Friday, May 13, 2005

Liberalism vs. Conservatism vs. Christian

I ran across two essays that I thought y'all might like to read, from back in 1996 in First Things, both by U. of Texas Professor J. Budziszewski, also a recent convert to Catholicism. The first, "The Problem with Liberalism", skewers liberal thinking. I found it compelling and plan on using his arguments with relish to point out to liberal friends why they are quite wrong.

However, in the next month's issue, he wrote "The Problem with Conservatism". I was a little bit less comfortable with this one, having committed several of the errors he debunks, on a regular basis.

When you take both essays together, I think he makes one broad, excellent point: that to be Christian is to be neither liberal nor conservative. It may mean going into "tactical alliance" with either liberals or conservatives on certain issues in order to further them, but it mustn't mean identifying oneself with one side or the other. This is why I was so tormented by the last presidential election: I found both sides to be repugnant, but because of the Democrats' position on abortion, I could not follow them, and because in our two-party system, to not vote for one party essentially means a vote for the other, I felt I had no other choice but to give my support to the more conservative party. I have fallen into the trap of trying to defend Republican plans, but I have become convinced that there are some Republican programs, particularly those designed to further capitalism and spread that ideology around the globe, that I cannot support.

So what do we do, as Christians and as Catholics? How do we interact with our neighbors who identify themselves as liberals or as conservatives? More pointedly, how do we correct our fellow Christians who feel that to be Christian is to be liberal or to be conservative?


At 4:27 PM, Blogger BekahS. said...

I find myself nodding my head, but in a quandry as to what then to do. When I converted to the Church, it revolutionized not only my personal faith, but also my political ideology. I realized that because there is one universal standard of Truth, there is one authority, one mouthpiece for that Truth. And consequently, I must proclaim that Truth in every aspect of my life.

Previously, I had embraced that fallacy that the Prof. names neutralism, to the extent that I embraced libertarianism. Because, I felt that freedom was to be able to make your own decisions, as long as they didn't harm another, whatever God might think of those decisions. Religion was a private matter of choice. Not that all religions are equal, of course, because I did believe that only Christianity was salvific. But, man does have a right to his own choice, right or wrong, I believed.

I now have a completely different view of freedom. Freedom is the ability to live without endangering one's soul. The role that the state plays within this view is minor.

And that, I believe is the crux of the whole liberal vs. conservative debate. Both ultimately stem from a wrongful idea of the purpose of government. Perhaps the original fathers of our country understood this, perhaps they did not, but if they did, somewhere along the way the focus has become fuzzy and so we are left with two equally wrong ideologies to choose from. We need to return (or embrace) the correct purpose of government and that is that its only function is to allow the people to pursue right conduct. As we find in the Church, there is plenty of freedom on the playground within the walls, and we can play quite happily and contentedly. So the government, by enforcing natural law, can reinforce the walls that protect us. In everything else, they need to leave us alone.

One difficulty of course, is in forcing some people to recognize natural law. But, in the imposition of all law, someone is offended. Our human nature causes us to prefer sin rather than virtue, if we are without the gift of Grace. Another difficulty is the temptations to which anyone in power may fall prey.

I've got no practical answers as to how to fix the manifest errors our country faces. I can identify them with ease. But, I find myself in a quandry when I face the voting booth. At this point, I find myself more often allied with conservatives, but like the author illustrates, for different reasons.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger dcs said...

I think Dr. Budziszewski is mistakenly identifying conservatism with what passes for conservatism these days: neoconservatism. Real conservatives aren't statists (civil religionism, instrumentalism, and Caesarism are statist). He is also mistaken that moralism is an error. The confessional State is certainly not an error; it kept Europe Christian for centuries! Christianity or, more specifically, the Church, asks more than for the State to simply get out of the way.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Chad said...

LJD, you may have missed his disclaimer at the beginning of the essay:

"A minor difficulty in setting forth these errors is the ambiguity of the term "conservatism." Conservatives come in many different kinds, and their mistakes are equally heterogeneous. I should like to stress, therefore, that not every conservative commits every one of the errors that I describe in the following pages."

The type of conservative called a neocon by some does commit those statist errors. Others do not. As far as moralism is concerned, I think that's a matter far from settled. Dr. B may go too far, but is the confessional State that which kept Europe Christian for centuries? It seems to me that the unity of the Church before the Reformation, and hence the unity of Christendom, had little to do with the State. On the contrary, the division of the Church after the Reformation did have quite a lot to do with princes finding supporting Protestants to be to their liking.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger ZF said...

We also have to be careful not to confuse "Christianity" and "Christendom". A constitution may confess a particular faith, like Anglicanism, and such faith have little effect on a nation's people. I think neo-cons and some conservatives think if they can just strong arm enough votes they can "Christianize" (I use the term loosely) a country. It doesn't work that way. That is not my impression of how the Middle Ages were produced. It took centuries of deep conversions of influential people. Several years ago I read some posts on a list where these men were waiting until they could raise some sort of Catholic Militia to overthrow the government and form a "Catholic State." God have mercy!! Christianity will always be whether or not Christendom is.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger BekahS. said...

The professor defines moralism as "God's grace need[ing] the help of the state." This is an error because according to this definition, religion serves the purposes of the state. The proper order is reversed. The state should serve religion.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger dcs said...

I think you have it reversed because Prof. Budziszewski describes that particular error as Caesarism. If I understand things rightly, moralism implies that the State can (or should) serve the needs of the Church. That is what he means by "God's grace needing help" -- that the State should enforce the laws of the Church. If we condemn moralism then we must also condemn the Christian kingdoms of the mediaeval era since they all had anti-heresy laws which were enforced.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger BekahS. said...

Yep, you're right. I was misremembering what he wrote and confused the two. In that case, I agree with you, except I think the point Budziszewski makes is that moralism goes too far. He does not deny the need of the state to impose a moral standard, but seems to expect that standard to be limited to natural law.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger ZF said...

I would also argue that the state always serves God whether or not she confesses the faith as the magistrate is "God's minister" in any event.


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