The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the tag “Chesterton”

A Cup of Poison to the Lips of Liberalism

English Speaking Justice

Are you a liberal?  G. P. Grant thinks you’re insane if you’re not. In his 1974 book, English-Speaking Justice, he proposes,

“Liberalism in its generic form is surely something that all decent men accept as good—‘conservatives’ included.  In so far as the word ‘liberalism’ is used to describe the belief that political liberty is a central human good, it is difficult for me to consider as sane those who would deny that they are liberals.”

Is this merely semantic quibbling? Without any more being said, I suppose, yes, it would be nothing more than a violation of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “not quarrel about words” (2 Tim 2:14), but what if in the end it isn’t?  To quarrel about words would be like quarrelling about anything else—fruitless. To be succinct with our words would be to be like God, who has revealed Himself using words that mean one thing, therefore not meaning something else.

In his 1955 work, The Defense of the Faith, Cornelius Van Til states, “the ‘what’ must precede the ‘that’; the connotation must precede the denotation; at least the latter cannot be discussed intelligently without at once considering the former.”  In other words, how can we know what we’re talking about unless the words representing the ideas we’re discussing mean one thing instead of another?  Van Til asks how we can discuss the existence of a god, if the god in question has no definite attributes.  The ‘what’ must precede the ‘that’.

In our current political landscape, ‘liberal’ has become synonymous with ‘Democrat’, while ‘conservative’ equals ‘Republican’.  G. P. Grant argues that perhaps the Republican relationship with conservatism is accurate, but the Democratic comparison should be with ‘progressivism’ instead of with ‘liberalism’.  For the Democrat, liberty is not the goal as much as progress is, and if progress is the goal, then it is one that can never be reached.  A traveler can never arrive at their destination, if the only reason to go on the trip is to be in a state of perpetual motion.

100 years ago, G. K. Chesterton summed-up progressivism in his work, “Heretics”.   He wrote,

“It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this ‘progressive’ age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what is progress are the most ‘progressive’ people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress.”

So when Barak Obama ran on the monoplankular platform of “Change” in 2008, the election’s outcome showed that Americans were indeed progressivists and not liberals at all.  “We don’t care where you take us, Mr. Obama, as long as you get us out of here.”  As his two terms have progressed, we’ve found President Obama to be quite the conservative as he maintains many of Bush’s policies that he pledged to “change”, and quite the opposite of a true liberal as he’s sought to repossess American liberties granted by America’s Fathers in her Constitution.  While admitting that the word ‘liberal’ has come to mean only ‘secular liberal’, Grant stresses that this does not change the fact that the underlying foundations of liberty and freedom remain constant.   Since liberty is still the opposite of tyranny, the word ’liberal’ is has become a misnomer– a glaring misnomer that we’re now stuck with.

In Part IV of English-Speaking Justice, Grant gets to his most salient point by describing Roe v. Wade as the “cup of poison to the lips of liberalism”.  He elegantly shows that between two members of the same species, the “right” of the one to exist should outweigh the “right” of the other to enjoy privacy and comfort.  However, the high court’s decision to refuse the term ‘person’ to one still in utero, reveals that modern liberalism is not about human rights at all.  Humans in the womb and humans outside of the womb are still both humans by scientific definition, but the modern liberal agenda set this empirically verifiable fact aside and replaced it with an abstraction of ‘personhood’ that allowed them to cater to a constituency that furthered their political agendas instead of one that didn’t.

Dr. Roberta Bayer, at Patrick Henry College, has summarized Grant’s analysis this way:

“Although the court claimed to be confining its decision to the categories given by the American Constitution, interpreted within a liberal world view, it still found a basis ‘for denying the most elementary right of traditional justice to members of our own species.”  Thus, the justices must have held certain philosophical assumptions about being (nature) that were genealogically connected to some other philosophical tradition, a tradition neither guided by the Constitution, nor by what might be known scientifically about the development of the fetus in utero.  In fact, the evidence of science would have made it more, rather than less, reasonable to hold that the fetus is a distinct individual with a given nature.”

Whereas American liberalism had been fighting for ‘justice’ and ‘equality’ for nearly 200 years, Roe stands in a stark contrast to those noble concepts.  All that had been gained for equal human rights might as well be trampled underfoot, for the salt has lost it’s savor. All of the arguments for equal rights between slaves and free men;  all of the arguments for equal rights between women and men;  all of the arguments for equal rights between blacks and whites are totally eclipsed by the court-sanctioned murder of the most vulnerable members of our species.  The 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, has to be the most inegalitarian U. S. document ever written, and it was the product of the liberal left–the ‘champions’ of equal rights.

Based on Grant’s definition of a ‘liberal’ as “someone who believes political liberty is a central human good”, the pro-life movement has out-liberalled the liberals by mammoth proportions.  How can a so-called liberal deny the weakest members of its species the right to exist and still lay any legitimate claim to be a defender of liberty and equality?  They can’t.  They have placed the poisoned cup to their lips and drunk deeply.  Liberalism is dead, and the death has been ruled a suicide.

The Conservative Agenda

G.K. Chesterton once observed that the business of conservatives is to prevent mistakes from ever being corrected. The renown writer of Orthodoxy speaks from the grave. Conservatism as a philosophical system is rather schizophrenic in our day. It lacks a unified agenda, and therefore cannot accurately pinpoint its errors.

Pundits opine eloquently—at least they think they do– about how conservative ideas need to win the day, but ultimately, most of them are only doing what Lionel Trilling described as, “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Chuck Hagel endured the systematic chastisement from the left and from the right. The right believed he was too casual about the terrorist threats and not Zionistic enough in his allegiance. The left bombarded him about his past statements opposing homosexuality and abortion. Hagel won the day, but is still recovering from the Neo-Conservative war drums musicalizing against his nomination.

Hagel is the type of conservative Conservatives should seek to emulate: cautious in his foreign policy and strong in his moral convictions. His moral convictions would also entail respect for the much debated second amendment, because defending my wife and children is a moral issue. So Obama was right: there is still something sacred about sticking to our guns and religion.

Andrew Bacevich in his fascinating piece in the Jan/Feb edition of The American Conservative echoes some of these thoughts. Andrew alerted me some years ago to the dangers of Imperialism. In his piece, he says we need a little more of Flannery O’Connor and less of Ayn Rand.[1] He offers an appetizing reason to sprinkle O’Connor into the formation of an authentic Conservative Party. The Flannery O’Connor flavor includes a healthy dose of community living, which is “our best hope of enjoying a meaningful earthly existence.” Lots of cheers there! Also, the agenda may need to be salted with something more than fancy-dressed charlatans “peddling the latest Big Idea That Explains Everything.” Karl Rove, say good-bye. Neo-Conservatives proposing a world police State, say good-bye. You are just not conservative enough for us. We can’t put our house in order if we are spending our time and money in fixing other people’s houses. On the moral side of things, Bacevich says that our big problem is the “collapse of heterosexual marriage as an enduring partnership…”[2] Let’s not overlook our mistakes and blame it on their moral failure. Jesus had a few things to say to that line of reasoning.

Chesterton argued that conservatives need to conserve something. But the problem is conservatives are having a hard time defining what they ought to conserve.

In short, a robust conservative agenda entails the recovery of a moral and transcendent view of life and a profound commitment to a community where Chesterton and  O’Connor would be welcomed guests of honor.

[1] Cover Story, American Conservative.

[2] Rich Lusk deals with this in The Church-Friendly Family. You should get yourself a copy…go ahead, I’ll wait.

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