Isaiah Berlin claimed that exciting utopian ideas can be dangerous to liberal democracy. In a very strong way, Berlin was in favor of this decline, even eager to help. No doubt, he would have been surprised and saddened to see ideologically constructed utopias replaced by theologically constructed utopias.
My own pleasure in reading it was augmented by the reflections, both personal and political, it triggered in me. It was the doctrine of original sin that made me, in my youth, an agnostic. I was a freshman at Valparaiso University taking a required course in basic Christian doctrine.
The main text for the course was C. For if I was, quite literally, born in Sin, how could I be responsible for it? If the wrongs that I did proceeded inevitably from the nature of my fallen being, then what had previously seemed the ineffable grace of God in Christ in saving me from the deserved consequence of my deeds became the superfluous action of an arbitrary, indeed quite absurd, deity.
I should be grateful for being rescued from a situation for which I had no moral responsibility in the first place? I wrestled with all this as best I could but found no resolution.
I finally concluded that, at its very heart, Christianity made no sense. Oakes rightly cites Reinhold Niebuhr as the foremost American expositor of original sin and its consequences. Niebuhr was essential to my own intellectual development, but I first encountered his thought indirectly.
It was a curious experience: I came slower to his neoorthodox theology than to his politics. Though the perversities of fallen humanity can, with considerable effort and ingenuity, be manipulated in the direction of the common good, they cannot entirely be overcome.
As the meeting place of power and morality, politics was inescapably for Niebuhr an arena of tension, ambiguity, and uncertainty. For them, democracy rested on the possibility of human perfectibility. A serious politics requires at all times elements of deterrence, of checking power with counterpower.
Realism, Niebuhr said, means that you achieve the common good not just by unselfishness but by the restraint of selfishness.
Since power is never in stable equilibrium, so neither is politics: There can be no dream of perfect justice. Politics has to do with the relatively better, or even the lesser evil.
He never gave any evidence of repudiating the regulatory or welfare state. If he was in the end a sober, tough-minded liberal, he remained nonetheless a liberal. His theological perspectives can doubtless be made to comport with a number of political positions, but it seems clear that at whatever point on the political spectrum they are applied, their influence will inescapably tend in a conservative direction.
It is no accident that neoconservatives are more likely to cite Niebuhr than are liberals. Liberals recall him in program, but not in spirit. Certainly the voices of contemporary liberal Protestantism, and of liberalism in general, recall more of the earlier Social Gospel he so sharply challenged than of Christian realism.
In fairness, it must be conceded that modern American conservatism has little of the Niebuhrian spirit itself. Ronald Reagan, the most successful conservative the country has ever known, was at heart a cockeyed optimist, and his untroubled confidence in the limitless possibilities of American civilization was untouched by Niebuhrian reservations.
The fact that Niebuhrians fare badly at either end of the political spectrum suggests that, for most Americans, the politics of original sin is an alien notion.
Maybe that offers a useful lesson.Discover the latest and breaking The Saturday Essay news from The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones, a News Corp company News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media.
came into use to denote a new spirit that grew and spread with the rise of democracy. It implied a new interest in the common man and a new sense that the common man, the representative of the great masses of human beings, had possibilities that had been kept under, that had not been allowed to develop, because of institutional and political conditions.
Saving that the New Deal saved Capitalism rather than Liberal Democracy more correct also for the reason that whilst capitalism was threatened by the deteriorating economic depression, Liberal Democracy did not face any significant political threats thanks to the firm democratic tradition.
Hence, liberal democracy is divided, spawning "two new regime forms: 'illiberal democracy,' or democracy without rights, and 'undemocratic liberalism,' or rights without democracy." An "illiberal democracy" enjoys popular majorities in elections, and populist regimes in Hungary and Poland had introduced reforms that significantly undermine the.
Mar 06, · I n , on the eve of FDR’s presidency, Benito Mussolini proclaimed, “The liberal state is destined to perish.” He added, all too accurately, “All the political experiments of our day are anti-liberal.” The democracies were doomed, Il Duce declared, because they could not solve crucial problems.
In the longer term, we see Constitutional Localism as the right way to adapt American democracy to a country with an ever-wider range of ethnicities, social mores, political philosophies and economic opportunities without sacrificing either self-government or membership in one nation.