Category Archives: commentary

The Kingdom Perspective on Politics

I was speaking with a neighbor who I was meeting for the first time but whom I knew was a Christian. At one point in the conversation he confided that he thought the Lord’s return was near because of how godless and immoral the world was becoming. Seeing someone in need of  correction and encouragement, I first warned him against judging the state of the world by how things look in America. There are other parts of the world, like China and Africa, where people are pressing and crowding into the Kingdom of God. Then I asked him if he had ever considered that maybe we are still in the early church.

He was visibly startled by this suggestion. It was as though I had stolen his hope. But I was calling him to a broader Christian perspective on current events–globally and historically. This is the theme of my Worldmag column this week, “American Decline is Not the End.”

In his new book, On China, Henry Kissinger suggest that in our dealings with China it is well to remember that they see the world and history differently. They are an ancient civilization, and so they take a broader perspective on history, and are more patient in seeking their their policy goals. (Their one child policy didn’t seem to be particularly far sighted, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution seemed to pursue utopia in an awful hurry, but we’ll set that aside.) America, by contrast, is a young civilization used to a fast paced world. (Alexis de Tocqueville has a lot to add about the short-sightedness and impatience of democratic peoples.) Mao’s premier, Zhou Enlai, was once asked what he thought was the significance of the French Revolution (1789). He responded, “It’s too soon to tell.” That tells you a lot about the Chinese perspective.

It is difficult for Americans to appreciate that way of looking at the world. It is surely asking too much of Americans to adopt if for themselves. Christians, even Christian Americans, are another matter.

The Christian’s perspective on current events should be more like that of the Chinese. Though American history is short and has a record of fairly steady advance, a Christian’s citizenship is fundamentally in the Kingdom of God which, like China, is thousands of years old, filled with rise and decline and developments that span centuries.

When we observe the immorality, social disintegration, and national decline in our day, we are tempted to think, “The end is near!” But for a Christian, until the Lord returns, every end is the beginning of a new chapter for the Kingdom that will never end. Every setback is a repositioning for Kingdom advance. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and the subsequent fall of that holy city was a Diaspora of faith to the world. Barbarian invasion, whether by Gauls or Vikings, has meant barbarian conversion. “Plunder me, but carry away my faith,” is a Kingdom response to invasion, albeit through tears and bathed in blood.

For the few years, my pastor has been encouraging us to think of the consequences of our kingdom labors in terms of their effects on our great-great-great grandchildren and beyond. Many of the blessings we enjoy today, whether church buildings, Christian colleges, or classics of Christian literature have come down to us because of the faithful labors of those who preceded us by many generations. Perhaps you came to faith in part because an ancestor in Christ prayed for you in Puritan New England, in Hugenot France, or in your great grandfather’s prayer closet. The Kingdom perspective, being broadly Kingdom-oriented and grace-dependent, is patient and far-seeing.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Advertisements

The Golden Rule in Politics

There has been a surge of books recently on what the politics of a Christian should be. Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible, Gerson and Wehner’s City of Man, and Beckwith’s Politics for Christians. Carl Trueman’s Republocrats takes a more bipartisan, transpartisan or multipartisan approach, depending on how you view it. (Interestingly, none of these books is written by a political scientist.) I will have my own book out in October.

This is far short of a book (though they have a fine book, Keeping Our Republic), but EPSA members Matthew Parks and David Corbin have a reflection on the Golden Rule in its relation to the budget battle on Capitol Hill in their Worldmag column today, “Revitalizing Golden Rule Politics.”

But even if the Tea Party “brand” has been tarnished or the kettle has lost some of its steam, the movement has already accomplished two things of lasting value: It has forced political leaders to confront our fiscal crisis with more seriousness than we have seen in a generation and revitalized “Golden Rule” politics as the most just and reasonable way out of it. …

Is there a simple way out of our fiscal crisis? Not if simple means only tinker around the edges of the status quo. But Reagan and the Tea Party have reminded us of a simple principle that should guide all American public policy: the Golden Rule. Why is it right for the Tea Party to insist that we obey the (real) Constitution? Because it is the common rule of our politics and the common security for all who live under it. Why it is right for the Tea Party to call for immediate, serious action to reduce our long-term debt? Because you don’t leave your mess for others to clean up. Why is it right for the Tea Party to challenge “earmarks” and every other form of special tax or spending privilege? Because these do unto others what I would not have done to myself—making them work so that I can eat.

So it seems that our Lord’s Golden Rule entails the rule of law, in particular the principle that those who make the laws should themselves be governed by whatever laws they make. This is what John Adams, our second president, had in mind when he commended (quoting Harrington) “an empire of laws, and not of men.” If we could unambiguously establish that principle in Washington and in the fabric of American thinking once again, our government would be more just and more Christian at the same time.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Havers on James Burnham and the Anti-elite Conservative

EPSA member Grant Havers writes for Telos 154 (Spring 2011), considering James Burnham and how the right is inherently as anti-elite as the left. Havers considers Burnham’s conservatism especially through Burnham’s reading of Machiavelli. See here.

Politics, Evil, and Hope

After last week’s column on the West Bank Fogel massacre (“Middle East Murder“), it struck me–or I should say weighed heavily on me–that there is a lot of evil making the news these days. It crowds into limited news time and forces itself on our attention.

Just after the beginning of the Jewish sabbath on March 11, terrorists from Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (so-called) broke into a West Bank settlement home and butchered Rabbi Uri Fogel in his bed, along with his infant daughter, his wife, Ruth, and two of their sons, ages 11 and 4. This was not shooting from a distance; this was throat slashing and heart stabbing. Two children survived the massacre only because the monsters who flooded the home with blood overlooked them. The 12-year-old daughter arrived home after midnight from a youth event to behold what no human being should ever witness.

That same day, the earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan with a resultant nuclear crisis that has pushed even the misery of 450,000 people whom the disaster made homeless.

This volunteer fireman lost his wife, his son’s family, and his four grandchildren when he went to close a wall against the tsunami. Warning, it is very sad.

Then there’s Libya where the self-styled Mad Dog of the Middle East has been shooting and bombing his own unarmed people (as well as the subsequently armed ones) when he foresaw their protests sending him into exile as Hosni Mubarak’s room-mate.

And all of that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as human suffering in the world is concerned. It’s in Syrian dungeons, Thai brothels, Brazilian slums, and it’s on your street.

In this week’s column at Worldmag.com, “Overcome by Evil These Days?,” I indicate where the wise turn when they come to face the ubiquitous evil of a fallen world.

[C]onsider that this face full of suffering is just a small sliver of all the evil that infests the world—in dungeons, in halls of power, in cities and villages, and in private homes everywhere. We’re able to get through each day only by not knowing anything more than glimpses of what’s going on.

Confronted with this, we are tempted to seek remedies in political reform and military force, and these can accomplish real good. God established government to restrain and punish evil. But, this side of the Lord’s return, political hopes always exceed human abilities, and efforts to right wrongs almost always bring further unhappiness whether by unforeseen accident or opportunistic scoundrels. So we pursue justice and mercy, but for deliverance we look beyond what we can do.

When we get so deep in the mire of disaster and iniquity that our legs weaken and our hearts fail, we are wise to turn to the Lord who, knowing the full depth of all evil, addressed it on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He defeated evil with a view to the New Creation that is yet to come and that will forever banish tears to the past (Revelation 21). But He gives victory over evil also in you and people like you in Japan and Gaza and Libya and everywhere under the sun. And He gives strength in suffering to His people as they faithfully await “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Note: I understand there is a difference between the evil of natural disasters and the evils of tyranny and terrorism. But in different ways they all result of the fall, but our hope in the face of all of them is eschatological and centered in Christ.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Leaders Do What They Do, Including Political Ones

Every leader worthy of notice has had some signature success, some achievement for which they are known.  Except for the truly exceptional ones they will spend the rest of their careers following the same strategy they used in the original effort.

Machiavelli wrote about this in his Discourses.  Leaders do what they do.  If their plan coincides well with the circumstances of the moment, then they will succeed.  But if the plan with which they are comfortable does not mesh with the current operational reality, then they will fail.  This is the operation of fortune about which Machiavelli often wrote.

Because of this dynamic of leadership, the next president must be a leader who has made a name as a budget cutter.  There are moments when a builder of institutions and programs, a visionary, is the right person, but now is not that time.  Now, the cutter must have his due.  In other eras, the cutter would be too conservative, too careful to take necessary risks.  Today, the cutter is in position to become a hero.

We must find a leader who has grown used to bucking the resistance of petty empire builders, bureaucrats, interest groups, unions, and legislators who count on drawing concentrated benefits from the public at large.  Destiny calls.  And those of us in the public must not miss the opportunity to elevate that person.

— Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and teaches political science at Union University in Tennessee

What Would George Washington Do?

General Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1777.

What should we expect of our next president? What is the defining crisis of our times? It would help if we had a History of the Twenty-first Century, but that won’t be available for many years to come.

The remarkable thing about great statesmen is that, as though by intuitive grasp of the relative importance of things, they seem to see the present in the clear light of the future. Churchill, in the political wilderness, saw the monstrous threat of Nazism long before his more respectable contemporaries did. It was not a recent insight that he shared in his “Their Finest Hour” speech when he cast the coming Battle of Britain as a contest for “the survival of Christian civilization” and “the abyss of a new Dark Age.”

When we look for a presidential candidate, we are looking for a statesman.

Mitch Daniels says the great crisis is financial. There is a strong case to be made for this. But statesmen are also able to read and lead the public. Daniels stumbled in this. Last year, he told Andy Ferguson of the Weekly Standard that the next president would have to call a truce on social issues to focus on our nation’s more immediate and existential crisis of crippling debt. “It is just a suggestion I made once,” he told World reporter Edward Lee Pitts. Both Pitts and Ferguson demonstrate that Daniels is pro-life to his bones. Ferguson quotes Curt Smith, head of the Indiana Family Institute, saying, “He has a deep faith, he’s totally pro-life, and he walks the talk.” Perhaps it was just a stumble. Perhaps he is a great man, and not the bean counter he appeared to be at that moment.

Newt Gingrich tells us that Islam will swallow us if we do not rally against it. This could be true, and rally we must. But in America, unlike Europe which has already committed moral and demographic suicide, we still have a backbone to stiffen, and our uniquely free society encourages Muslim Americans to moderate and assimilate. As for Newt, he is not a great man. He is strong on insight and analysis, but profoundly deficient in character. No man as morally hollow as Newt Gingrich should be President. We suffered that from 1992-2000. Newt is the Bill Clinton of the right.

In yesterday’s Worldmag column, I make my case that abortion and the disintegration of the family are the great moral crises that threaten to destroy the nation (“Facing the Crisis of Our Times“).

As for abortion in particular, not only does it present serious demographic and workforce challenges, it is a moral blight that invites God’s righteous judgment.
 
We need to repent of our evil, return to the Lord, and reform our ways. George Washington saw the flourishing of our nation as inseparable from our national repentance before God’s righteous majesty and from our trust above all in the strength of his arm on our behalf. He wrote at time when the Lord’s government of the nations was commonly recognized and with a clear political conscience for doing so.

In his General Orders of March 6, 1776, as Commander of the Continental Army, General Washington declared, “a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation to implore the Lord, the Giver of all victory, to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness’s (sic.), and that it would please him to bless the Continental Arms, with his divine favor and protection.” (I thank Dr. Peter Lillback for sending me this reference.)

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and the co-author of the forthcoming book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

A Political Defense of Charity

In my column this week, “Charity and Entitlement” (Worldmag.com, February 23, 2011), I examine the relative merits of private (Christian) charity and government entitlement, or what Tocqueville calls “legal charity.”

Some comments on last week’s column, “Obama’s Godly Government,” actually condemned private charity as an evil, and extolled entitlements as superior in both efficiency and humanity.

Said one, “Its the stability of funding from entitlements that allows a recipient to plan ahead, set goals and work his/her way back to independence. Charity is inconsistent, random and in a subtle manner demands an obligation.”

Said another, “Charity ennobles the giver and obligates the recipient. The former is noble while the latter is common. This is the core dynamic of feudalism. Entitlements make possible the orderly transfer of substance to the next generation, whether through inheritance, social contract, or special grant. … The welfare state has been an essential ingredient in moral and material betterment since the passing of the ancien régime.”

Here I let Tocqueville take the ball:

In my column last week, I asserted, “Charity ennobles and enables. Entitlements enslave and incapacitate.” I was echoing Alexis de Tocqueville who, in his “Memoir on Pauperism” (a must-read), argues that legal charity, what we call public welfare or entitlements, “depraves men even more than it impoverishes them.” Private charity involves people in one another’s lives who ordinarily would occupy separate worlds, the giver actively affirming the receiver’s humanity, and the receiver inspired with hope and gratitude. By contrast, attempts by the government to duplicate this relationship inspire resentment in the rich and envy in the poor, while leaving them still rich and poor.

Here I take up the ball myself.

Entitlements are attractive because of their apparent stability as a system of relief in contrast to the comparative unpredictability of private giving. But that is also their danger. As they are institutionalized and made permanent, they incline people to rely on them just as permanently. The widespread cultural habit of people voluntarily helping people in need—carrying them through a period of unemployment, taking care of them in their old age, providing pro bono medical care—unites us with ties of obligation and mutual affection. But the omniprovisional state destroys even natural human ties. Families evaporate. Communities disintegrate. It infantilizes, and even dehumanizes. The brick wall of economic unsustainability that we are beginning to experience is merely adding material constraints on the entitlement way of helping each other to the tragic moral constraints that have been obvious for some time.

Michael Goodwin points to the entitlement attitude behind the public sector union revolt in Wisconsin and other states in this Fox News article which is adapted from something in The New York Post.

The Wisconsin showdown between a determined Republican governor and spoiled public unions is shaping up as a crucial test of state and municipal solvency. But the financial stakes represent only part of the much larger conflict engulfing America. The real war is over the entitlement culture itself. And while government spending is the most visible part, the ultimate issues are the character and fate of our nation.

The most powerful moral refutation of the entitlement regime I have read recently is Charles Murray’s AEI address in 2009, “The Europe Syndrome.” That should be in your must-read pile.

— D.C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in NYC.