Though this equality is only implicit in the earthly city it permits us to understand interdependence, which essentially defines social life in the worldly community. This interdependence shows in the mutual give and take in which people live together.12 The attitude of individuals toward each other is characterized here by belief (crederer), as distinguished from all real or potential knowledge.13 We comprehend all history, that is, all human and temporal acts by believing―which means by trusting, but never by understanding (intelligere). This belief in the other is the belief that he will prove himself in our common future. Every earthly city depends upon this proof. Yet this belief that arises from our mutual interdependence precedes any possible proof.14 The continued existence of humankind does not rest on the proof. Rather, it rests on necessary belief, without which social life become impossible.15

Love and Saint Augustine by Hannah Arendt, ed. by Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1929]1996, p. 110. Google Books.

This is an interesting way of understanding the “ideal of community”. Even though the excerpt is specifically concerned with Saint-Augustine’s conception of the “social life” (vita socialis) I believe it can help framing the ways by which we’re trying to live together today. It sums up the two important aspects which separate an idea of community from an ideal of community:

  1. From the augustinian perspective, the foundation for an harmonious life between human beings is belief. It is concerned with faith, not facts.
  2. Not only this ideal has no foundation in reality, it cannot be founded on an empirical ground.

The positive value (in the sense of “good”) associated nowadays with the concept of community is rarely if ever the object of an empirical demonstration. It is an axiomatic prescription: one must accept it without questioning in order for the rest of the argument to work. Which is (or has become) problematic, to say the least. In “Conloquium” (1999) Jean-Luc Nancy challenges us to re-think this ideal. He writes:

Being-together is a condition before becoming a value (or counter-value), and if it must be a value it can only be one in the sense of that which cannot be evaluated, that which surpasses all evaluation. (see here “Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Conloquium” (1999): living together, dying apart”)

There’s no doubt that we’re experiencing problems today in the ways by which we live as unified groups (problems specific to our era: 9/11, mass murders, etc.) What does it tell us about our faith and our beliefs? I don’t think we’re actually exchanging belief (crederer) for more understanding (intelligere). Maybe faith is morphing into (objectless?) affects or feelings (lets assume for a moment they are the same, although they could be distinguish from one another): passions, rage, fear, anxiety (see here “Feeling threatened: community, security and politics in the post 9/11 era”)

• • •

12. On Various Questions to Simplicianus I, 16: “Since it is by mutual give and take that human society is bound together.” ↩︎︎

13. Eighty-Three Different Questions 48: “There are three kind of objects of belief. Some are always believed and never understood, such as all history, which run through temporal and human acts. Other must be understood to be believed, such as all human reasonings. Thirdly, there are those which believed first and understood later, like divine matters.” ↩︎︎

14. Faith in Things Unseen 2,3: “But surely, to test your friend you would not submit yourself to dangers if you did not believe. And since you thus submit yourself that you may prove him, you believe before you prove.” ↩︎︎

15. Ibid., 2,4―3,4: “If this faith in human affairs is removed, who will not mark how great will be their disorder and what dreadful confusion will follow? Therefore, when we do not believe what we cannot see, concord will perish and human society itself will not stand firm.” ↩︎︎


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