value, but can actually act as a spur to a new creative synthesis” (498).

Hegel the Gnostic

A myth of a self-actuating spirit that objectifies itself, and thereby finds itself in estranged form, only to return, with this gain, back to an abstract, rational, self-presence (464).

Nominalism and the Market

Milbank suggests that the earlier Christian socialists in Britain opposed the market in a way that did not commit them to Revolutionary violence or socialist calling cards (e.g., egalitarianism, unions, etc).  The important point was to find a “pivot” that escapes commodification. This is the sacred. It is validated by modes of religious tradition (loc. 170).

“Thatcher realized, as Arnold and his descendants did not, that to ask what are health, industry, and freedom for is a superfluous luxury in a capitalist system” (834).  Wealth and production had always been seen as means to the good life.  Now they are the ends themselves.

In fact, how can there be ethics at all, as Milbank notes?  Ethics in the public realm implies recognizing common goals beyond the maximization of wealth and individual freedom.

In fact, if all that matters is my individual choice, as the hippies and libertines said, the only possible result is the market.  The market is the most efficient mediator of minimalized choices.

Milbank Contra Newman

For Newman the “notional” term “picks out an aspect and real assent goes on discerning further and further aspects of a complex circumstance, then, just because real assent does not grasp all aspects at once.”

We never perceive abstract items.  We do not see a river. We see a river flowing.  Nothing apprehended is “sheerly given.”

Milbank’s problem with Newman:  Newman’s argument for papalism and the continent presupposes a Lockean and British thinking inconsistent with papalism.  This means that Newman would fall back on Lockean liberalism–and back to the market (1314).

Theology and British Politics

Critics of Christian Socialism list reasons why socialists should not like Christian socialists:

  1. They were apolitical.
  2. Ignored trade unions.
  3. liked rural and medieval life.
  4. opposed democracy
  5. traditional attitudes towards marriage and family.
  6. They were Christians.
  7. Romantic economics.
  8. They were Tory.

~1. Milbank says they focused more on the formation of associations than agitating for political change.

~2. Not necessarily.  They aimed to keep capital within the association itself.

~3. It’s not that they hated democracy, but that they knew the uneducated can be easily manipulated.

~4. Their emphasis on the land was a redistribution of land.  Further, they claimed that the association of industrialization with socialism was not natural, either.  They were medieval in the sense of desiring medieval “positivity.” There must be a common will to counteract individualism.

Milbank posits socialism as a mode of knowledge. “Revelation is always revelation of a social order, because social relationship is the most fundamental kind of knowledge” (1680).

What would be Milbank’s Goal?

  • turn all people into owners and joint-owners (loc 200).
  • we must think of “social relations of production, in which relations and production are truly inseparable” (2229).
  • “We need once again to form systematic links between producer and consumer co-operatives and we need to see an emergence of cooperative banking, social credit unions, trade guilds, and voluntary economic courts” (5210).

the Body by Love Possessed: Christianity and Late capitalism in Britain

“For Coleridge there is always a linguistic exchange that is counter-poised to, and perhaps more fundamental than, the economic exchange, and the first exchange has its ground and fulfillment in Christ, the communicative logos itself (1849).

Smith and the Thomist Tradition

Smith’s “natural” = three sources of wealth: land, labour, capital.

Aquinas: Adam “originally possessed dominium because he could name things through language” (1882).  There is an ontological connection between the individual to nature via the dominium.  Aquinas refused, however, to identify right and effective ownership.  Milbank says this would have been nominalist.

Marx: “assumptions about the natural sources of profit made by the political economists only echo assumptions which are really made within capitalist practice, and which sustain that practice in being” (1909).

Even if Marx’s theory of value ultimately fails to deliver, it can shine a light on alternative deviations. Accordingly, such a light shows the liberal tradition as voluntarist.  

Neo-Liberalism and De-Industrialization

Marx, unlike Hegel, does not see “objectivicatio” as necessarily alienating; instead what is necessarily alienating for Marx is tropical exchange and abstract universalizing” (2318).
On Baseless Suspicion: Christianity and the Crisis of Socialism

Capitalism as false knowledge: self interest now moderates self interest without the intervention of virtue, “and [it] secured public order without the architectonic of justice” (2583).  

Foucault’s analytic of finitude: a historicism in which it is supposed that one can somehow round upon the finitude and ‘represent’ the human subject in terms of its supposed intrinsic limits as what truly underlies history and paradoxically permits a continuing development” (2668).  People define and reduce humanity to one prior “basic.”

  • Marx: economic needs
  • Freud: Oedipal desires.
  • Heidegger: Being-towards-Death (Sein-zum-Tode)

Contra Deleuze:

Theology and Social Theory: Responses to Responses

metanarratives: Christianity is an anti-metanarrative since it posits the arrival of a community of reconciliation and an end to fateful logics (2995).  It is a Platonic vision of the “Good” as “precisely the harmonious fitting in of all roles and options” (3177).

On Theological Transgression: The Theological Virtues

Can someone who rejects all metaphysics as ontotheology finally avoid a nihilism?  Postmodernism errs in seeing the universal as nothing, and if nothing, then death. If not content can ultimately be justified (in terms of a universal), “a ceaseless variety of content is simply tolerated or permitted according to the formal rules of an agonistic game originally played to the advantage of certain identifiable players” (3330).  Any newness will be construed as a violence from the outside.

The Invocation of Clio

Milbank favors a form of “wild Anglo-Celtic empiricism of Bede et al” (3771).

mythos: stories of the rule of fate.  Ultimately problematic as it always generates new stories of peace to undo the older ones. “It is a tale of eternal fatality.”

Fairy tale: tale of personal creation of interpersonal redemption (3992).

Kant and the Angels

“The existence of immaterial spirits who are not God counterfactually ensures that the Creator is more than the spiritual real; the latter, too, can be created. Equally, though, angelology counterfactually underwrites the distinction of metaphysics from physics…

We have a tendency to view the “beyond” as an experience of God.  But this leads us to think that God is our experience of him. But for pre-Kantians, our apprehension of the beyond “under multiple aspects could be correlated with the conjecturing of a multiple spirit world…and of other ‘presences,’ of more subtle body, within our own physical world (4049).

I think Milbank means that for Kant, it was either the world (phenomena) or God (noumena).  Angelology breaks this dichotomy. Another tool against Kant is the Platonic metaxu that lures knowledge forward to know what it already knows but does not yet know (4060).

Logos must always reach after logos, per Meno.  “Since the lure of truth is the doxa only of truth–the lure is a continent gift.”

Did Milbank commit the genetic fallacy in TST?  Did he say x is wrong because of its pedigree?  Not exactly. He notes “since diachrony is also real, and even, to a degree, prevailing, all meaning and all action involve genealogy” (3868).

Charity as Political economy

medieval charity meant “forging the bonds of mutuality between donor and recipient.”  It was a “state of relation [primarily], not a deed” (4209). It was an exchange. In fact, it was “ontological, reciprocal, and festive in a way that ours is not” (4241).

problem with consequentialist ethics:  at what arbitrary point do we cut off the causal chain of actions to define a ‘consequence’ that should be assessed? Who is legitimately a recipient of a consequential benefit and when, rather than an ethical actor looking to benefit others under a consequentialist imperative” (4225)?

Further, surplus value means lower prices, which means lower-paid workers (who soon can’t afford the goods)

Political Theology today

Sovereignty, Empire, Capital, and Terror

The unity of the modern republic is inherently connected with the accumulation of capital.  It’s only interest is its own interests and wealth and freedom. As such it can’t mediate with “the other” (4741).

Virtue is the middle realm between polis and oikos.

Theology and Pluralism

here Milbank takes up problems with the university.

The End of Dialogue

Milbank has some fun critiques of pluralism.  Most adherents to religious pluralism ironically assume confidence in a timeless “logos enjoying time-transcending encounters with an unchanging reality” (5701).  In other words, they are assuming the Western discourse.

Milbank asserts that linking fashionable causes like ecology and feminism to religious pluralism actually undercuts the former.  Religious pluralism moves towards a liberal market and liberal politics, which mitigate against ecology, at least.

The Conflict of Faculties

The Enlightenment “Free inquiry” project is itself prey to internal, agonistic forces.

Nihilism is not the negative doubting of God but the positive affirmation of the void, and the capacity of that void to generate the appearance of something solid–for all that this appearance, if it arises from nothing, must be without ontological remainder, and must at every instant vanish (6197).  Mere objects do not disclose their origins

Faith, Reason, and Imagination

Different theories of knowledge

representation/correspondence: Because God is simple, the intellect cannot follow, even metaphysically, upon being.

Theopolitical Agendas

A Short Summa in 42 Responses to Unasked Questions

Suspending the material

“A reality suspended between nothing and infinity is a reality of flux, a reality in the end without substance, composed of relational differences and ceaseless alterations (Augustine, De Musica)…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 (6887,6894 ).

When there is a positing of a sacred against a chaotic other, then the sacred can be deconstructed.  There is something more ultimate than both chaos and the sacred because it governs the passage between them.  “Is not this passage itself chaotic?”



About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Economics, politics, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Future of Love (Milbank)

  1. Ben Smith says:

    The funny thing is that the Fake John Milbank twitter feed often only has re-tweet the real John to parody him.

    My wife took his lectures at Nottingham. Incomprehensible to all but the very keen on the front row.


  2. Pingback: The Future of Love (Milbank) – The Philosophical Hack

  3. redoves says:

    I’ve imbibed enough (i.e., too much) Sherrard and A.K. Coomaraswamy to recognize the pathological ‘dodge-while-appearing-to-clarify’ manner Neoplatonists (Milbank, D.B. Hart, etc.) tend to adopt. For me, not much fun at all.

    Also, the metaphysics at work in Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma is effectively theurgic Neoplatonism. (Even Guenon says so about ‘Ye Olde Freemasonry’.) Yes, I’m guilting by association, but seriously: Why do professing Christians still pretend this is a live option?


    • redoves says:

      Ah . . . To properly bridge the two sentiments above: in the foreword to Gregory Shaw’s Theurgy and the Soul, Milbank and Aaron Riches give Iamblichus two thumbs way up, going so far as to say that “[a]ll the specific impulses within Christianity supporting the double and co-belonging ideas of ‘descent all the way down’ and ‘participation all the way up’ are clearly Biblical, yet one should not atavistically seek to deny the extent to which pagan attention to its own oracles could lead it to go in a convergent direction” (p. xv).

      Perennialism, in other words.


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