Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Political Theology: A Beginning (I)

As part of my interest in anti-liberal political philosophies, I'd like to draw the reader's attention to this BBC Radio 4 Beyond Belief program on Christian Socialism. The program features Dr. John Milbank, founding member of the Radical Orthodoxy movement. After listening to the program, I concluded that Milbank, while professing himself an English Christian Socialist, has more in common with European Christian democrats than with conventional socialists or even Christian socialists.(1) 

What are the sources of Christian democracy? This is not an easy question to answer: Christian democracy, like any political ideology, is diverse, with different and competing views. At its best, Christian democracy is rooted in the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. At its worst, it's indistinguishable from left-wing liberalism (2), supportive of a central, bureaucratic state and none too sound on social questions, such as marriage, the family, and the dignity of the person. But what of the more acceptable version? Where are its roots located? What direction is it headed? What does it get right? What does it get wrong? And what lessons might it offer for American Christians? 

These are questions I'd like to consider and will do so by taking a closer look in future posts at some important texts from the Christian democratic tradition: the papal social documents, Radical Orthodox, Distributist and Catholic Worker texts, and the work of recent anti-liberal thinkers such as George Parkin Grant, David Schindler, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. If time permits, I may broaden my topic to include economic thinkers who are within the Christian democratic tradition, including Wilhelm Ropke and E.F. Schumacher. With the possible exception of Ropke, all of these thinkers and movements are fundamentally anti-liberal in outlook, preferring to locate the dignity of man not in Enlightenment views of individual autonomy but in man as the Imago Dei. Because American political philosophy and practice is rooted in the language of the Enlightenment, I shall, I suspect, have to devote some time and energy to adumbrating a Christian critique of classical liberalism. 

(1) For instance, the moderator of Beyond Belief calls Tony Blair a Christian socialist, an appellation that Milbank contests, and oddly, Wikipedia even lists the wildly anti-clerical Hugo Chavez as a Christian socialist.
(2) I hope it's become obvious that I'm not using the term 'liberal' in typical American fashion to necessarily denote a left-wing statist.

No comments:

Post a Comment