Posts tagged with: power

kuyper-2-pro-rege“A human kingship imperceptibly came to power, leaving no place for the kingship of Christ.” –Abraham Kuyper

The West prides itself on valuing freedom – political, economic, religious, and otherwise. For some, this leads to the promotion of a certain brand of libertinism: the freedom to do what we want. For others, such as Lord Acton, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

For the Christian in particular, true freedom is more than a little paradoxical, involving plenty of constraints and restraints. We know that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” and yet, in keeping with the upside-down economics of the Gospel – “the first shall be last,” “those who lose their life will find it” – it comes with prepackaged with calls to servanthood and obedience. These are good hints that true freedom may have less to do with nitpicking over “choice” and “constraint” and more to do with accurately recognizing the image of God we bear and the responsibility it entails.

In seasons of pain and frustration, the notion tends to feel more clear and less paradoxical, of course. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,” the Psalmist sings. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

This is the sound of freedom through dependence, and it’s one that Christians are well familiar with. But it’s a song we also tend to forget and neglect. (more…)

rules“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the most famous quote by the English Catholic historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton. But what exactly did he mean by it?

That particular quote comes from a letter to Bishop Creighton in which Lord Acton explains that historians should condemn murder, theft, and violence whether committed by an individual, the state, or the Church. Here is the context:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. s, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.

Lord Acton is saying that rather than excuse “great men” because of the burdens placed upon them by their office or authority, we should judge them even more harshly than we would actions of the common man or woman. It’s ironic that Acton had to tell this to a bishop since the Bible has quite a lot to say about abuse of power. Yet even Christian tend to think that we are immune to the temptations of power and that if we were give more authority we wouldn’t abuse it.
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cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

This year will deliver major superhero ensemble films that provide alternative views of the limitations and proper exercise of power. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered this spring to uneven reviews, and Captain America: Civil War is due out later this summer. As Charlie Jane Anders has observed, these films offer a noteworthy message to our contemporary situation. “These films are all about a man with superpowers and colorful clothes, and the question of whether he (and his friends, in Civil War) have too much power and too little accountability,” writes Anders.
batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justiceThe differences that promise to be on offer between the DC and Marvel explorations of power and its limits have something to teach us about the vigilance required of those in power. In the DC universe, Batman worries about the corruption of Superman and the dangers represented abuse of superpowers. If there is even the slightest chance that Superman might be corrupted and turn evil, opines the Dark Knight, then we have to assume that as an absolute certainty and take steps, however harsh, to mitigate the threat and neutralize the risk.
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lesmis4

Jean Valjean in “Ep. 4: The Economy of Order”

“Seeking justice isn’t a matter of designing the right programs or delivery systems… Seeking order means acting in accord with a true vision of our brothers and sisters.” –Evan Koons

American society and public discourse seem to be stuck in a state of feverish discord, rightly concerned with severe acts and systems of injustice, even as we continue to dig deeper cultural divides over everything from healthcare to sexual ethics, race relations to religious liberty, immigration to foreign policy.

As Evan Koons asks in Episode 4 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles: “How are we to operate with so much hurt, so much dysfunction in the world? What hope is there for justice?”

When we consider the Economy of Order, it can be intimidating to even think about enacting change. Government, policy, and the big bureaucratic food chain that supports it all don’t necessarily tend  toward inspiring optimism, patience, and trust. (more…)

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

cruz controlThere is little doubt that we will see more Sen. Ted Cruz like broadsides against Washington’s power structure. Obamacare might be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to ceding power to Washington. A point that was made Ad nauseum during Cruz’s 20 hour plus talk fest on the Senate floor is that what he did matters little. Nothing would change from a legislative or a procedural standpoint. While I think that’s true for the short term, the credibility of the Republican leadership in the Senate may have taken a fatal blow. To see what that means for those fighting for conservatism and limited government check out Matt Walsh’s excellent post on National Review Online.

It was a definitive moment for the triumph of principle and that imagery matters not just to liberalism or the statist but for conservatism too. Every battle against collectivism doesn’t require an immediate victory but it does require a victory for principle. Most Americans know the federal government is broken. They sense there is something fundamentally wrong with the political leadership and the direction of the country. Despite America’s culture of escapism through entertainment, there are still millions of people paying attention. They don’t want to become what Alexis de Tocqueville warned in Democracy in America, as nothing more than “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Political infighting and procedure aside, the larger point is an important one. We are increasingly arriving at the point where we will see more and more public show downs against the federal government by those constituencies that know it is broken, out of touch, and corrupt. The result of more and more centralization and federal control over our lives inevitably exacts push back.

Walsh’s point at NRO is that the Republican leadership in the Senate is just the first victim of the grassroots broadside. It will be interesting to see how the battle over power plays out and the biggest obstacle indeed is the secularism of society. Secular cultures demand centralization and planning in their futile attempt to perfect society. And while the federal government continues to expand in its already bloated form, it does so with great risk. More and more people will take notice and the bigger it is, the harder the entrenched power structure could come crashing down.

Democracy In America

Democracy In America

In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat and ambitious civil servant, made a nine-month journey throughout America. The result was Democracy in America, a monumental study of the life and institutions of the evolving nation.