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Politics and the Order of Love

An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship

Augustine—for all of his influence on Western culture and politics—was hardly a liberal. Drawing from theology, feminist theory, and political philosophy, Eric Gregory offers here a liberal ethics of citizenship, one less susceptible to anti-liberal critics because it is informed by the Augustinian tradition. The result is a book that expands Augustinian imaginations for liberalism and liberal imaginations for Augustinianism. 
Gregory examines a broad range of Augustine’s texts and their reception in different disciplines and identifies two classical themes which have analogues in secular political theory: love—and related notions of care, solidarity, and sympathy—and sin—as well as related notions of cruelty, evil, and narrow self-interest. From an Augustinian point of view, Gregory argues, love and sin constrain each other in ways that yield a distinctive vision of the limits and possibilities of politics.
In providing a constructive argument for Christian participation in liberal democratic societies, Gregory advances efforts to revive a political theology in which love’s relation to justice is prominent.  Politics and the Order of Love will provoke new conversations for those interested in Christian ethics, moral psychology, and the role of religion in a liberal society.

434 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Philosophy: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion

Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Religion: Christianity, Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics


“Eric Gregory is the most sophisticated and subtle Christian ethical and political thinker of his generation. He also is a major voice in contemporary discourse on love and justice, freedom, and democracy. His powerful defense of Augustinian civic liberalism is a tour de force!”

Cornel West

“We live in a golden age of Augustinian scholarship. Eric Gregory’s book stands out as a glittering example of that scholarship at its most balanced, provocative, and erudite. Politics and the Order of Love is, quite simply, required reading.”

Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago

“Perhaps one book in three manages to advance a discussion significantly. Perhaps only one book in ten that discusses Augustine in relation to contemporary thought does justice to both its ancient and its modern concerns. Eric Gregory’s book does both of these things. It is the kind of work that can arise only from living with the discussions for a long time and hearing every participant out. It will leave us all rethinking the way we ask our questions.”

Oliver O'Donovan, University of Edinburgh

“Eric Gregory shows complete command of several immense scholarly literatures—on liberal citizenship, on religion and politics, and on Augustine—and he uses that mastery to make a compelling case for his own proposal of an Augustinian ‘civic liberalism.’  Most exciting for this reader are the potential alliances he teases out between putative rivals such as secular feminist ‘ethics of care’ theorists, prophetic religious figures such as Gustavo Gutierrez, Martin Luther King Jr., and Augustinian moralists, noting provocative consonances and potential affiliations between them. This is a work by which secular political thinkers of various stripes cannot help but be instructed, theologians of different traditions cannot help but be illuminated, and citizens—religious and otherwise—of liberal polities cannot help but be invigorated. Take and read!”

Charles Mathewes, University of Virginia

“Eric Gregory is one of the best young thinkers in the field of Christian ethics, and this book shows remarkable erudition and scholarly judgment. I learned a ton from Politics and the Order of Love and am in Gregory’s debt for the fairness with which he discusses those with whom he agrees but also those with whom he disagrees.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University

“In his learned proposal for a liberal politics of love, Eric Gregory draws heavily on the inspiration of Augustine of Hippo and shows us how liberalism can be both democratic and psychologically profound. His aim is not to liberalize Augustine but to use Augustine to free liberalism from its traditional fear of deep waters. Politics and the Order of Love is the most important book on Augustinian politics since Saeculum.”

James Wetzel, Villanova University

"Gregory’s learning and authority range widely enough to include the complex ramifications of the thought of Augustine and at the same time the nuances of contemporary debate in political theory.  This impressive book will shape and advance the dialogue of political philosophy in our time precisely because it is so well and calmly rooted in ancient learning."

James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University, author of Augustine:  A New Biography | James J. O'Donnell

"A joy to read . . . a return to an Augustine that Augustine himself would have recognized."

Jason Byassee | Christian Century

"Gregory has shaped the parameters of future discussion and offers a compelling argument that must be taken seriously."


"This is a phenomenal piece of scholarship. . . . Gregory respects no disciplinary boundaries and draws deeply from a number of different wells. Understanding the giants of Christian thought requires no less. Also, his reading of Augustine is astute and promisingly embedded in larger theological themes. Let Gregory’s work be a model for how to read great Christian thinkers on various topics, including politics and social theory."

Geoffrey C. Bowden | History of Political Thought

"This challenging and erudite book has much to offer both to those concerned with the relationship of Christianity to liberal democracy and those seeking to understand the Christian imperatives to love God and neighbor."

Christopher R. Helton | Interpretation

Table of Contents



Introduction:Augustine and Modern Liberalism

Chapter 1: Beyond Public Reason: Love, Sin, and Augustinian Civic Virtue

Chapter 2: From Vice to Virtue: The Development of Augustinian Liberalism

Chapter 3: A Liberal Ethic of Care: Feminist Political Theory

and Christian Social Ethic

Chapter 4: Love as Political Vice: Hannah Arendt’s Augustine

Chapter 5: Love as Political Virtue: “Stoics” and the Problem of Passion

Chapter 6: Love as Political Virtue: “Platonists” and the Problem of God

Conclusion: Remembering Augustine: The Exhausted Politics of Pessimism,

Skepticism, and Nostalgia



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