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DISPLACING DAMNATION: THE NEGLECT OF HELL IN POLITICAL THEORY Man, as by good or ill deserts, in the exercise of his free choice, he becomes liable to rewarding or punishing justice. -Dante to Can Grande della Scala, Commenting on The Divine Comedy. The most significant consequence of the secularization of the modern age may well be the elimination from public life, along with religion, of the only political element in traditional religion, the fear of hell. --Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, Viking, 1968, p. 133. PROFESSOR J. W. ALLEN once remarked about the man who forms the intellectual transition to Machiavelli and modern theory, that for Marsilius of Padua, "the function of the priest, in fact, is to supplement the action of the police and the judge by the fear of hell." 1 Even Marsilius seemed uneasy with this curious thesis, but his whole political thought was an effort to add to Aristotle's causes of revolution the one he could not have foreseen, the Christian clergy. Since Marsilius had reduced the spiritual power already to pure interiority , this left the priests with nothing to do except perhaps make mischief and civil unrest. And yet, in recalling this hesitation , that perhaps police and judges did need something more than themselves and bare reason to preserve the very public order itself, Marsilius unconsciously placed himself within an aspect of political reflection going back at least to Plato and forward to Hannah Arendt and Lezak Kolakowski. The very idea o:f "judges and police," moreover, recalls the 1 J. W. Allen, "Marsilius of Padua," Social and Political Ideas of Medieval Thinkers, F. Hearnshaw, (Ed.) New York, Barnes and Noble, 1923 p. 180. 27 28 JAMES V. SCHALL, S. J. Stoic and Christian notions of the origin of coercive government in a Fall, while the modern theoretical effort to gain for politics complete autonomy from " the priestly causes of revolution ," from the claim that not all things belong to Caesar, has resulted in an attempt to identify " hell " with a worldly political movement or event-a Hitler, a holocaust, a tyranny. In this sense, " hell " has come to be identified with the question known since the Greeks as the worst form of government. " Hell on Earth " has become a viable political polarity against which to define and practically justify political movements and thoughts. This idea seemed stable enough in a culture based on known natural law and values such that the evils to be described were commonly agreed upon. With the introduction of Hegelian methodology in its various forms, however, the distressing possibility that the worst could become the best came to be posed at the heart of practical politics because of the nature of a certain kind of abstract metaphysics. The intellectual history of political theory, of course, recalls with uneasy equanimity the last days of Socrates, when the best state condemned the best man, the long discourse on the immortality of the soul, the classic context even yet about the relation of human politics to human happiness and meaning.2 The end of The Republic, however, presented something of a different issue. Socrates, in a passage of much power, had raised the still startling issue of immortality at the heart of political discourse. But this time, in The Republic, not in the face of death by the state but rather in the inability of the public order to rest if justice was not rewarded and injustice punished did the question of absolute punishment come up. This, be it noted, was already one very large step beyond the Sophoclean notion that vengeance can only be stopped in the polis. And so it seemed clear that since no existing order less than the one formed by the philosopher-king as a direct result of his clear 2 Cf. the author's "The Death of Christ and Political Theory," Worldview, March, 1978; "The Best Form of Government," The Review of Politics, January, 1978. DISPLACING DAMNA~!ON knowledge of the Good could guarantee this, the idea of future rewards and punishments was necessary for the good of the existing political order itself as well as for the apparently theoretically inadequate idea of justice. Hell...