Discerning—and making—what is good.
Inscription on a gravestone found in North Africa: 'I, a captain in the Roman legions, have thoroughly considered the following truth. There are only two things in life, love and power, and no one can have them both at once.'
—Adam Zagajewski, Another Beauty (2000)
We seem to be living in a moment of renewed interest in Augustine of Hippo, and much of that interest concerns his teaching on love. In this issue of Comment we illuminate that interest, directly in "In search of the happy life," by David Naugle, and "The erotics of truth, and other scandalous lessons from Augustine of Hippo," by James K.A. Smith, and also by virtue of Augustine's subtle, subterranean influence in several short articles on things people love.
Zagajewski's Roman captain is sadly mistaken. Not only are love and power not mutually exclusive, they are mutually dependent. Furthermore, they are equally dependent on a common source. In those hearts where either Venus or Vulcan reigns absolute, wreckage follows surely. But both love and the power to make the world are divine gifts, gaining their coherence and possible harmony from a common source.
Cultural power, writes Andy Crouch in his forthcoming (and much anticipated—pre-order your copy from Hearts & Minds Bookstore now!) Culture Making, is "the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good." Such power depends on the discernment of goods that are good, and on the cultivation of loves that enable such discernment.
The well-tempered human life (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7) is one in which our loves guide our powerful making, and in which our loves are properly ordered—ultimately, toward their source.
John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, writes:
Aichaku (ahy-chaw-koo) is the Japanese term for the sense of attachment one can feel for an artifact. When written by its two kanji characters, you can see that the first character means 'love' and the second one means 'fit.' 'Love-fit' describes a deeper kind of emotional attachment that a person can feel for an object. It is a kind of symbiotic love for an object that deserves affection not for what it does, but for what it is. Acknowledging the existence of aichakui in our built environment helps us to aspire to design artifacts that people will feel for, care for, and own for a lifetime (The Laws of Simplicity, 2006).
What I mean about the proper interdependence of love and power is more than aichaku, even as it includes aichaku. As Andy Crouch argues: "Human creativity . . . images God's creativity when it emerges from a lively, loving community of persons and, perhaps more important, when it participates in unlocking the full potential of what has gone before and creating possibilities for what will come later." The lovingness of such communities includes aichaku toward the good artifacts of the past and the possible artifacts of the future, points to love of the good practices of the past and the possible practices of the future, extends love of the good institutions of the past and the possible institutions of the future.
In this issue of Comment, we ask you to think thoughts with teachers of such loves, and such making.
Sidebar: Artifacts deserving aichaku
- Stabilo Sensor pens, with their finely sprung tips;
- Index cards, for their conviviality (in Ivan Illich's sense), versatility, and sortability;
- Google and Gmail, for their prompt assistance in the mustering of sought words, but also for their surface simplicity;
- Bluntstone boots—sturdy but easy to slip on and off;
- The hardcover calfskin journaling Bible published by Crossway Bibles, for its notemaking ease, handsome look, buttery feel, and manly fragrance.