Reading some O’Donovan

Robyn and I are the proud owners of one of the new Amazon Kindles. It is going to keep us company on the plane for our trip. It’s also given me the chance to tackle some Oliver O’Donovan (just so I can be better equipped to argue with Stuart and Mark). The Kindle is exciting and should make blogging book reviews a breeze. You should check out the continuing discussion with Mark on a Christian approach to ethics, politics and gay marriage. We’ve almost written a book.

In the meantime, here are a couple of quotes to ponder from an essay by O’Donovan.

“Democracy and human rights are not identical things, so it is necessary to ask whether they can coexist. It seems that the answer depends on two contingent factors: how the democratic societies conduct themselves, and what rights human beings assert. You cannot champion “democracy and human rights” without quite quickly having to decide which takes precedence between them; and since either of those terms, and not just one of them, may from time to time be used as a cloak for self–interest and tyranny, there is no universally correct answer. That is the underlying problem of coherence in contemporary Western ideology.”

“The legal tradition needs correction. The obligation of the courts to maintain self–consistency makes them reluctant to innovate. But innovation may be required, and that for two causes: first, where tradition has deviated from natural right; secondly, where it is ill–adapted to the practical possibilities within society. These two concerns are often confused, yet they are in principle quite different, moving, as it were, in opposite directions: bringing law closer to the moral norm on the one hand, further from it on the other. Some reforms are idealistic, attempting to correct our vices; some are compromises, making some kind of settlement with them. Either kind of reform may be necessary at one or another juncture, since acts of judgment have to be both truthful and effective. Every change in law aims to squeeze out, as it were, the maximum yield of public truthfulness available within the practical constraints of the times. Sometimes it does it by attempting more, sometimes by attempting less.”

2 thoughts on “Reading some O’Donovan”

  1. Heh,

    Not sure how O’Donovan would feel about being tagged with me on a post. But if you’re wanting to do some serious theologically driven ethical thinking then, for my money, O’Donovan is the gold standard.

    His Resurrection and Moral Order is a simply brilliant discussion of an evangelical approach to ethics (‘evangelical’ being slightly broader than how I’d use it normally). His The Desire of the Nations is similarly excellent for giving a theological framework for social ethics.

    Any time with him is usually more than value for money.

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