Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Hauerwas on MacIntyre

How to know God, and how to practice truth

Stanley Hauerwas:

Because we know essences only through effects, for MacIntyre there is no place to begin but in the middle. MacIntyre’s position is, I think, similar to his characterization of Rosenzweig’s in Edith Stein: ‘We do not begin with some adequate grasp of the concepts of knowledge and truth and in the light of these pass judgment on whether or not we know something of God or whether or not it is true God exists, but rather it is from our encounters with God—and with the world and with human beings—that we learn what it is to have knowledge of what truth is.’


Conservatives who think they have found an ally in MacIntyre fail to attend to his understanding of the kind of politics necessary to sustain the virtues. He makes clear that his problem with most forms of contemporary conservatism is that conservatives mirror the fundamental characteristics of liberalism. The conservative commitment to a way of life structured by a free market results in an individualism, and in particular a moral psychology, that is as antithetical to the tradition of the virtues as is liberalism. Conservatives and liberals, moreover, both try to employ the power of the modern state to support their positions in a manner alien to MacIntyre’s understanding of the social practices necessary for the common good.


The “plain person” is the character MacIntyre has identified to display the unavoidability of the virtues. Plain persons are those characterized by everyday practices such as sustaining families, schools, and local forms of political community. They engage in trades and professions that have required them to learn skills constitutive of a craft. Such people are the readers he hopes his books may reach. Grounded as they are in concrete practices necessary to sustain a common life, they acquire the virtues that make them capable of recognizing the principles of natural law and why those principles call into question the legitimating modes of modernity.

MacIntyre has sought, within the world we necessarily inhabit, to help us recover resources to enable us to act intelligibly. From beginning to end, he has attempted to help us locate those forms of life that can sustain lives well lived. In Tradition, Rationality, and Virtue, Thomas D. D’Andrea quotes the preface MacIntyre wrote to the Polish edition of After Virtue:

The flourishing of the virtues requires and in turn sustains a certain kind of community, necessarily a small-scale community, within which the goods of various practices are ordered, so that, as far as possible, regard for each finds its due place with the lives of each individual, or each household, and in the life of the community at large. Because, implicitly or explicitly, it is always by reference to some conception of the overall and final human good that other goods are ordered, the life of every individual, household or community by its orderings gives expression, wittingly or unwittingly, to some conception of the human good. And it is when goods are ordered in terms of an adequate conception of human good that the virtues genuinely flourish. “Politics” is the Aristotelian name for the set of activities through which goods are ordered in the life of the ­community.

Read the whole thing. I’ll be traveling to Washington today. Speaking on Capitol Hill tomorrow at the Faith & Law meeting, and then on Saturday, with Ken Myers, at the Benedict Option event at Georgetown (10am-12:30pm, 3700 O St., NW). Come out to Georgetown and meet your fellow Ben Oppers. If you’ve never heard Ken Myers speak, you are in for a big treat.



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