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


  • As a practical earth scientist and landscape change agent , it is clear the public debate is using science as a suspect lever for a non science agenda . Respecting science and the actions which follow from one developing consensus to another ( warming9 clause 1 – co2-non c02 ———clause 52 etc ) would mean full list of questions published. ( where?) ,Beyondism may help focus on this and other false methodologies and themes.
    Sus science , by short circuiting the proper checks and balances, will in time produce a plethora of mistaken action agendas that could cost the earth !!!! ( If Gore was serious he would stop the bleeding !) . Here in Australia , the climate change debate has divided evangelicals and other” God botherers” .

  • I have a “beyondist” program for you. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC, is placing millions, eventually hundreds of millions of computers in classrooms around the world. This will give the hungry and sick children of the poor access to all the educational riches of the Internet (along with a lot of other stuff that I won’t go into now), and will give them, their families, and their communities access to markets, market information, and the production and distribution technologies of e-commerce. (See any textbook of Microeconomics, aka Welfare Economics, on the importance of these factors to efficient markets and optimal use of resources, including people).

    The intention is to allow the children in the next generation to put an end to extreme poverty in participating countries, at a profit to all concerned. Education qualifies children for jobs; specific kinds of education that we can provide online would qualify them to start businesses.

    Ending poverty appeals to the Left; doing it at a profit should appeal to the Right. That the right hasn’t yet noticed this opportunity does not argue against the essential “beyondness” of the program. It is, after all, an unheard-of novelty in the world, the largest education, economic development, health, human rights, etc. etc. program in history. Something, indeed, new under the sun, so that the poor we may not always have with us.

  • John

    Hi, Im from Melbourne.
    The trouble with Bottum and the FT crowd is that think that they proprietary ownership on “truth”—which of course just aint so.
    about quite literaly everything.

    Please check out these profoundly conservative (but not right wing) essays on religion, culture & politics.