Wayne Hankey for Archbishop

So Wayne Hankey has pretty much destroyed Radical Orthodoxy in this paper.  I mean that stung me, and I’m unaffiliated. Ouch!

I just wonder how much of it will also apply to Van Til and the pomo Neo-Cs.

What say ye Peter?

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About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

17 thoughts on “RO KO

  1. Dr Hankey’s critique is decisive. Much of it does apply to Van Tilism; like the RO, Van Tilism begins with modernism’s skeptical assumption about reason and the knowability of the world, and then aims to fill the void it has made with a totalizing theo-philosophy. The stories Van Tilism tells about history are different than those RO tells, but, as Dr Hankey might say, they are like them in being lies. What RO and Van Tilism share is a hatred of traditional wisdom, and akin to this is a profound distrust of traditional politics, including the hallowed Christian political continuum.

    Same for the postmodern Neo-Catholics, who have tossed aside, Nietzsche-wise, the yoke of rigorous historical and rational criteria and make truth a poetry of the community, membership in which community is brought about by sheer submission to sheer authority, since reason and experience are held to count for virtually nothing: a weird combination of Newmanism and fideism. Our friend Arturo Vasquez, from within the more classically papalist camp, has already many times exposed this for what it is.

    The world and the human mind which knows it, insofar as they are true to themselves, are already “theonomous” by their very being; the long human journey toward wisdom after the Fall, a journey induced by God, is in the sum of its successes called philosophy . Those who, in the name of supposedly theonomous thinking, would cast aside traditional philosophy and its reception by evangelical catholic theology, are thus actually subjectively rebelling against the divine norms already in place, and are thus the real “autonomists”. And no “post” can change the fact that they are modernists, with modernism’s cult of radical invention: which is to say, a habit of making things up.


  2. Surprised he labeled Jamie Smith as RO, since Smith is critical of RO on most of the key points.

    This seemed more like a summary of RO than a sharp criticism of it. He spent most of the paper summarizing their beliefs, and his summary was quite helpful. He would criticize at the end of sections or paragraphs. And some of his criticisms are accurate. And I think Milbank is very much aware of the import of those criticisms for in his recent essay in Jamie Smith’s *After Modernity,* he acknowledges areas where he has been wrong and brings his ethical reasoning more line with the O’Donovans.

    While I’ve read and am in large agreement with Plato, I will assume his criticism of Milbank on that point is accurate. I lack the acumen to deal with it.

    And even assuming everything he says is accurate, would this still critique *Theology and Social Theory*? I don’ t think it would. Milbank doesn’t merely bash modernity in that book. His two most anti-modern chapters “For and Against Hegel” and “For and Against Marx” are saying we should appropriate necessary elements from these moderns. His use of Marx, particularly in forming his Gothic Christian Socialism ala John Ruskin, is very helpful.

    Interesting paper and helpful summaries at times, but I don’t see it undoing with one blow the whole RO project. And I am not a pure Milbank supporter. I support him in what he attempts in TST and his Gothic Christian Socialism.

  3. And to another extent every Christian social thinker is going to have to deal, and in many ways imitate, what Milbank is doing. We disagree with modernity on one hand, sure; that’s why we don’t have posters of Karl Marx in our living room. But we appreciate some of modernity (Gary North’s famous words two words: dent-istry). And I don’t think Milbank is arguing for a naive return to the Medievals (as am I). His political vision is quite tame and on a good day would fit in with the MVP (okay, so maybe it wouldn’t!).

    We also love the pre-moderns (Augustine’s two cities; the O’Donovans’ book on Christian Political Thought) but we realize that we can’t apply them in a wooden fashion. So that brings us to today’s situation. Call it postmodernism? Whatever that means.

    I realize that Hankey is not dealing with the social ethic of Milbank’s thought, but the theurgic. That’s cool. In reading that I think the social element of Milbank’s thought, to the degree that it mirrors O’Donovan’s, is quite sound and Milbank should direct his efforts that way.

    However, I don’t think Milbank is wrong in trying to “re-read” Plato. In Jamie Smith’s essay, “Will the real Plato Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up?” Smith list at least eight different ways that scholars have read Plato. If that’s so, then it’s understandable that people would inevitably offer “re-readings.”

  4. Jacob,

    If that wasn’t a “sharp criticism,” then I don’t know what is. Did you read the last few paragraphs? He says that the whole project is founded on lies, that it is itself totally dependent on the modernity it seeks to reject, and the supposed “inclusivism” is actually a rejection of the law of noncontradiction.

  5. I guess why I didn’t think it was a “finishing move” was that it only touched on several aspects of RO (in RONT there were about 8 different dimensions of RO’s project). This guy’s arguments, if one grants them, take out only a few (and granted, to be sure, those are some serious aspects).

    Another thing I didn’t understand. The guy admits that RO is seeking to build off of Gilson (Marion confesses that he, too, is building off of Gilson’s work on St Thomas). That’s not new or radical. I thought Gilson was fairly standard and tame in Thomist circles. Peter Kreeft’s *Summa of the Summa* is heavily dependent on Gilson in the footnotes.

    As to the modernity thing, in Milbank’s later essays he says he doesn’t reject modernity en toto. In the two chapters I referenced in *TST* Milbank explicitly says what Hankey is accusing him of denying: He says we should use ______ (he lists about 3 key thinkers from modernity) to criticize deficient Christian understandings of x, y, and z. That last part isn’t important. I am pointing out that Milbank doesn’t deny Modernity like he is accused of doing. Of course, his rhetoric at times can lead to that conclusion (and especially Pickstock’s, though David Hart says the same thing as well).

    Again, in *TST* Milbank actually critiques the “hard-line” anti-Modernity guys, namely Alasdair McIntyre.

    I guess I can agree with Hankey’s critique of Milbank’s participatory ontology, to the degree I understand it. But I think there is more to Milbank’s (and even RO’s) thought that Hankey lets on.

  6. I’m actually glad you posted it. I am not trying to defend RO’s project, but only seeking key aspects of Milbank’s thought. I think Milbank’s later essays, along with certain moments in *Theology and Social Theory* have a lot of promise. As to the Platonic ontology stuff, I will let better men than I judge that.

    I guess the reason I got interested and went postal was that I was thinking about this stuff–really a lot since I started reading O’Donovan. What Milbank is saying ala ethics and modernity is no different than what McIntyre, O’Donovan (cf. *Resurrection and Moral Order*) and others are saying.

  7. Jacob,

    You raise some good points. It is of course not really possible to have an extended conversation regarding the merits and demerits of the Cambridge school in one discussion thread; Pastor Wedgeworth and I will be engaging more extensively and more closely with the matter on Basilica, soon. Let me start by saying that I have enjoyed reading Milbank over the last fifteen years and have profited from it; I am grateful that he has written, though I disagree with him profoundly in crucial respects. I cannot say I have found any of the associate writers helpful or interesting.

    But in brief:
    1. As you grant, Dr Hankey’s critique is incisive, and while it does not touch all points, it cuts at some of their first principles. Hard to say you’re still standing when you’ve just had your first principles taken out from under you.

    2. Gilson was many things and provoked many reactions (from the pedestrian and naive neo-Thomism of Kreeft, to the neo-pagan Stoicism of Hadot), and it is possible to build on him without being a really traditional Thomist or a traditional philosopher of any sort; RO seems to follow him most in his un-philosophical side of building a “Christian philosophy” on cue to match “modernity”.

    3. Modernity is not one thing. Much of what the RO like in modern thought is what substantially corresponds to their own ecclesiocratic-utopian outlook, though in a disguised form: the millenarian aspect of Marx, the anti-philosophic mystical aspect of Derrida, the normless eros of the Frankfurt School, and so on. And much of what they reject in “modernity” is actually what is sane in it. In any case, the readings they rely on are very often hasty and tendentious. But, as you say, Milbank’s mind is changeable, and has in fact changed, sometimes for the better. Still, the basic RO theme is that the visible church is the bottleneck locus of what we would call nature and common grace, and they tend to read to relentlessly support that notion.

    4. You’re right about MacIntyre and O’Donovan: they are disturbing similarities between them and RO. MacIntyre has too often come close to an irrationalist Herderian notion of community and knowledge, which resonates with RO’s notion of the church. And O’Donovan, though a wonderful scholar, is too much under the spell of Barthian disdain for the creational orders and natural reason, and tends to posit the visible church too much as an eschatological political presence within the temporal realm itself, rather than seeing the church in act as an eschatological sign and luminescence. On O’Donovan, see Jonathan Chaplin’s kind but acute critique in “A Royal Priesthood? A Dialogue With Oliver O’Donovan” (Paternoster/Zondervan).

    Milbank, MacIntyre, and O’Donovan have all made great contributions, and I would be the last person to dismiss them; I have certainly benefited from them all. Still, Dr Hankey’s critique has certainly hit its mark. If partisans of RO do care for truth as real and not simply constructed, they will be grateful for it.


  8. Peter,

    As always, I am genuinely awed by your response. And while I didn’t fully mention it, I think the best critique given to RO is that they tend to emphasize “Ecclesiology” over “Christology,” (though Leithart says they make Christology exciting again). Sadly, also, I think they give away the farm on sexual ethics and “the feminine.”

    I have other, more practical, complaints with RO. Why can’t they communicate on a level that 99.4% of humanity can understand? Secondly, the prices of the books: this is ridiculous.

    I suppose OO does have a Barthian streak. In his essay on “Karl Barth and Ramsey on the Uses of Power” in *Politics of Imperfection,” he calls Barth “the master.” So I suppose its fair to say he is a Barthian.

    I’m willing to be critiqued (even though Pastor Wedgeworth’s post didn’t have that in mind). I’ve been wrong on a lot of issues in the past. Too many, actually.

  9. I’ve read Chaplin’s critique. Yeah, it was good. It was so good in fact that O’Donovan’s response was this, “I’ve since changed my mind because of this essay.” I’m impressed by Chaplin. He could be a real sharp mind in the future.

  10. I have to say, I actually read this essay a few years ago, and it was Hankey that led me to Hadot. His critique of Gilson is also very enlightening. Truth be told, many of my own ideas I stole from Hankey, or at least what I have taken away from his work and digested.

    And you are right. Hankey pretty much pimp slaps Radical Orthodoxy, and you really don’t feel sorry for the likes of Milbank and Pickstock after reading him. (Besides, the weeks I took to finish the latter’s After Writing ten years ago now is valuable time in my life that I will never get back.)

  11. Peter,

    Do you have that series of essays dealing with O’Donovan? As I recall, Chaplin’s essay simply qualified what OO meant by “judgment.” I think he agreed with OO’s larger project. I can’t remember. I gave my copy away several months ago.

    OO’s response to James Skillen eviscerated neo-Calvinism in about several sentences (it was the exact same response to neo-Calvinism given by natural law theorist J. Budizeszki (sp?).

  12. Jacob,

    I do have the book, just next to me in fact. Chaplin does much more than simply qualify O’Donovan’s idea of “judgment”: it worth your time to borrow the book back and give the essay another look, I think you’d find it interesting in light of what we’ve briefly discussed here.

    On Skillen: while I don’t agree with everything Skillen says, I myself thought O’Donovan’s response was actually shockingly weak and very predictable, with the one exception of his rejoinder regarding pluralism, which is very good. But he misunderstands Skillen almost completely on the matter of the State not having the features of a confessional organization; Skillen is simply making good distinctions, which O’Donovan is in a hurry to blur. And on the last point of the permanence of institutions, his discussion of the law looks like Barthianism at its craziest: an apparently total identification of the order of creation with the later, economic, uses of law as terrifying/convicting, and restraining/curbing.


  13. I have access to EBSCO. Chaplin’s essay is on there, if I remember correctly. I thought it was a helpful correction on key points, but I didn’t see it dismantling *Desire of Nations* (and I don’t think Chaplin intended that, either).

    I guess I wasn’t impressed with Skillen. While at one time I was favorable to some neo-Calvinism (cf. parts of Dooyeweerd), I was dismayed to see them take some of the worst aspects of Kuyper’s thought and major on it. So when Budidzewski and others point out glaring problems with it, and state it so clearly, I tend to think that the project is done for. Well, in light of the current discussion it parallels it nicely. Everyone is saying “RO is done for. Look at how Milbank is refuted.” Well, I point out that the ethical vision of Milbank is untouched, especially where Milbank says he is taking Wycliffe and applying it to the 21st century.

    It’s kind of the same. O’Donovan et al dismantled the principled pluralism of Skillen and others. Does that refute neo-Calvinism? Only if Hankey’s arguments against some of RO refute all of RO.

    I really don’t see myself ever getting that book back (but I gave it in a spirit of charity). And O’Donovan’s “Barthianism” is more heavily seen in *RMO* and not so much in *Desire of Nations,* *Ways of Judgment,* and *Bonds of Imperfections.*

  14. Jacob,

    As I said, I disagree with Skillen on certain things, and I mentioned that I thought O’Donovan made an excellent point in his rejoinder on the question of pluralism. But I would stand by assessment of his other two rejoinders.

    And I would agree that Desire of Nations has much to offer; but if you look at his brief yet nevertheless pretty overwrought engagement with Bp Overall’s Convocation Book, you will see that the extreme Barthianism is glaring there too. If only O’Donovan would call Brunner the “master” instead….

    Regarding the RO, I’ve made it clear that I think Milbank himself has much to offer, especially as his thought matures. I’m not persuaded though that his ethical vision is untouched by critique, though; I find deeply unsettling his persistent evasiveness with regard to questions of moral norms and right. The rest of the RO writers come to nothing, in my view; it is a very different matter though with Milbank. But with regard to taking Wycliffe seriously: I think this proves my earlier point about the very selective RO reading of texts. Does Milbank take Wycliffe’s view of the magistrate seriously? Yet this is fundamental to Wycliffe’s teaching.

    With respect to Neo-Calvinism in general, I think at its best it is a faithful adaptation of the evangelical tradition, but with a self-crippling habit of rejecting “Greek” thought, and thus, rejecting the evangelical philosophical and political tradition, though unwittingly approximating it as I just mentioned. One outstanding exception to this bad tendency is Ruben Alvarado. But Dooyeweerd is a giant, and he is at his best in jurisprudence and state theory; if he had been schooled in the philosophia perennis, rather than trying Kant-wise to reinvent wisdom, he would more to offer elsewhere too.

    I’d like you to say more if you would about what you think are the worst aspects of Kuyper you think the Neo-Calvinists camp out on; it would help me toward understanding your concerns. Also, I am unfamiliar with Budziszewski’s critique; can you summarize it for me?


  15. I didn’t read all the comments above, so forgive me if I’m repeating.

    A couple thoughts.

    [1] Hankey’s mostly right, though that’s hardly news.

    [2] But Hankey’s right narrowly about Milbank in particular and, to a lesser degree, Pickstock.

    Yet Milbank and Pickstock aren’t equivalent to RO and there are differences within the general RO stance. Jamie Smith, Graham Ward, Michael Hanby, Simon Oliver, etc., all identify to greater and lesser degrees as RO, but have significant differences with Milbank regarding, e.g., Derrida, Marion, Plato, Barth, and so on.

    [3] Hankey presents Milbank as more anti-modern and anti-Enlightenment than Milbank actually is. So, the argument that Milbank is dependent upon the modernity he seeks to reject is a slippery one.

    There are various aspects of modernity that Milbank embraces and sees as legitimate outworkings of the gospel in the world. Thus, the question is which aspects of modernity does Milbank’s project depend upon and are those really the same aspects of modernity that Milbank critiques?

    [4] Despite Milbank’s tendency to pose as self-consistent, without any major shifts in his own views, in reality he’s changed his mind on a variety of things and even, rarely, will admit it.

    Thus, while some aspects of Hankey’s criticisms rightly slam the target of Milbank circa the late 1990s, they miss the target now. Which is to say, Milbank’s a moving target (or slippery eel, depending upon one’s perspective).

    [5] Often for Milbank use of names such as “Plato” or “Scotus” function less as references to real historical figures and what they actually wrote and taught, but more as shorthand for a set of consequences that Milbank perceives as stemming from these figures via later Platonisms or Scotisms. Of course, Milbank’s readings can be highly tendentious. Then again, many of Hankey’s readings have hardly won scholarly consensus.

    [6] Hankey’s own readings of Milbank and Pickstock seem a bit questionable to me. So, while I agree that they do overplay the contrast between Descartes and Augustine, but then again, they are doing so in a context in which continuities have been over-played. As for Aquinas, I don’t know where Milbank and Pickstock simply “collapse” metaphysics into revealed theology or read Aquinas as an Augustinian intuitionist simpliciter.

    [7] I think it’s helpful to see Milbank as performing something like a midrash on figures such as Aquinas.

    In the same way that the fecund character of the biblical text always contains possibilities for creative re-readings in light of later developments within salvation history, so also Milbank seems to see possibilities for creative re-readings of figures like Augustine or Aquinas from the perspective of new questions raised by the place we stand within the subsequent tradition, a tradition that partly flows from the contributions of Augustine and Aquinas. After all, there’s never been a “pure” reading of Augustine or Aquinas but always various and contradictory Augustinianisms and Thomisms.

    [8] Having said all that, I still think Hankey’s mostly right, given his purposes. I’m just not sure how much that counts against the general RO stance.


  16. Peter,

    I answered some of your questions in an email.

    ****The rest of the RO writers come to nothing, in my view; it is a very different matter though with Milbank. But with regard to taking Wycliffe seriously: I think this proves my earlier point about the very selective RO reading of texts. Does Milbank take Wycliffe’s view of the magistrate seriously? Yet this is fundamental to Wycliffe’s teaching.****

    Don’t know. The first time I saw him deal with Wyclif is in his essay “The Gift of Ruling” and he gave summaries. Seemed fair enough. I might retract the “fully applying Wyclif” statement and change it for a “zestfully re-applying key Wyclif concepts.” Now in his recent interaction with Slavoj Zizek he might deal with it more. I am certain he does in *The Future of Love;* however, since English publishers are committed to pricing books at a rate the common man can never afford, I will probably never know what he says.

  17. Hey Joel, thanks for your comment. A few rejoinders from me:

    1. It was news to me. I hadn’t read Hankey before, and most smarty-pants people that I know fawn all over RO. Of course, I am really a lay-thinker, a “pastor-theologian” as the RTS advertisements say. That’s why you’re the one who gets paid the big bucks.

    2. I think that as far as generalizations go, Milbank= RO. And Hankey’s point, as I understand it, does seek to strike at the very foundation of the RO conversation about ontology. If there are other ROers out there who can side with Hankey, then surely they have to be “RO-light.”

    3. I think Milbank represents himself in this light. The whole use of “secular” is a case in point. “Secular” has an ancient tradition, and rather than just retrieve that, Milbank wants to say post-secular or “Once upon a time there was no secular.”

    4. Good point.

    5. I think this is a big problem though. Van Til does this too with “Thomism,” and I’ve been burned by it. I’m quite skeptical of the whole “paradigm” approach to history and evolution of thought these days. It allows for too many false generalizations.

    6. Perhaps. I’ll have to defer to professionals again.

    7. I can’t get on board with this at all. “Creative re-readings” stinks to high-heavens right now. I think the Bible was giving the actual/original reading, and I think that the Jewish sources help to support this notion. I don’t think that the New Testament authors would have allowed anyone to say that they were giving something other than the true and original intent, particularly with their Christological readings.

    8. Ok, but how can Hankey be “mostly right” and RO still be standing? He’s really ridiculously hard on them. He says that they live in Fantasyland. If that’s mostly right, then RO is mostly full of it.

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