The Price of Respectable Equality: Eschatological Memories of Actually Existing Democracy
Smith, Ted A., 1968-
I engage two conversations: one about the relationship between history and ethics, and another about the relationship of Christianity and democracy in the United States. In the first half of the essay I suggest two shifts in the ways ethicists engage history. I argue that ethicists should be concerned not only with ideas, but also with lived religion. I then propose "eschatological memory" as a genre for using historical studies for normative work. I develop it through contrast with MacIntyre's notion of tradition and through conversation with Benjamin's philosophy of history. In the second half of the paper I offer a long exemplum, an eschatological memory of the equality promised by Oberlin College. I recall the suppressed memory of a lynching, a memory that reveals the antinomies of equality and gives rise to a politics of piecemeal reform in the light of eschatological hope.