Hannah Arendt & Thomas Aquinas on Truth, Justice & Politics

In a recent DM we learned from Hannah Arendt that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world is destroyed when politicians lie consistently.

Wayfinding: in which direction does your moral compass guide you? Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

This means that our current election is about nothing less than taking our bearing in the real world. 

Or losing it.

Thomas Aquinas, thirteenth century theologian, mystic and prophet, committed his life to bringing science into religion (specifically Aristotle who was discovered by Europeans thanks to Islam scholars and translators in Aquinas’s day). He had some important things to say about politics and lies and politics.

One thing he said is that a politician must know more about the human soul than a doctor knows about the human body.  This is quite a stunning observation.  Check it out. 

Hitler knew a lot about the soul of the Germans in the 1930’s—the depression, the poverty, the loss of WWI, the resentment, the anger—and he tapped into it successfully.  With, of course, the help of professional propagandists and liars and the use of the media of his time. 

In fact, Hitler declared that “there would be no Third Reich without the media.”  I’m sure the Murdochs and Steve Bannon and other preachers of the CODT know that well. 

A short 5 weeks before his assassination, Lincoln (portrayed by Michael Krebs) delivered his second inaugural speech, now carved in stone in his memorial. With Lincoln Productions

Looking at a more positive application of Aquinas’s observation, consider Abraham Lincoln.  He knew a lot about the human soul and he appealed to the “better angels of our nature” (his words) on many occasions and surely in his second inaugural with the end of the Civil War in sight when he called for forgiveness and “binding up the nations’ wounds.” 

When FDR took office in the midst of the great depression and declared that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he too understood the soul of the nation at that time.

Another teaching about human nature, truth and politics from Thomas Aquinas is this: “The proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.” 

Notice what he is saying, that the human heart cannot live with just lies.  He would surely agree with Arendt that “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world is destroyed” when lies prevail.

“No Justice, No Peace.” Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy on Flickr.

But justice accompanies truth and according to Aquinas, who also brought the term “common good” into western jurisprudence and politics, there is no peace and no health in a society without justice.  Justice includes balance and harmony and not rule of the few over the many.  But justice is not possible without truth. 

This is not just a social fact but a psychological one, we can bring healthy sociology, politics and psychology together because the human heart itself, according to Aquinas, thrives on truth and justice.

Thus this year’s election season is about losing or not losing our bearings in the real world.  And the way to not lose our way is to put truth first and thus feed the heart.  And justice.

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, p. 394.  

And Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp.101-108. 

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Monument in Central Park, New York, honoring Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, pioneers in the struggle for women’s rights and the right to vote. Photo by Regan Vercruysse on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Aquinas that the proper objects of the heart are truth and justice?  What follows from that when truth is lacking?  When injustice is reigning?

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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11 thoughts on “Hannah Arendt & Thomas Aquinas on Truth, Justice & Politics”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, You tell us today that Aquinas said a politician must know more about the human soul than a doctor knows about the human body. And then you show how this truth was used in a negative way during Hitler’s reign in the third Reich. Then you say, “Hitler knew a lot about the soul of the Germans in the 1930’s—the depression, the poverty, the loss of WWI, the resentment, the anger—and he tapped into it successfully. With, of course, the help of professional propagandists and liars and the use of the media of his time”*– with Joseph Goebbels being in charge. A more positive application of Aquinas’s observation, you point out, was made by Abraham Lincoln and FDR. Another teaching about human nature, truth and politics from Thomas Aquinas is that: “The proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.” But justice accompanies truth, and according to Aquinas, there is no peace and no health in a society without justice. And again, according to Aquinas, the
    human heart itself thrives on truth and justice. You ask us: “What follows from when truth is lacking? When injustice is reigning?” You get what we got with Trump. And if you look at my * above, what you have written sounds like where we could be headed.

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    Hello, I am so sorry, but I had a very difficult time hearing Matthew speaking today. I do everyday, but I have learned to turn up the volume, but today’s meditation was especially quiet…even with everything turned up.
    Thank you,

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    Truth and Justice must also be tempered with Love and Compassionate Mercy. What reigns with out these… war, death and destruction of all that which is sacred that gives life… oppression, suppression and disconnection of the true soul sense of self, through the misuse and abuse of power and authority, which tempts to separate, divide and henceforth conquer, instilling confusion, illusion and delusion… the invoking of hatred through fear… the making of imbalances, disharmonies and chaos.

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    I’ll probably be repeating this prayer this week for many of us:

    TRANSFORMATION~COMPASSION~ONENESS… especially be in the hearts, minds, spirits of US voters on Nov.8!

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    I have been gaining insights from these Daily Meditations and I feel especially close to today’s topic. It is so true that justice is not possible without truth. This is why there has always been a concerted effort at hiding truth from the public. I used to wonder how Germany became so enthralled by Hitler. Then I saw the same tactics being used by Trump. I learned about how propaganda has such power over society.
    This insight helped me in two of my collages. The first “Violated” deals with The Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol. The second “Black Lives Matter” deals with the protests following the death of George Floyd. The concepts of Truth and Justice are central to both pieces, especially the BLM collage where they are at two of the corners, along with Peace and Love. They can be seen on my website Creativeintent.us
    I hope I’m not being too intrusive. However I also feel guilty that I haven’t made more of an effort at showing my work.

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    There was a lot of good stuff here about lies. However The great lie that goes unmentioned is corporate capitalism and how it causes harm and poverty and lies to happen in societies. Would we be better off if we watched more independent media that is not partisan and profit driven. Paul Pelosi is a multimillionaire. That does not justify the violence done to him in any way. Full stop. But the radical poverty of the American spirit is on full display with all of the violent attitudes much like in Germany which also had terrible material conditions. Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls to hold politicians to higher standard when it comes to investing in the stock market and benefiting from it. I have full compassion for Paul and Nancy Pelosi full stop. But the Democratic corporate complicity helps creates the chaos that we are seeing. I know it is complicated but we need more than just voting and democracy, we need politicians who are committed to a different vision or this is just going to get worse while we moralize around the crazies.

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    I agree that we must hold on to our bearings in the face of the huge lies that lead inevitably to violence and other examples of injustice. The most vulnerable are targeted by these lies, especially Jews, women, poor people, people of color and the queer community. It is heartbreaking that so many are taken in by these lies. I think it stems from fear and insecurity and the drive to find some kind of order for themselves, without any consideration for others. I am afraid also of the apparently unstoppable forces of evil in our nation and in the world. But I also know that there are good people like Matthew who sound the alarm and others helping us to be aware. Growing consciousness of our interbeing is happening. Honestly, I do not think that it will stem the tide of evil, but I do think that it will sustain us, no matter what happens. If not enough people of heart who love truth and justice come out to vote, then we will have to face the end of democracy because we don’t deserve it at this point in time, in my opinion. As I have said before, we will have to make choices about how we resist autrocracy.

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    Thank you Edward for introducing the destruction and exploitation of the planet and our political system by the greed of corporate capitalism. Income inequality increases, corporations make huge profits during inflation and those at the bottom suffer the most. Voting won’t change our system. We need to change people’s hearts so that all beings are seen as having a spark of divinity in them. Seems currently unlikely.

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    For a similar and very hopeful message of truth I recommend Tim Noe Oneness documentary ( can be found on YouTube). Beautiful commentary about truth with a capital T! Thank you for all you offer daily!

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