Suffering and political thought : a theological consideration of the propriety of suffering as a category in political thought.
This thesis examines the propriety of suffering as a category in political thought. This complex subject matter is approached by examining two responses, and the disagreement arising between these responses, to the perceived failure of politics, modernity and religion in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. The first response to these failures considered is a theological response, representing a politics based on belief, in which we turn to the writings of J.B. Metz as a representative of this position. The second response considered is the philosophical civic humanism of Hannah Arendt as a seminal representative of what we term a politics based on unbelief. Our question regarding suffering as a category in political thought brings our two representative thinkers into disagreement. Metz presents a vision of political life in which belief – and specifically Christian belief – must liberate itself from privatising forces which confine belief and a response to suffering to the private sphere as a matter of individual concern and inward piety. For Metz the issue of suffering is not merely a matter of individual private concern but of political action. Central to his argument are his understanding of theodicy that forms part of his critique of modernity, the central place he gives Christ’s cry of dereliction in theology and his concept of Leiden an Gott. Arendt, representative of politics strictly separated from religion on Modernity’s grounds, robustly argues that concerns which are matters of the private sphere, that is the household, have invaded the public realm and in doing so have destroyed politics. Suffering is such a concern and it introduces to politics the ‘problem of necessity’ and impinges upon her concept of human freedom. She therefore represents the antithesis of Metz’s position. In order to answer our question regarding suffering our argument focuses by engaging with the issues of freedom and forgiveness. This move is important in establishing the basis on which suffering can appear in the political realm. This thesis argues for and concludes that theology provides the means for a reconciliation of the antinomies between the private and public spheres, between suffering and political thought. We therefore conclude that suffering is an appropriate concern of political life and compassion in the form of Christian charity can take an appropriate form in the political sphere.