David B. Hart on “Freedom, Rebellion, Apocalypse”

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25 Responses to David B. Hart on “Freedom, Rebellion, Apocalypse”

  1. Tom says:

    What? He didn’t use my guest post on this blog as a source for his presentation? 😀


  2. Tom says:

    Wonderful presentation. As always, with DBH you have to stop everything else you’re doing and sit quietly to follow along. But well worth it!


  3. MorganHunter says:

    The talk was indeed eloquent and fascinating–and persuasive, particularly in its discussion of the paradoxical Christian roots of the modern dream of autonomy. I was, however, a bit troubled by its lack of specificity about the specifically political implications of the idea of true freedom as being only that which is oriented towards the good. This is indubitably true from a metaphysical and ethical standpoint, yet Dr. Hart himself applies it to the political sphere as well, stating that positive law ought in some sense to be informed by it, and explictly condemning mere “negative liberty”. It would be interesting to see discussion of how far the individual’s “right to be wrong” would extend in an ideal state. For example, while I know that Dr. Hart deplores the use of governmental coercion to advance the Christian faith, the argument that opponents of religious freedom consistently make is that true freedom can only be exercised in embracing the Truth, and “choices” to embrace heresy or apostasy do not deserve to be respected as free. One is reminded of C. S. Lewis’ claim that a tyranny sincereley exercised for the good of its subjects would be the most oppressive of all…


    • Cal says:

      I say this having not yet watched the video, but being somewhat familiar with DB Hart:

      This is something I struggle with in Hart as well. I love his vision, but when it hits real functioning, I’m a little amiss. His own politics are symptomatic of this. He exists as a kind of eternal discontent, desiring an arrangement that exists only in Tolkein’s fantasy (forgive me if this is a little harsh).

      The best person who has been able to argue for this cohesively, though still rather abstractly, is William Cavanaugh. He has a lecture online about the difference between a Christian (distinctly Augustinian) understanding of freedom and an Austrian, Free-Market, von Hayek understanding of freedom. The end of his lecture gives practicals. It’s solid Catholic social teaching in many regards.

      If Catholic social ethics are not to be taken wholesale, or reworked per the East or Evangelicals broadly, then the real nitty gritties need to be dealt with. I’m waiting on people like Jamie Smith to do so. I hope Hart can get his feet on the ground a little bit more. It’d probably help to get away from First Things though.


      • Cal says:

        NB: This is not to criticize Hart. Not really. His ability to indulge rhetoric opens up new pathways in the imagination. He brings a fresh retelling of Christ’s Gospel, one that is beautiful and claims the whole cosmos. He is a great evangelist to the learned.

        Christ’s Kingdom maintains a certain ambiguity, and brings a judgment upon this present world order. I don’t think there will ever be a cohesive system that is able to completely ameliorate all our problems. I think that is the temptation of Christendom, one that leads to the twilight of the gods, so to speak.

        We shouldn’t be paralyzed, and we have work to do, but we all ought to read Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor parable. There’s something disturbingly sobering about it.



        • MorganHunter says:

          Thank you for the recommendation–I’m definitely intrigued by what you have to say about Cavanaugh.


  4. Stephen says:

    Was that in English? I love DBH but I only understood about a third of his paper. Anyone care to summarize?


  5. Edward De Vita says:

    Here is an essay by DBH on the political implications of the gospel:



  6. Mike H says:

    If I’m understanding any of this correctly (highly unlikely), both speakers, in their whirlwind tour of modernity, say that the voluntarist view of (divine) freedom emerged sometime in the Middle Ages.

    If that is the case, where does Augustine come into play?


    • Augustine precedes voluntarism by a good number of centuries. The “classical” model of freedom Hart and Betz defend (which was superseded by the voluntarist model in the late middle ages and early modern era) is essentially that of Augustine.


      • Mike H says:

        Thanks HMVP.

        Does Calvin then diverge from this “classical model”, or are his views a one to one continuation of Augustine?

        Perhaps I’m seeing a connection between limited atonement and voluntarism that’s the result of my own misunderstanding.


        • Cal says:

          I think you might be barking up the wrong tree with this one.

          It might be worthwhile to consider this all through Heidegger’s history of Being and his criticisms of the kind of onto-theology that was present and dominant in most of Western history. I can’t recommend enough DB Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite if you want a serious, and powerful, attempt to intellectually digest Western philosophy and theology.


        • I’m not particularly familiar with the finer points of Calvin’s theology, but I know he’s generally considered to have played a significant role in the popularization of *divine* voluntarism (i.e., the functional subordination of God’s rational nature to God’s absolutely unconditioned will).

          Under this model of divine freedom (as I understand it, albeit mostly via its critics), something like limited atonement or unconditional election does seem more plausible: God wills what he wills, and there’s nothing deeper to it than that. His will is not somehow ‘already determined by his nature’ or even ‘absolutely identical with his nature,’ as Augustine or Aquinas would have it, but is more radically ‘constitutive of’ his nature in a quasi-existentialist sense.

          Obviously, there’s a link between this model of divine freedom and the more libertarian, ‘existentialist’ models of human freedom one finds in the modern era. I can’t recall whether Calvin recognizes this link, though, or whether he himself ever frames human freedom in a ‘voluntarist’ way.


  7. brian says:

    Hey, I was just able to listen to this today and so am weighting in belatedly.

    First, a strong presentation by Hart. I like that he highlighted an inherent tension between all ecclesial efforts in fallen time and the freedom of the eschaton. Whilst I believe the eternal is “always already” secretly present and founding even a fallen temporal reality, I do not see how the realities of a perfected freedom could possibly be fully enacted apart from the radical transformation of resurrection. Secondly, I was pleased to hear John Betz (his book on Hamann I have recommended before) and D C Schindler (his Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason is highly recommended.) I also think if Schindler followed through on the logic of his understanding of Plato’s Good, he would find apocatastasis to be coincident. Schindler is clearly aware of the philosopher’s vulnerability and the incapacity to persuade by sophist means — which also means that the Good (and this is linked to fundamental wonder) cannot be justified in the sense that it relies on a singular experience that cannot be comprehended by any relative perception. In short, it is a comprehensive, mysterious reality that is both common and transcendent of finite being. Socratic awareness that the Good must entail everyone, however, implies that the personal is not equivalent to the private and the relative. It also implies that anything less than apocatastasis is not a flourishing participation in the Good.

    Now, to Schinder’s question as to whether apocatastasis surreptitiously brings back a competitive freedom between God and man insofar as it tacitly overrides human libertarian freedom (in short, the competition is eliminated by getting rid of the drama of freedom — hence, a cancellation of human freedom implicitly recognizes that there was a competition) continues to sustain what I think Hart is calling the false narrative of human freedom.

    Really, I tried to advert to all this in my own non-linear way of approaching things in the meditations Father hosted. There is still an abiding misconception. If one distinguishes between passio essendi and conatus essendi — that is, if one sees that all one’s “striving freedom” is NOT fundamental, but derivative from a being that is purely gifted from the beginning, one SHOULD see that all the actions of a “libertarian” willing is NOT the primary expression of one’s personal being. This is why I tried to draw attention to several aspects of our nature that militate against such an identification. So, while admittedly all this is equivocal and can point to various different aspects of elemental being, dream, sleep, and death are both adversaries of being fully awake, but also “places” of release, of separation from limited, narrow finite obsessions and manner of thinking and being — also a suggestion that the striving, erotic self is nurtured, secured, loved before all its deliberative actions. The dreaming self breaks apart a rationalized ego. It’s part of what George Macdonald is getting at in Lillith.

    Aside from that, if one considers Christ’s mission and witness and ultimate victory as the revelation and grace filled extension of Trinitarian love to all of creation, then again, the libertarian individual who can think of his or her fate as somehow separable from the personal-relational community of the whole is fundamentally mistaken.

    All this is to say that what is primary is an initial giftedness where the person is called into singular being by the Singular God and destined for a loving community because that loving community is “from the beginning” constitutive, not merely a result of elective affinities along the lines of modern association. IF one assents to all this — and this is ALSO coincident with the metaphysics that Hart articulates in The Experience of God — where the transcendent Being of God is radically different from all creaturely being (one could call this “beyond being” in certain ways of conceptualizing) — then just as the Being of God establishes creaturely being as in no way possibly conceivable as competitive — the Freedom of God establishes creaturely freedom and is in no way conceivable as competitive. IF one thinks that apocatastasis illicitly imports competition (after the fact) by annulling drama, one has made a category mistake. First, as gifted, your being is from its origin pointed towards a destiny that can only be realized in perfect fulfillment. One’s singular vocation is not separable from an eternal “heavenly” flourishing. It’s not just a semantic trick, but certainly, if only THAT IS freedom, than any abiding infernal missing of the mark or a more “compassionate” annihilation ultimately refuses true freedom in the name of a derivative deliberative freedom that merely seems more real to us in fallen time because (as residents of Plato’s cave) that is all we are familiar with.

    And so, to advert to Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory — and this is also in Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite —- it is pagan metaphysics that can only think of the other as fundamentally agonic, of freedom as ESSENTIALLY a contest of wills. It is sophism that thinks of conversion as mere persuasion to one’s point of view. REAL conversion is first ontological. It is a change of being and that is what surprised the disciples and why Christ’s resurrection upset every possible anticipation that could have come from prior civilized experience, pagan or Jewish. IF difference is ultimately a participation in TRIUNE being, difference is both dramatic AND peaceful; both complete AND open to novelty. (You can’t fit this into your Euclidean geometry.) The latter understanding allows that God’s freedom is not even potentially competitive — it is “always already” creative and dramatic within a context of gift, of love, of the flourishing of the Good.

    Alright, I’m not editing this. It’s long and I just went off. Make of it what one will. Merry Christmas.


  8. Mina says:

    Is there a text of this talk somewhere?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Not that I’m aware of. If you find one, please email it to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mina says:

        I’m going to have to listen to this whole talk again slowly and taking notes. He says a lot of great stuff for me. In our parish, I am preparing for a spiritual day where we talk about the concepts of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” and what they mean in the context of government as opposed to the spiritual concepts themselves.


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