Acton Institute Powerblog

Talking around the turkey: pre-political blessings

Talking politics around the turkey can turn November 26th from a joyful celebration to a daunting day. While the laughing family, gleaming silverware, or perfectly cooked turkey of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting is our ideal, reality sometimes looks very different. Advice for how to navigate the day varies from “fight with your family” to tips on how to avoid politics altogether. As I have noted before, part of the difficulty to navigating conversation is that politics has invaded so much of our lives. Apolitical topics seem more and more difficult to find. What are blessings we share that precede our political differences? To overcome the political impasse, we can use the concept of pre-political blessings.

To understand pre-political blessings, we can first examine pre-political rights, also known as natural rights. These rights were articulated by liberal philosophers such as John Locke. They are rights that flow naturally from the fact that each person is created by God and has inherent dignity. Because the human person reflects the image of God, he or she has certain rights regardless of whether they are recognized by a government. Pre-political rights – which are clearly articulated in the Declaration of Independence as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – can neither be granted nor taken away by a government. The state can only choose whether or not to protect these rights.

Likewise, pre-political blessings flow directly from our immediate connections; family, work, and faith are all blessings that we experience which exist independent of the establishment of government. Family creates joy and meaning in our everyday lives, the oldest existing institution and the most immediate form of community. There is a natural connection between husband and wife, and parent and child. Although a moral or amoral government can erode or support these connections, they do not rely on government authority for their legitimacy.

At the dinner table this year, perhaps you can try discussing these pre-political blessings. Other pre-political blessings to discuss are work and faith. This gets around the usual problem of either ignoring politics or engaging in abrasive arguments. On the one hand, ignoring politics altogether restricts so many interesting conversations you might have. On the other hand, you do not want to risk estranging your loved ones. Instead, talk about family, how it brings joy to your life. Discuss what is meaningful about your work. Likewise, faith is another blessing that brings purpose and meaning. In this climate, it might be easier to talk about religion than politics. Finding common ground will create productive and healthy conversation. What are other blessings in your family that transcend our daily discussions around politics?

Noah Gould

Noah is a Programs Associate at the Acton Institute where he regularly contributes to the blog and Religion and Liberty. He is a graduate of Grove City College, where he studied Economics.