Summers: This leads me to my next question. In Awaiting the King, you talk about solidarity, particularly in relationship to the political. You write, “Solidarity points to liturgy. And insofar as solidarity is at once the ground and goal of the political, the political requires us to consider the liturgical.” For folks who might be unfamiliar with your use of terminology here, could you define the term “solidarity,” and then your use of “the political” and “the liturgical”?
Smith: Let me do that in reverse order. What I call liturgies are not just churchy, institutional religious things. I’m broadening the term. Liturgies are love-shaping practices; they are communal social rhythms, routines, and rituals that we immerse ourselves in, that we give ourselves over to, that aren’t just something that we do, but they’re doing something to us. They’re forging in us an orientation to the good life. They’re inscribing in us a conception of what we think flourishing is. And because there are competing versions, so there are rival liturgies.
As for the political, let’s say the most generous conception of political here isn’t just governmental. It’s not only the institutions and practices and systems of government, though it includes that. It’s harkening back instead to something like Aristotle’s notion of the polis, so that our political life here now is broader than government. It’s our civic life that we share in common that comprises a polis, that makes us a people, that gives us some sort of shared sense of responsibility for one another, to one another.
In terms of the idea of solidarity, I think at risk right now in our cultural moment is the loss of any concept or lived reality of solidarity. And by that, I mean a sense of shared life together and a co-responsibility for and to one another.
What’s been most disheartening about our political discourse over the past generation is how it has devolved to a kind of atomism and autonomism, and that has left us as these individual authentic selves who are all trying to forge our own sense of the good.