Thursday, November 20, 2008

Politics 101

Let us consider how terms are used in politics today. There is more than what typically meets the ear. This reflection may help us cut to the heart of two contrasting political philosophies.

Political liberals speak of "government" when they mean the entity that extracts taxes, makes laws, and enforces them. Conservatives speak of "the state"when they mean the entity that extracts taxes, makes laws, and enforces them. Conservatives also tend to use the term "civil government" for the state. What is the significance of these terms?

Liberals views "the government" as the primary means of ordering common life. It is "the government" that creates opportunities, rights wrongs, and brings about good. Conservatives view the state as one of many spheres of government, including self-government, family government, church government, and more. Most conservatives (of a principled kind) also consider God's government as the final reality. Liberals, however, minimize or deny these other spheres as legitimate areas of order apart from civil government. This is because liberalism is statist: the state is the giver of meaning, order, goodness in the world. All must fall under and be regulated by the state.

Liberalism, in its nature, also tends to be secular. There is no God who exercises His government and who has delegated the various spheres of government: self, family, church, and so on. Therefore, the humanistic state must absorb the functions of all other spheres into itself, baptizing and confirming them according to its autonomous command. "We have no king but Caesar," one might say.

By the way Barack Obama is a political liberal, very far to the left (of the truth).

For more on these themes, see Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism; Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, R.J. Rushdoony, The Politics of Guilt and Pity; William F. Buckley, Up From Liberalism; Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction; Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square.


Daniel said...

There are Republicans as well who have "no lord but Caesar". Secularism is not monopolized by Democrats. Although I agree with you that liberalism tends to breed more of this in its ideology. But since when do all Democrats follow liberal ideology to a T? And since when do all Republicans follow conservative ideology to a T? This looks like a false dichotomy to me.

Regardless whether as a Christian you are Republican or Democrat (yes, it's possible and not inherently wrong if the Christian adheres to the following statement), we should put foremost that there is no other Lord than Jesus Christ. All else is idolatry--- Democrat party AND Republican party.

PrinceOfFools said...

This reminds me Ecclesiastes 10:2 which states "A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left." as it would indeed be foolish to have one's hope set on an institution as opposed to God. That said, I read a commentary on the verse that didn't see any relation to the political spectrum as we see it. Dr. G, do you have thoughts on that verse?

gdogliles said...

I've been ruminating on this for a while, but how much use is there in the liberal-conservative dichotomy. I agree with much of your post, yet it is so rife with exceptions: there are people who do not see the awful ends of making the government the means to solve social problems (my notion of liberalism in a nutshell) who nevertheless are sincere Christians. More at the heart of my concern, it seems "liberal" has become basically a slur lumping "Godless, conscience-evading, Bible-ignoring, socialist" all into one. Does scripture, the wisdom that comes with experience or both suggest such a unitary ideology? Many thanks, Gerald (Jedd McFatter's brother in-law)

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

There is no false dichotomy because I am not discussing Democrats and Republicans, but liberals and conservatives. These are two different philosophies, not two different parties. There are statist Republicans, sadly; but they are not conservative. However, there are really are no conservative Democrats with respect to the state, although a tiny few are pro-life and not defeatists on foreign policy (such as Leiberman).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Ecclesiasts 10 has to do with good and evil. The political distinctions of left and right came after the French Revolution. See Leftism by Erik Kuenhelt-Ludin. There is no connection.