Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Avery Dulles on Our Contemporary Political Options

Peter Kreeft, in his book about C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, quotes the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, who said that there are four basic political options. I like the way he charts this out because he includes both the Church and the State in the options in a very Augustinian manner.
"He calls the four options traditionalism, neo-conservatism, liberalism and radicalism. Traditionalism believes in the Church but not the State, i.e. not the present state of society. It is counter-cultural. Neo-conservatism believes in both the Church and the American State. Liberalism believes in Americanism but not in the Church, i.e. not traditional Christianity. And radicalism says, "A plague on both your houses.""
Very nicely put; I especially liked the forthright statement that our hope as a civilization is not in the State but in the Church. I think that message coheres very well with MacIntryre's After Virtue and with Augustine's City of God as adjusted to take into consideration the present situation.

Kreeft calls himself and Lewis Traditionalists and that is where I would put myself too. Where would you place yourself in this grid?


Peter W. Dunn said...

I am a traditionalist, but with the recognition that government is necessary because the current, evil age is still persists. But I suppose the traditionalists, starting with Paul, all recognize the necessity of government in order to provide order. None of them were anarchists (as are many of the radicals).

Craig Carter said...

Indeed Traditionalists recognize the necessity of government. But they see its function as mainly negative - preventing anarchy and evil. They would not expect salvation from the State - even of the earthly variety.

It is the radicals who have the myth of living without corrupting influence of government. This is what fueled both Nazism and Communism.

Gordon Hackman said...

I'm a traditionalist too.

Peter W. Dunn said...

Craig: What does this say about a liberal Christian? Does it mean that they don't believe in the power of God or that they are some sort of hybrid? I think hybrids are possible.

Andrew said...

A traditionalist, but of a postmillennial fashion. I believe the state has something to contribute to the coming of God's global kingdom, though at any given point in history a particular state might be antichrist. But then again, the same could be said for any empirical church-gathering (of any size).

penny farthing said...

I'm a traditionalist with perhaps a shade of neo-conservatism, inasmuch as I prefer the American idea of the state to most other current ones. That's just because, theoretically, the American state does see government as a negative (I don't mean the current crop of politicians). The government is handy to have around to punish criminals, etc, but it really should get out of the way for the church to do more in society.

I think William F. Buckley was right when he said liberals want to imminentize the eschaton - they think the government can set up paradise on earth.

Craig Carter said...

It seems to me that some (theologically) liberal Christians (I think that is what you are referring to - correct me if not) - some are liberals in this scheme and some are radicals, although with each passing decade it seems that even the liberals tilt ever further into radicalism.

Liberal Christians seem awfully confident that you can be half socialist and not go too far and lose all liberty. Maybe they depend on conservatives to keep them from going all the way - sort of like teenagers depending on parents to say no when they want something harmful. Instead of thinking for themselves they just rely on parents doing the agonizing and deciding where to draw the line.

Peter W. Dunn said...

Actually, I was thinking more of the politically liberal evangelical, whose orthodoxy is not called into question. Such persons would be apparently traditional in terms of doctrine and church praxis (at least for now), but would consistently vote democrat or NDP, and therefore, for a party which looked to government to solve our problems. I think of neo-cons as people who would typically vote republican or tory--a pro-war Jew for example (that's who is typically peg as a neo-con).

Craig Carter said...

Actually, since you ask, I'll tell you what I really think about that since, after all, I used to be one of those people - you know leftist in politics but conservative in theology.

I think going leftist in politics is the beginning of going liberal in theology. If you stick with biblical orthodoxy, you can't really be really left wing politically (not consistently anyway). Anybody who takes Paul and Augustine seriously on sin could possibly be a socialist, so it seems to me. I should know: I tried.

Now, when it comes to being a sober chastened classical liberal who holds to a free market, limited government and the rule of law - that sort of thing is perfectly compatible with orthodoxy. If fact orthodoxy gives it structure and a foundation. If orthodoxy slips, however, expect a drift leftward - which happened long ago in liberal Protestant denominations and is now happening on the Evangelical Left again.

So I would rather forge a tactical alliance politically with Jewish and agnostic neo-cons than with Evangelical socialist types. That is how it breaks down in real life: Socialists and their liberal fellow-travellers versus the Traditionalists and Neo-cons. For me the real litmus test is "Big Govt. versus Limited Govt."