“When the value-bearing institutions of religion and culture are excluded, the value-laden concerns of human life flows back into the square under the politics of politics,” wrote Richard John Neuhaus, “It is much like trying to sweep a puddle of water on an even basement floor; the water immediately flows back into the space you had cleaned.”Although he made the comment thirty-two years ago, the late Fr. Neuhaus could be describing the current election season.
While there is much that could be said about how and why we allowed our “value-bearing institutions” to fall into disrepair, for now I merely want to discuss what has replaced them. Everything is now about politics and all politics is now about liberalism.
As David Koyzis notes in his superb study of ideologies, Political Visions and Illusions, the first and most basic principle of liberalism is that everyone possesses property in their own person and must be free to govern themselves in accordance with their own choices, provided that these choices do not infringe on the equal right of others to do the same.
Whether they call themselves a progressive, libertarian, or conservative, almost every politically involved American (and most who are not) subscribes to this foundational belief in the near-absolute sovereignty of the individual. The differences in political persuasions derive not from a denunciation of this principle but merely from disagreements over the role of the state in relation to the individual.
In his chapter on liberalism, Koyzis states that the ideology progresses through five distinct stages. While it is difficult to adequately summarize his explanation, the stages could roughly be outlined as follows: