The Christian Structure of Politics
On the De Regno of Thomas Aquinas
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
The Christian Structure of Politics, the first full-length monograph on Thomas Aquinas's De Regno in decades, offers an authoritative interpretation of De Regno as a contribution to our understanding of Aquinas's politics, particularly on the relationship between Church and State. William McCormick argues that Aquinas takes up a via media between Augustine and Aristotle in De Regno, invoking human nature to ground politics as rational, but also Christian principles to limit politics because of both sin and the supernatural end of man beyond politics. Where others have seen disjoined sections on the best regime, tyranny, and the reward of the king, McCormick identifies a dialogical structure to the text - one not unlike the disputed question format - whereby Aquinas both tempers expectations for the best government and offers a spiritual diagnosis of tyranny, culminating in a sharp critique of civil religion and political theology.
McCormick draws upon historical research on Aquinas' context, especially that of Anthony Black, Cary Nederman and Francis Oakley, from which he develops three themes: the medieval preponderance of kingship and royal ideology; the relationship between Church and State; and the intersection of Latin Christianity and Greco-Roman antiquity. While age-old concerns, recent research in these areas has allowed us to move beyond simplistic platitudes.
For scholars of political theory and the history of political thought, De Regno will prove fascinating for the interplay of Aristotelian and Augustinian elements, undercutting the conventional wisdom that Aquinas was simply an Aristotelian. De Regno also includes an extended treatment of civil religion, one of Aquinas’ most historically-oriented discussions of politics.
"Provides a detailed, systematic textual analysis of the text of De Regno...a new and original commentary of a neglected work of Aquinas."~Robert P. Kraynak, Colgate University
"After the wars of the twentieth century, reformed liberal political institutions were supposed to deliver us from the fears and anxieties of modern political powers. Two generations later, pervasive disillusionment prevails about almost every aspect of that hope. McCormick's study of De Regno is a timely primer for our times."~F. Russell Hittinger, Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa
"In The Christian Structure of Politics, William McCormick offers an intriguing and innovative way of approaching the political philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. On the basis of his close reading of the brief tract De Regno (On Kingship), McCormick proposes to investigate a hitherto unexplored new path to understanding the wider intellectual framework of Thomist political theory. Whereas most schoalrs turn to the Summa Theologiae as the definitive statement of Aquinas's philosophical and theological attitude towards politics, and treat De Regno as a peripheral text, McCormick argues powerfully for in effect reversing that conventional prioritization. If McCormick had stopped there, he would have produced an original contribution to scholarship. He moves much further, however, by demonstrating how Aquinas's insights in De Regno contain salient lessons for contemporary Christian engagement with key issues of political philosophy."~Cary J. Nederman, author of The Bonds of Humanity: Cicero's Legacies in European Social and Political Thought, c.1100-c.1550
"A sustained study of De Regno holds out the possibility of yielding rich rewards. McCormick’s study aims to do just that by exploring its responses to the problem of the relation of the politics to the transcendent. On the most essential level, McCormick reads Aquinas’s text as an elegant synthesis of Aristotelian naturalism and Augustinian theology."~VoegelinView
"William McCormick’s study can help Christians in particular apply the insights of one of Christendom’s greatest theologians to our contemporary political debates over how best to salvage what is valuable in liberal modernity."~The American Conservative
"McCormick illustrates that Aquinas’s De Regno provides us with a politics that takes liberty and virtue seriously—but always together and never apart. And that should matter to anyone, religious or otherwise, who refuses both nihilism and collectivism."~Law & Liberty
"Throughout his analysis McCormick offers more important insights into the text than it is possible to convey here. Careful readers will be especially appreciative of his digressions on Moses, Machiavelli, and Manent. Taken together, these insights help show why De Regno is indispensable to students and scholars of Aquinas’s political thought, and why any serious student of political philosophy ought to care about Thomas Aquinas in the first place. Those that take up the challenge of Aquinas’s text will likely agree with McCormick that De Regno provides a Christian teaching that affirms our participation in political life by showing it to be complimentary to, yet not identical with, our spiritual ends."~European Journal for the Study of Thomas Aquinas