Wisdom For a Polarized America: A Pre-Election Long-term Perspective on Two Similar Liberal Ideologies

David Koyzis lives and writes from his home in Hamliton, Ontario, Canada, which is a long way from his motherland, the island of Cyprus.

David Koyzis is one of our Global Scholars, with over three decades of teaching and research in the intersection of political science and the Christian faith—in particular a reformational philosophical approach to that cultural nexus. He aims through his speaking and writing to expose the idolatrous nature of political ideologies, affirm the role of authority in human flourishing, and demonstrate the important connections between cultures and institutions. He is currently developing significant connections in Brazil, Pakistan, Ukraine, Indonesia, Germany, Finland, and elsewhere, and its because thinkers and leaders there see the value of the Christian faith for their national welfare–and that Koyzis’ research offers some clarity and hope in such application.

The foundation for his work is laid out in his two seminal works Political Visions and Illusions (InterVarsity Press, 2019) and We Answer to Another (Pickwick Publications, 2014). The ideas expressed in these books offer entry into a long-standing school of thought that can be applied to investigations of all kinds of political groups and parties, especially in the West.

Koyzis recently wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition that gives some background to the ideologies that are currently being contested in the upcoming American election. While we are a Canadian organization, we are enormously affected by what happens in the geographically smaller but politically, economically and militarily exponentially more powerful country to the south of us, as I have explained in more detail elsewhere on this blog. Now, as one colleague said to me, “America is burning” and we need to discern the moment through the flames—the flames of passion as well as of wild fires and protests.

Koyzis offers a cogent big picture context to the on-going American drama—with a sharp and deep Christian perspective—that is especially urgent right now. We need to rise above the sound bites, provocative gestures and political manoeuvring and see the United States—as much as we can—in the long historical perspective, and as is increasingly important, in the context of a globalized planet. In a nutshell, he says what looks like two opposing and increasingly polarized parties, actually reveals two quite similar ideological perspectives–both liberal, voluntarist, and appealing to the individualist worldview David Brooks has called “The Big Me.”

Here is an excerpt from the article:

With the demise of the Democratic South, the Democrats became home to a certain brand of progressives—to those wishing to expand the individual right to choose, full stop. Under the choice-enhancement state, the apparatus of government continually expands to enable individual choice, but at the expense of non-state communities with more traditional standards of life and behavior . . . .

The Republicans have similarly taken the libertarian element to the nth degree, focusing especially on economic life and the market. Generally skeptical of government regulations, many people in the party seek to unleash what they see as the economic dynamism of the American people, liberated from the heavy hand of government bureaucracy. They’re not departing from the liberal tradition, but they’re attempting to turn back the clock in its development, embracing either the night-watchman state or a modest form of the regulatory state. As long as they persist in affirming an individualistic approach to society, they will continue to facilitate the very conditions that produced the expansive state in the first place, as Patrick Deneen has persuasively argued: “Individualism and statism advance together, always mutually supportive, and always at the expense of lived and vital relations that stand in contrast to both the starkness of the autonomous individual and the abstraction of our membership in the state.”

Early and late forms of liberalism try to extend the voluntary principle into as many communities as possible, including such basic institutions as marriage, family, church, and the state itself, little comprehending that it can’t be stretched indefinitely. In the Republican Party, this takes the form of an effort to pattern society after the economic marketplace.

You can access the rest of the article here.

Let me commend Koyzis’ blog “Notes from a Byzantine Calvinist” which currently features David Brooks’ insight that the USA is going through a period of “moral convulsion.” Koyzis’ blog has been rated in the top five of Calvinist Websites here. David also has a YouTube channel and a Facebook page worth perusing.

Consider what preacher and author Rev. Tim Keller has said about Koyzis’ foundational work and its current relevance to the state of the American union: “Definitely the best book I’ve read on the current state of political thinking happening among evangelicals in 2020. Evangelicals fused social thinking to political ideology giving themselves over to at least four major ideologies, none of them biblical.”

Dr. Koyzis is an independent scholar, giving his time and expertise to many because he believes he has a vocation in this research, writing, and speaking. Consider him an academic missionary to the world of politics, ideas, and faith. Support Dr. Koyzis’ important and influential work with your donations here–either giving directly to him or by giving to our GSC office that supports him and many more like him. Both gifts are—appropriate to this article—tax-deductible in the US and in Canada!


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