Christianity and Conservatism

Robert Merry thinks conservatism is in crisis:

In an influential 1957 essay entitled “Conservatism as an Ideology,” political scientist Samuel P. Huntington listed fundamental elements of the conservative creed, embraced by nearly all of its proponents: society is the organic product of slow historical growth, and existing institutions embody the wisdom of previous generations; man is a creature of instinct and emotion as well as reason, and evil resides in human nature rather than in any particular societal institutions; the community is superior to the individual, and the rights of men derive from civic responsibility; except in an ultimate moral sense, humans are unequal, and society always consists of a variety of classes, orders, and groups; the settled schemes of government based on human experience are always superior to abstract experimentation.

Thus, wrote Huntington, conservatism differs from other ideologies (except radicalism) in that it lacks any “substantive ideal”—a vision of the perfect society. “No political philosopher,” he said, “has ever described a conservative utopia.”

George W. Bush was a utopian. No other word adequately defines his vision of a Middle East culture in which the ancient Bedouin sensibilities are wiped away in favor of Western values and structures. His stated resolve to “rid the world of evil” demonstrated a lack of any conservative sensibility on where evil resides. He certainly didn’t manifest any understanding of society, particularly Middle Eastern society, as the organic product of slow historical growth. And he placed abstract experimentation over human experience in formulating this war policy rationale.

Why do Christians invariably side with Bush over Huntington? Why would they immanentize the eschaton (bring heaven to earth) when they are supposed to believe a perfect social order won’t come until Christ returns. Is it:

a) Christians are invariably Pelagian or Semi-Pelatian

b) Christians invariably reject amillenialism

c) modern Christians are inherently democratic

d) all of the above?

Following the apostle Paul or agreeing with Augustine certainly doesn’t require someone to be a conservative as Huntington defines it. But clearly, you have to reject important pieces of Christian orthodoxy to avoid conservatism.


20 thoughts on “Christianity and Conservatism

  1. But does one have to reject Christianity to avoid parts of other ideologies as well?

    The problem I see with conservatism is that many conservatives look solely to the past to understand and address today’s issues. Religiously conservative Christians do the same and perhaps that is the strongest tie they have in common. But such traditionalism is simply the flip side of narcissism in that each ism exalts one set of time periods over the others.


  2. In order to answer that multiple choice question wouldn’t it first be necessary to define what is meant by the term “Christian?” We can certainly piece together a picture of it by sifting through the gospels and epistles, but over the centuries that laundry list has been redefined over and over again so many times I’m not sure what a contemporary definition would look like. It may be one of those things that can only be defined by what it “doesn’t” look like. Then a definition might be “backed into,” accordingly.


  3. DGH,

    not a), although sometimes it seems as though: “everyone except me and Thee, and sometimes I wonder about Thee.” No, it really isn’t that extreme, but this is really basic Christian doctrine. How can any serious inquirer miss it? Oh, yes, ideas from sixteen or seventeen hundred years ago, do still matter! None-the-less, there is the basic human condition (depravity) in which we find ourselves.

    b): Dual hermeneutics gets messy. Must we deal with that?

    c): Many modern western Christians (certainly most in the U S of A) have little experience with other than democratic government at any level other than the family. So for Christians in the United States, yes, we tend to idolize democracy.

    How do we then live? (Until the return of the King)

    d: Ruled out by not a).

    Both b) and c) have merit. I guess c).


  4. Christians are skeptical of the perfectibility of man…unless they’re the ones doing the perfecting.

    The average American Christian has been more more influenced by Karl Marx than by Russell Kirk.


  5. add “American” to a through c and then d would seem particularly apt, though I’d venture to say there’s an e, Americans have been so influenced by residual postmillennialist utopianism they’re tempted to exempt themselves from making rather than solving problems. I know there’s a meme that Calvinism informed Manifest Destiny but that anti-Calvinist saw has to deliberately forget how many Methodists had postmillennialist delusions of grandeur about the role Anglo-American civilization could redeem the world. But then I’ll cop to being an amillenialist.

    per Delbert’s comment, postmilleniallsts and Marxists have enough overlap in their assumptions about philosophy of history it would make sense why the average American Christian is more influenced by postmillennialist utopianism than Russell Kirk.


  6. Curt, conservatives look to the past, and lefties sure won’t look there because it’s not real flattering. So, go ahead, look to the future and immanentize the eschaton.


  7. yeah … almost mentioned O’Sullivan but wanted to be brief. 🙂

    Half my lineage is Native American so for me I can’t really step back and look at the historical consequences of postmillennialism as benign or benevolent. Ironically, perhaps, the Calvinists in my family history were on the Native American side but it is easier if you’re a Calvinist to believe that divine providence kept your Native American ancestors from being massacred by semi-Pelagian advocates of Manifest Destiny than if you’re a semi-Pelagian. 😉


  8. D.G.,
    Nothing wrong with looking to the past. What is wrong is with looking solely to the past.

    But why would lefties fear looking to the past? I don’t.


  9. D.G.,
    Stalin doesn’t represent my views, nor did he even represent the views of Khrushchev or Gorbachev. In fact, how Lenin ruled doesn’t represent my views either. Do you want to try again?


  10. D. G.,
    Again, how is it that Lenin tried socialism? Or Stalkin? Or those who followed them? If Socialism, from the Marxist traidtion, has as its first priority to redistribute power to the workers, when did that happen is the Soviet Union? When Lenin dismantled the local soviets and dismissed the Constituent Assembly, he sabotaged Socialism and replaced it with a bourgeoisie dictatorship. BTW, that isn’t just my opinion, it is the opinion of a Socialist contemporary of his, Rosa Luxemburg:

    Lenin and Trotsky, on the other hand, decide in favor of dictatorship in contradistinction to democracy, and thereby, in favor of the dictatorship of a handful of persons, that is, in favor of dictatorship on the bourgeois model.


  11. D.G.
    Your mocking shows either a deliberate attempt to make a false accusation about my beliefs or your inability/unwillingness to read what I wrote. I’ve clearly stated that not Socialists believe in any kind of utopia. I know I don’t and I know others don’t either. But this is another case where your lack of respect shows and it doesn’t bother you despite how the Scriptures say we should speak to one another.


  12. D.G.,
    First, what was included in Marx’s abolishing of private property? And since part of what he noted was happening in some of the states in North America, what was utopian about that?


  13. Since Kuyper took over the government, I can only conclude that he was either Roman Catholic or anabaptist but not really Reformed.

    Kuyper, p 67 —“Property belongs only to God; all of our property is on loan from him; our management only stewardship….An absolute community of goods is excluded in Scripture. However, Scripture excludes just as completely every illusion of a right to dispose of one’s property absolutely, as if one were God

    from the gospel coalition—Kuyper’s ecclesiology represents a retrieval of a biblical understanding of the church as… a dispersed movement of public action. He refuses to engage the dilemma of privatized faith versus public/social action but consistently seeks to hold them together in a dynamic and productive tension. As such, Kuyper offers to Christians today a way to regain… a missional engagement of the Christian Gospel with the whole of life. Kuyper gives us a refresher on the sheer comprehensiveness of the Gospel.

    …”historians have noted that while Kuyper was a genius, he was not a particularly nice man. Even his peers and opponents remarked during his lifetime that he tended to be rude, brash, and intolerant of differing opinions. Added to this are the apparent shifts in his thought once he gained political power and his personal exodus from church attendance as his popularity and output grew. It is precisely some of these areas of unresolved tension within Kuyper that have provided a doorway for a branch of Kuyperian scholarship to emerge which has embraced leftist agendas (e.g., sexual identity politics, revisionist biblical interpretations, and anti-ecclesial postures) that Kuyper surely would reject today.”


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