Acton Institute Powerblog

Enough Religious “Beyondism”

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John Armstrong’s thoughtful post below reminds me of the critiques of Jim Wallis offered in this space, here, here, and here (by Armstrong himself).

And over at FirstThings today, Joseph Bottum, courtesy of David Brooks, gives me a term that I hadn’t encountered and that serves well as a moniker for the phenomenon Wallis embodies: “beyondism.” As in the effort (or rather the claim) to “get beyond” partisan polemics. As Bottum astutely observes, the program of the beyondist usually can be summed up thus: “The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me.”

Now there’s a sense in which I’m in favor of beyondism, meaning two sides coming to agreement so as to progress toward a shared goal. The key point is that those in favor of a given policy must accomplish two things: articulate the desired end in a way that shows that both sides are striving for a common goal; and convince opponents that the policy in question will better achieve progress toward that goal than the alternatives. The problem with beyondists is that they attempt to short-circuit this process by ignoring the imperative to demonstrate the superiority of their advocated policy and, instead, try to achieve consensus (or at least neutralize opponents) by rhetorical flourish—i.e., “My program takes us beyond the old divide of right and left.”

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of