Category Archives: Member activity

McLuhan’s Political Thought

EPSA member, Grant Havers, was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in their exploration of Marshall McLuhan’s not irretrievably buried political philosophy. McLuhan was Roman Catholic, and a philosophy professor at St Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, where a few EPSA members have studied.

On the page where you can access the audio interview, “The Conservative Marshall McLuhan,” we read:

Since the 1960s, McLuhan famously avoided taking what he called a ‘moralistic’ stance on the goodness or badness of electric media. But close readers of his major writings are in for a surprise. What emerges is distinctively conservative: tribalistic, stringently moralistic and opposed to the liberal, modernist, individualist age of modernity. This week, The Philosopher’s Zone investigates McLuhan the right-wing moralist.

Grant Havers is professor of philosophy and politics at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, Canada.


Reforming Politics One Citizen at a Time

 (A review of Matthew T. Parks and C. David Corbin, Keeping Our Republic, Principles for a Political Reformation. Resource Publications, 2011. $14.)

 After the 1789 Constitutional Convention adjourned and the exhausted delegates spilled into the streets of Philadelphia, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got–a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s response, always wise and witty, was, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

 Is that just an old-fashioned word…like “virtue” or “Presbyterian?” You don’t hear it much anymore. In fact, to describe America as a republic is to distinguish yourself as part of a well-informed elite. It is far more common for people to speak of our country as a “democracy.”

 But when we press for democracy in developing nations, i.e., for free and fair elections and universal suffrage, are we making them just like us? Surely not. There is more to the genius of the American political experiment than the rule of a majority vote. But there is also less. When we moved to universal adult suffrage with the nineteenth amendment, did we take on a different form of government? Did we move from oligarchy to democracy? Only the cynical say so.

 They don’t understand, however, what the authors of Keeping Our Republic understand, and what the Founders before them understood. America is a republic, a particular form of democratic self-government, and we forget this to our peril. So our Assistant Provost, Matthew Parks, and PPE Dean David Corbin have written this slender but important volume to take their fellow citizens through a crash course in who they need to be politically if their liberty is at all precious to them, republicanism 101 as it were. They offer the book in the hope of leading a twenty-first century “political reformation.”

 The remedy we usually hear for the American decline is to “throw the bums out!” But if a healthy republic requires healthy republican citizens—people who understand what liberty is and what it requires, and who are vigilant in its defense—then the battle for our republic is in the citizens themselves. Popular government—government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Lincoln put it—is a delicate institution that depends on there being citizens who understand the principles of liberty and are disposed to sacrifice the immediate pleasures self-indulgence for the noble prospect of self-government.

 So the focus of this book is not populist elite-bashing, much as the entitled Ivy Leaguers who think it their natural right to rule us surely deserve it. It is Joe American to whom the authors are speaking, and no doubt also José American, as well as any citizen legislators whose consciences turn them to learned patriotic books. “We have lost touch with what it means to be a citizen of a republic.” The task therefore, is that we all, regardless of political party, “relearn how to think and how to act as republicans.” This book is for making citizens once again out of the subjects we have become.

 (This review appeared originally in the May 2011 issue of The Empire State Tribune, the student newspaper at The King’s College.)

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).

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.

The Verdict Is Anti-Utopian Politics

I wrote a piece about the election for The New Ledger (which is one of the most interesting and exciting political websites to come around in quite a while).  In it, I gather up the broken political careers of a slew of Democrats and Republicans since 2006 and analyze WHAT. IT. ALL. MEANS.

Here’s a clip:

The answer, I think, has to do with a particular kind of American conservativism.  Not neo-conservativism.  Not John McCain-style “National Greatness” conservatism.  No, the answer goes back to the nascent conservative movement growing up with William F. Buckley in the 1960’s.  Here it is:

Don’t immanentize the eschaton.

I know.  Some of you just sprayed coffee across the table at the sheer impenetrability of it.  Though the phrase comes from the equally mysterious writings of Eric Voegelin, students in Buckley’s Young Americans for Freedom wore the expression as a slogan on buttons!

Fortunately, the meaning is simple.  Don’t try to bring heaven to earth.  It is an anti-utopian statement.  It means that we cannot achieve the same things as are hoped for in the after-life because we are limited by our own fallen nature and by the means available to us.

You can read the article in full over at The New Ledger.

— Hunter Baker teaches political science at Union University in Tennessee.

Idolatry in Our Politics

In the recent issue of The City, a fine little (free!) journal published by Houston Baptist University, Joe Knippenberg gives us “Faith in the Age of Obama” (fall 2010).

Where for President Obama, love leads to government action, for President Bush, government has to leave room for love. The former emphasizes his hope for the efficacy of government action, the latter his respect for its limits.

In concluding, he writes,

For me, it is both a matter of fact and an article of faith that government cannot do all that some of us expect of it. But it is also a matter of fact that finite, fallen, and fallible human beings will continue to worship idols.

David Innes has his own thoughts on political idolatry at as we approach the midterm elections (“Victory and Idolatry,” October 20, 2010).

Politics is good because God gave us government for our good. But He did not give it for our sufficient good, or to provide for every good. Christians, more than anyone else, should tailor their hopes accordingly.

Excessive and misplaced hope takes two forms in times like these. One is almost millenarian in what it expects to enjoy on the other side of Election Day. … But there is also a kind of despair in politics that is the same excessive and misplaced hope, only jilted and embittered. I see it among Republicans who are migrating toward third parties. They have good reason to be down. …

When people allow themselves to get carried away by millenarian political fantasies, it is easy to become discouraged. Now we will recover our republican constitution! Now we will be a land of social justice! Now America will be free! American will be fair! But in a world of sages and fools and a relatively confused massive middle, politics is about incremental improvements and setbacks.

In politics, it is hard to do good without giving wicked people a platform for their wickedness, or without falling into wickedness oneself. But political life is not optional, and neither is doing good.

P.S., subscribe to The City, free of charge.

Lectures on Christianity and Secularism

My editor at Crossway and evangelical super-blogger Justin Taylor has put my lectures on Christianity and secularism for Southern Seminary all together in one easy to access package.  Get them here.

— Hunter Baker, Union University.