Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can Communitarians & Libertarians Find Common Ground?

In a way the debate between communitarians and libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic reminds me of the debate between Old Lights and New Lights in 18th century America. The Old Lights emphasized order and institutions while the New Lights emphasized the importance of personal conversion.

David Brooks wrote some time ago:
“Both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings."
Certainly a popular understanding of what conservatism is on both sides of the Atlantic. But it leaves out the other side of this 'original sin coin', the New Light on sin and atonement (Jonathan Edwards)  or the clarity of Scripture as 'origin and guarantee of our religious and political freedoms' (Herman Bavinck).

Just leaning back and trusting institutions clashes with the basic Calvinist understanding as articulated by Princeton President Samuel Finley:
'they who expect divine knowledge without studying Scripture; the Holy Spirit, without Prayer; saving blessings, without attending on gospel ordinances; or Deliverance from temporal enemies, without Fighting against them, discover their deep Ignorance of Scripture, of Reason, and the Whole scheme of divine government'
The idea of original sin does not help us while choosing between institutions and those who oppose them. The history of the great awakening, religious persecution in the 17th and 18th century and the fight of Radical Republicans is sufficient evidence of this fact.

That's precisely the reason Jim DeMint favorite bible verse is 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free', while this refers to the second half of 'the Whig equasion'.

The challenge of bringing the two sides together is what makes studying the period that preceded the American revolution so immensely interesting.

Balancing both is what makes a succesfull (Republican) politician. So, instead of pointing just to institutions as the solution to all problems, the huge role of citizens in a democracy should not be minimized, as Rand Paul points out at the end of his speech at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:
'Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mother gives birth to them, life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves'

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