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The Need for Counter-Majoritarian Makeweights

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Royal Coat of Arms of the NetherlandsDrawing on some themes I explore about the role of the church in providing material assistance in Get Your Hands Dirty, today at Political Theology Today I look at the first parliamentary speech of the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

In “The Dutch King’s Speech,” I argue that the largely ceremonial and even constitutionally-limited monarchy has something to offer modern democratic polities, in that it provides a forum for public leadership that is not directly dependent on popular electoral support. In the Dutch case, the king broached the largely unpopular subject of fundamentally reforming the social democratic welfare state.

This is in rather sharp contrast to the social witness of the mainline of Dutch church leaders, at least over the last few decades. But the churches, too, have a role in acting as makeweights against democratic majoritarian tyranny.

There is no perfect civil polity this side of eternity, which must be acknowledged consists of a divine monarchy. So each system has its faults. This is one reason that so many classical and Christian theorists have often favored a mixed polity of sorts, intended to ameliorate the faults of any single system. Thus, writes Calvin in his Institutes (4.20.8), “I will not deny that aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy, far excels all others.”

In the United States, where we don’t have the benefit of even a ceremonial monarchy, the original system included significant counter-majoritarian makeweights, notably including the electoral college and the indirect election of US senators. Many of these constitutional strictures have either been eliminated or continue to come under democratic populist critique. As Lord Acton once observed, “It is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy…were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.” Indeed, he says, “Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

As the Dutch king’s speech, the social witness of Christian churches, and the counter-majoritarian aspects of the US Constitution make clear, there is a need for checks on the will of the majority in a democratic order.

Long live the king!

Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action)

Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action)

Addressing topics ranging from the family to work, politics, and the church, Jordan J. Ballor shows how the Christian faith calls us to get involved deeply and meaningfully in the messiness of the world. Drawing upon theologians and thinkers from across the great scope of the Christian tradition, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and engaging a variety of current figures and cultural phenomena, these essays connect the timeless insights of the Christian faith to the pressing challenges of contemporary life.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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