The real problem with political liberalism

"Near the beginning of the book, Tuininga takes brief notice of recent theological critiques of liberalism, but it’s not clear he has grasped the objections. He defines liberal democracy as a system of representative, democratic government erected to protect rights 'in accord with the rule of law under a system of checks and balances that includes the separation of church and state.' Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

"Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her . . . own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith."

Peter Leithart. Apart from whether his treatment of Tuininga's book is accurate or fair—seeing the name, I recall that he was a T.A. for one of my classes at Emory, working on the dissertation that became this book—Leithart's articulation of the actual substantive issues operative in a Christian critique of political liberalism is as succinct and clear as it gets.


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