The Bible does not articulate a normative Christian political program or a detailed set of policy preferences. Yet, it provides a set of basic beliefs, arising from its narrative of the world, from which we can critique political ideologies and public policies.
And critique we must.
Thus, as I was re-reading J. Budziszewski’s The Revenge of Conscience and came upon his critique of political progressivism, I thought it helpful to summarize his enumeration of progressive “sins.” With the list, he intends to address the deep intellectual roots (warped ideology), and not merely the negative fruits (e.g. abortion), of progressivism.
Budziszewski uses the word “liberalism” more often than “progressivism” but makes clear that the variety of liberalism he is critiquing is progressivism. Here is the list of nine critiques, with minimal commentary on my part (given that I’ve recently written critiques of liberalism and progressivism):
- Propitiationism: Christianity asks us to do unto others according to their needs, but progressivism replaces needs with wants. It reinforces and enables public fighting for money, government preference, and social esteem (e.g. same-sex marriage). If a unwed mother wants to marry the government instead of a man, the liberals will always find a way to let her.
- Expropriationism: This is Robin Hood fallacy in which we take from some to help others. In this type of politics, those with power take wealth by force and give it to whomever they wish. Although it is not inherently wrong for government to tax, still taxation should only be for causes such as punishing wrongdoers and commending right doers (1 Pet 2:13-14).
- Solipsism: This is the error of thinking that humans are essentially self-creating beings who belong to themselves. Historically, not all liberals believed this. John Locke, for example, roots human dignity in our creation by God. But others, such as Kant, argue that each individual is an end in himself.
- Absolutionism: Political progressivism doesn’t want to blame people for breaking the moral law. Instead, it wants to give them an excuse. It wants either to say they can’t help it for some reason or to question the moral law itself. Although often this absolutionism is a misguided attempt at mercy, in the end it is cruel because it reinforces sin tendencies and thus encourages people to circumvent the mercy that comes from God when we ask his forgiveness.
- Perfectionism: Progressivism tends to underestimate the evil embedded in the human heart, and to overestimate human ability to cure that evil. In response Christianity declares that we humans sin, we think wrongly, and we cannot fix ourselves through progressive education or progressive social revolutions. “We might as well expect a surgeon to sew his severed hands back on.” (11)
- Universalism: Progressives tend to view the divisions among humanity as either unreal or unimportant. They think we all want the same thing, all seek the same God, etc. But the divisions are real.
- Neutralism: Progressivism promotes a type of tolerance in which we suspend judgment about good and evil. Progressives ask us to avoid having strong convictions, except for the convictions they deem good. In other words, it cannot be practiced consistently. It attempts to absolve itself from responsibility for decisions (e.g. “I am not pro-abortion, I am pro-choice.”)
- Collectivism: Progressives tend to think that a child needs the state more than it needs a family. But there is a reason why, historically, societies have trusted most families to raise their own children. Family is more fundamental than government. Family has a closer harmony of interests among its members than the state does. The state, therefore, should only intervene to restrain abuse or wickedness; it should not try to fulfill the functions of the family.
- Desperate Gestures: Progressives often commit the fallacy of desperate gestures. Budziszewski writes, “People do wrong, and I have to do something. People are unhappy, and I have to do something. People are foolish, and I have to do something. I will absolve them. I will give them things. I will take their children. At last we come to the ninth and most mysterious moral error of political liberalism: the fallacy of desperate gestures…The desperationist acts to relieve his own: the pain of pity, the pain of impotence, the pain of indignation. He is like a man who beats on a foggy television screen with a pipe wrench, not because the wrench will fix the picture but because it is handy and feels good to use.”
I agree with Budziszewski that political liberalism, especially in its progressive form, is a welter of profound anthropological and moral errors, with political consequences that become more and more devastating as the internal logic of these errors are applied more and more consistently in our society.
More importantly, I agree with his concluding encouragement: “All we can do is keep up the critique which is in the gospel, and in the meantime go on being Christians: our eyes lifted up not to the spectacular idol of political salvation, but to the Cross. Let those who will, call this doing nothing; we know better” (105).