Or Sam Brownback, the Senator from my state. Or Mike Huckabee. I think he’d give the most reasoned answer.
Of course, I could ask President Obama the same question, but he at least admits to being a liberal.
But my question isn’t appropriate to a town-hall meeting by any means. Experience and youtube have demonstrated that nuanced discussions have no place in such public venues. A better place for this discussion would be a sit-down television show. But since I’m not enough of a party-line shill to end up on MSNBC or Foxnews, and not funny enough for Comedy Central, I suppose I’ll have to make due with the forum I do have, and wait for Ms. Palin or Mr. Huckabee to come across it and offer their thoughts.
My question goes something like this.
Given your belief in the Christian scriptural narrative, how to you navigate the contradictory narrative that is the basis of modern political theory?
Now, it’s quite possible that Palin, Brownback, Huckabee and other Christian lawmakers are unaware of any such discrepancy. Most politicians are not political philosophers, just as most pastors in churches are not theologians. (Mike Huckabee would be left out twice on that count.) So they can be forgiven for having only read an overview of Rousseau, Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke in their undergrad days, and then going on to more practical classes in, say, Constitutional law. But if we did go back and crack open our copies of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s Of The Social Contract, we will find not abstract ideas adduced from common sense or practical reason. Rather, his politics arise from a reading of “nature,” (which includes a narration of an “original state” of man as well as a “fall”), as well as a transcendent metaphysic (of pure individuality) and a conception of God as irresistible power. This narrative and these metaphysics are not incidental to his account, but are absolutely essential, the basis on which his conclusions rest. The same is true of every major political thinker whose ideas undergird left-right politics today.
All of this is uncontroversial, and the sort of stuff covered in freshmen level intro to political philosophy courses. What is problematic for Christians is the exact nature of the theological claims made by, assumed by, or underlying modern political theory. Whereas Christian theology understands God as good and participation with/in God as the ultimate goal for individuals and the human race alike, the thinkers behind the modern political system had to understand God as “an undifferentiated God who commands the lesser discrete wills of individual humans by sheer power,” as John Milbank characterizes. And whereas the Christian theology sees humans as properly united as a whole, only to be divided by sin, which is then overcome so that humans can again be united as the body of Christ, for liberal political theory, humans are created to be pit against one another: an ontology of difference precedes any unity that can be found (and that only through the agent of the nation-state, of course). When Rousseau says that humans were created to be free, he of course means free from one another.
I see this as extremely problematic for figures like Sarah Palin, who see their political participation as stemming from their Christian convictions, while trying to maintain some distinction between church and state in practice. For if the political theory underlying not just the Republican or Democratic parties, but the whole ballgame of which those are only two high-ranking teams, assumes a theological account that is anathema to orthodox Christianity, then a division between politics and their Christian faith does not protect their faith but demolishes it
For that reason, I cannot and could not affirm any political position that relies on modern political theory – that means libertarianism, big-government Republicanism, socialist-Democrat, Green party are all off the table. Instead, I have to construct (as Hillaire Belloc attempted 100 years ago and as Philip Blond is attempting today with his ResPublica think-tank) to establish a means of engaging politics without embracing heretical theological assumptions.
So I would ask Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee how they navigate this terrain. From my perspective, they are hopelessly sold out to liberalism. And this is why I am so perplexed when some liberal-accommodationist like LoBo accuses me of being a leftist. Left is a relative term, describing a position within a framework that I reject as anathama. And this is why I am so perplexed when some leftist like Loonsounds is shocked that I’m not a right-winger. Right, again, is a relative term. The only position I find acceptable is one that prioritizes orthodoxy.
What do you think? If you take positions in the liberal political system (such as Republican or Democrat party-lines), do you see any conflict with Christian theology? Also, what question would you ask Sarah Palin, if you had the chance?