What do you mean when you say that we need to adopt an Augustinian sensibility?
I mean that we need to adopt a form of Christian realism that recognizes that, because of the Fall, we live in a world that will remain sinful and broken until the end of time. While living in a broken world, our task, if it's political, is to help the state curb that brokenness and that sinfulness in a way that aims toward justice. I use the phrase "Augustinian sensibility" to lean against a Utopian temptation for people on the Right or the Left who give the political realm more significance than it should be given.
So it's a chastened view of politics, but it's not anti-political. People should have firm, clear political convictions on what justice means, without becoming so ideologically wired that they have over-expectations for what can happen in the public policy realm. It's a Christian cast of mind. Having that cast of mind can help nurture a form of Christian civility that is really important in these times, when we have a culture that is more shrill than ever.One of the great representatives of political realism, in the 20th century, was Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr is often cited as one of the current President's favorite thinkers and inspirations. Is President Obama practicing what Niebuhr preached?
The President seems to have a great admiration and respect for Niebuhr. People all over the political spectrum claim Niebuhr as their mentor. The question is: What part of Niebuhr has the President bought into?
That's a debatable proposition. When there's a problem, the President's instinct is clearly that the state needs to solve it. So there seems to be a lack of appreciation for mediating institutions and the roles they play, as the first instinct is to have government solve all of the many problems that we have. So it's not clear to me what part of Niebuhr he appreciates.
It is clear that Niebuhr's thinking on foreign policy has not influenced President Obama. Niebuhr knew the nature of totalitarianism and critiqued it constantly; he was anything but an advocate of moral equivalence. There's a tendency with President Obama, because he thought Bush bellicose, to believe that he ought to do the opposite. So rather than talking about the virtues of living in a free and democratic society, he has spent a lot of time apologizing for America's problems.