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Saint Augustine Would Write for Rochdale

Rochdale is a new blog of culture and politics. Though some of us are based in Toronto, we’re not running a Canadian publication. We’re running a blog. The blog is on the internet. Like Drake, we’re from whatever city you’re from ;)

What we are aiming to build is a community of people who are thinking autonomously but collectively about how to change the world. Or at the very least interrogating the way things are now.

Rochdale is not a “Catholic” blog, but bear with me, because for a minute I’m going to talk about Saint Augustine, who in the fifth century wrote a book called The City of God in response to the idea that Christianity was responsible for the fall of Rome.

In the course of proving this argument, Augustine sets the City of God (a philosophical concept or ideal more than a place) and the City of Rome in opposition, the virtues of one eternal and irreducible, the other arbitrary and meaningless. Some of the virtues of Rome—for instance, the public good—are worthwhile, but over time they became confused or corrupted or diverted. The idea of the public good becomes more important than the actual public good.

Too often the virtues of the new City that we live in—profitability, efficiency, usefulness—are set as the metrics of human endeavour. But it’s one thing to judge a train network by the speed at which it moves commuters and another to judge art or spirituality or education by the efficiency by which it moves units or meaninglessly builds wealth.

Imagining a new City of God does not mean returning to any particular doctrine, but instead a new alternative to a mechanistic enterprise that demands negotiation only on its own terms. We assert the irreducible value and dignity of human life and the human soul over the machine that would grind that spirit into dust if it meant an additional five-cent-per-widget profit.

Unlike Augustine, we’d love to take credit for the destruction of Rome.

In the essay “No” from Anne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, she cites an ancient Egyptian “poem of reversal,” which imagines the nobles lamenting and the servants rejoicing, the burghers bound to the millstones and the slaves suddenly masters, the capital city collapsing over the course of an hour and the poor of the land suddenly rich.

The power of the reversal, she says, is that the poem “makes the impossible slightly less so,” not just cognitively, but socially: “the desires of the poem step… toward an enactment.”

Rochdale is both a reversal and a new City, standing in opposition and in its own power, bringing us closer to enactment.

We’d love for you to help us.