I think all of us are pretty interested in the relationship between power and justice these days. We also want to understand how to transcend our divisions. Being the nerd that I am, I thought this seventy-year-old work from philosopher-theologian Paul Tillich could provide me with some insight on power, justice, and love.
This book from the 1950s is more of a collection of lectures than a piece of prose. That’s a pro more than a con, as it encourages the writing to be relatively brief, though not shallow. The series of seven lectures only makes up 125 pages total, although it took me longer to read this one it would take to read a piece of genre fiction twice that length. The issue isn’t Tillich’s clarity of thought or writing, both of which are surgically sharp. Instead, it’s my own need to look up terms or sit and think awhile on each lembas bread-like sentence.
Tillich’s point in these lectures, I think, is to show that what we see as a tension between these three columns of culture (love, power, justice) aren’t in tension as we suppose. Instead, they compliment and complete one another. Each concept is foundational, as is the relationship between them. He uses the ontological study of the three to demonstrate.
In Tillich’s mind love is “the drive towards the unity of the separated,” which I believe is also a Hegelian idea. Power is “the drive of everything living to realize itself with increasing intensity and extensity…it is the self-affirmation of life in its self-transcending dynamics, overcoming internal and external resistance.” Finally, justice is “the form in which power of being actualizes itself in the encounter of power with power,” or the preservation of that which is to be united.
How are these not in tension? Justice is not in conflict with love because love leads to creative justice, the application of which leads to a personalized realization of self and reunion. Power is not in conflict because compulsion and force may only be used so long as the identity of both parties are further realized by the creative interaction and not destroyed or dis-integrated. Justice demands proper power. And love and justice together ensure that no one is destroyed or self-annihilated in a sentimental false forgiveness that does not protect either person.
Obviously I’m not fully expanding on these difficult concepts – I’m some guy writing a book review on his lunch break, not one of the great thinkers of the 20th century.
Recommended for those who want accessible but nutritious theology/philosophy relevant to 2020.