Friday, April 4, 2008

E Pluribus Unum in 2008

We live in a time of greater political division than we have seen in generations. Today’s college student has known nothing else. The fact that people have responded so positively to Barack Obama’s call for a new politics that is trans-partisan and post-racial and that will bring the country together shows that people are hungry for the unity that healthy political life requires. His likely opponent in the fall, John McCain, himself places a great deal of emphasis on collective patriotic self-sacrifice over against selfish individualism.

But liberal democracy is not about unity. The ancient republics sought to foster civic unity around a shared understanding of virtue, the best way of life, and perhaps even what we would now call national greatness. The American Founders deliberately rejected this model in favor of the uniquely modern republic. Liberal democracy, that modern innovation, is about recognizing and managing disunity in a civil manner. Anything else, especially in an age of modern technology and the efficient apparatus of the modern state, will tend swiftly in the direction of totalitarianism.

Unity of the sort that people long to experience in politics can be found only in the body of Christ. Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1-6 ESV).

Unity of the sort that political leaders promise us from time to time requires either a liberty crushing political cult (North Korea is an extreme example, but a fair one) or humility and gentleness on a scale that the limitations of the flesh will simply not allow. Such good and pleasant fraternal peace is rare enough in the congregation of the redeemed.

Beware of political promises that mimic the promises of Christ.

For a prior reflection on our successful management of political disunity, see my previous post, Democrat Anger Management.


Anonymous said...

Our system is not about unity; it is about controlling factions.

It's about giving every faction a fair shake, so that we accept our defeats, rather than causing blood in the streets.

Civilization rather than barbarism; compromise and reluctant acceptance rather than slaughter. One suspects that God approves. One also suspects that Mohammed would not approve.

David C. Innes said...

Controlling factions. Yes. Of course, you have in mind Federalist Papers #10. Also, regardless of our various political commitments, we all have a prior commitment to the rule of law which is the political sine qua non.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Innes,
I agree completely. Commitment to the rule of law is an axiom on which other concepts, such as the control of factions, is built.

But the concept of UNITY... well, when you have unity, you don't need the rule or law, nor the control of factions! When there's such complete agreement of cause and effect and purpose, who needs anything other than unity!

Which is the fatal flaw. There is, of course, no such thing as that kind of unity. You get a facsimile of it for short periods of time of extreme stress, such as the immediate aftermath of 9-11, but it inevitably breaks down very quickly.

Factions rear their ugly heads again quickly. Even worse, if there is no respect for the rule of law, chaos reasserts itself with its horrific consequences.

Anonymous said...

"Beware of political promises that mimic the promises of Christ. For a prior reflection on our successful management of political disunity..."

I'm intrigued by the conflict between political disunity and religious unity. Members of any congregation share a great deal of unity. "The promises of Christ", at least within any one congregation or even religion, are accepted as clear, and there is therefore unity of purpose. And unity of the idea of the purpose of existence.

But when your government is not a theocracy, when you allow for a variety of religious beliefs EVEN among those who accept Jesus as your personal savior, how then are you to handle disunity?

David (Pacificus?) mentioned in the link that,
"Despite everything that we have been through these last seven years--what with Florida and Iraq and so forth--the Democratic left has been remarkably well behaved. It's worth mentioning."

But this is the same Democrat Left that abhors traditional Christian religion, and regularly dumps the vilest of epithets upon it, while remaining silent to the current events in other religions, such as Islam, where daily atrocities occur that make any problems with Christianity pale in comparison.

Is theocracy then the solution? You say, "Beware of political promises that mimic the promises of Christ". But government is power that we grant over all of us. Is the solution then to be a theocracy? Or do we accept religious divisions, and try to respect religious differences under a common frame of law that respects religious differences?

And what do you do when the religious differences are so wide that, in Islam, for example, a woman can be buried chest deep in soil and stoned to death while the man walks free? (Or the midler case of our USA 1950's where the pregnant teenage girl is utterly humiliated via total social ostracization while her impregnator teenage boyfriend walks away from the situation relatively scot-free unless her relatives arrange a shotgun wedding).

Unity... disunity... rule of law...

Theocracy... secularism... respect for religious principles, especially those that founded our very culture and nation... hatred of Christianity itself... I wish I could figure out the answers for our muddled country America of this day.

David C. Innes said...

Anonymous, I would like to address these questions when I have more time. You misunderstand what I am saying about the rpomises of Christ which are spiritual and eschatological.

And by the way, who is Pacificus? How did that come up?