09 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 9: Cyprus

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located off the coast where Asia Minor turns into the Levant. It has been a crossroads of virtually all the imperial powers in the region, having been controlled successively by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Lusignan dynasty, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the British, before receiving independence in 1960 as a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. The population of Cyprus is overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, with the Greek presence in the island dating back nearly 3,000 years. The population has, of course, fluctuated over the centuries and is currently estimated to stand at just over 1 million. Around half a century ago, the island had around 650,000 people of whom 80 percent were Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian, and just under 20 percent Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslim. The Turkish-Cypriot community was a remnant of the centuries of Ottoman occupation between 1571 and 1878.

In 1878 Great Britain received administrative control over Cyprus as part of the settlement that ended the Russo-Turkish war of the previous year. The first British colonial high commissioner was Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), who had put down the Red River rebellion in Canada nearly a decade earlier. From 1878 until 1914, the island's residents remained nominal subjects of the Ottoman Sultan, but when Britain entered the Great War against Turkey, she annexed it outright, lest its residents be considered enemy aliens. Cyprus became a Crown colony in 1925. My father was born there three years later and grew up in the Greek Orthodox community, although he had Turkish Cypriot friends, including a boy born exactly one year after he was. This man remained one of his best friends throughout their long lives.

06 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 8: Canada

Ordinarily we wouldn't think of placing Canada in the category of consociational arrangements, and for the most part we'd be right. The Westminster system of cabinet government seems tailor-made for a polity characterized by a high degree of internal homogeneity, which Canada obviously is not. The current British system, on which Canada's is based, developed gradually over the course of many centuries without the guidance of a constitutional document but under the accumulated deposit of a large number of statutory instruments, including the following:

  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • Petition of Right (1628)
  • Habeas Corpus Act (1679)
  • Bill of Rights (1689)
  • Act of Settlement (1701)
  • Reform Act (1832)
  • Various acts expanding the franchise (1867, 1884, 1928)
  • Life Peerages Act (1958)
  • Scotland Act (1998)
  • House of Lords Act (1999)

05 April 2021

England and the 'peculiar institution'

Recently I read an abridged volume of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, which were published between 1765 and 1769 in four books, titled Of the Rights of Persons, Of the Rights of Things, Of Private Wrongs, and Of Public Wrongs. Blackstone's Commentaries were hugely influential on the American founders, who drew on his analyses as they were establishing their new federal republic in North America. (Blackstone appears to have been less influential in Canada. I find only two references to him in the parliamentary debates leading up to Confederation in 1867, and one of these is negative.) Yet one area in which Blackstone was not followed consistently was on slavery.

01 April 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 7: Belgium

These days when we hear of Brussels, we think, not of the kingdom of Belgium of which it is the capital city, but of the European Union and its institutions, many of which are located here. When Europeans complain about Brussels, they generally have in mind faceless "Eurocrats" whose decisions are often seen as needlessly interfering with their lives and livelihoods. But Belgium as a country, so often overshadowed by its better-known capital city, merits examination as an historical example of consociationalism, and one whose character has shifted over the past century, as language has come to supplant religion and ideology as the principal line of cleavage in its divided populace.

Belgium became independent almost by accident. For centuries its fate was tied to that of the remainder of the lowlands of northwestern Europe, a part of the Holy Roman Empire that passed into the hands of Spain in 1556. While the Dutch revolt beginning in 1568 sent shock waves throughout these provinces, the Spanish Habsburgs under Philip II managed to retain control of the southern provinces, cut almost in two by the episcopal principality of Liège, a collection of ecclesiastical lands over which the Bishop of Liège exercised political rule. In 1714 the Spanish Netherlands passed into the hands of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, who retained control until they were dislodged by the French Revolution.

30 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 6: Lebanon

The Middle East, at one time called the Near East, has been politically unstable for just over a century, when the victors in the Great War divided the territory of the former Ottoman Empire between them. France and Great Britain were the principal parties to this division, with the former receiving Syria and the latter receiving Palestine and Mesopotamia. The borders were artificial and did not correspond to the boundaries between the various communities in the region. Britain set up Iraq (southern Mesopotamia) and the Trans-Jordan as monarchies under the Hashemite dynasty. 

For its part France divided the former Ottoman province of Syria into two, with the southern coastal area, with its Christian majority, designated as Lebanon, or the Lebanon, as it was often referred to in English. France deliberately separated Lebanon from the remainder of Syria to accommodate this Christian population, who would otherwise have been a minority in a greater Syria. Christian communities survived in Lebanon because of their relative isolation in its higher-elevation topography. Nevertheless, Lebanon had a substantial Muslim minority who were more oriented towards their co-religionists in neighbouring Syria than to the west. For them the division of Syria seemed arbitrary and artificial.

26 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 5: the Netherlands

In the first four instalments of this series, we explored some of the principal characteristics of power-sharing in a divided polity, which collectively are often called consociational. I noted that there is no single form of consociational arrangement but that all are intended to facilitate co-operation among leaders of sharply divided communities for proximate political purposes. Each country that has happened upon such an arrangement has its own story. Today I will focus on the Netherlands.

25 March 2021

Our Need for a Creed

Kuyperian Commentary has published my article, Our Need for a Creed. The occasion for my writing this was our congregation singing a hymn not usually sung in churches standing in the Reformed tradition: "My faith has found a resting place, Not in device nor creed," which suggests that there is something wrong with creedal statements. An excerpt:

The most ecumenical of our creeds, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, was compiled in the heat of controversy over the person of Christ and the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the 4th century, when on two occasions the bishops of the church were assembled, following the precedent established in Acts 15, to settle the issues at stake. The result was a creed that is binding on both eastern and western churches. Originally expressed in the first-person-plural—”We believe in one God”—it was later modified to speak in the first-person-singular: “I believe in one God . . . .” But whether in the plural or the singular, it expresses beautifully the faith of a community. Adhering to this faith is not only a sign of inclusion, as some might express it today. It is a matter of life and death, as the pseudo-Athanasian creed tells us: “This is the catholic faith: one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.” To stray beyond the boundaries of the faith is to place oneself in peril. Thus the need for a creed.

Read the entire article here.

The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community

Cateclesia Forum has just published my essay, The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community. An excerpt:

We live in an age when there is an unprecedented amount of information bombarding us from all directions. With computer technology’s great leap forward in the 1980s and ’90s, our social networks have expanded exponentially, keeping us in constant contact with friends, family, and co-workers around the world. This interconnectedness has refashioned our notion of community, bursting through the old geographical limits that once circumscribed our social circles.

But what has this done to our lives as members of specific communities? If our loyalties are more diffuse than ever before, and if each of us can in effect create his or her own community, how has this affected, for example, the political bonds of solidarity that hold citizens together in a public legal community ordered to doing justice? What, further, is this doing to the church institution?

Read the entire article here.

22 March 2021

City planning: Paris in Chicago

When I was a child, I fancied myself becoming an architect or a city planner and nurtured this ambition right up until my first year in high school. Growing up near Chicago, I was fascinated by this city's many cultural attractions, of which the Art Institute in particular stands out. Around 1850, when my 4th great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Nancy (Bridgeman) Davis moved from North Carolina to Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, along the Ohio River across from Kentucky, Americans thought that the centre of population growth in Illinois would be along the Rivers in the southern part of the state. At the time Chicago was a village of some 30,000 people along Lake Michigan in the far north.

19 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 4: what is to be done? continued

In last Friday's post I outlined four initial characteristics of a consociational political arrangement. These are 1. Executive power-sharing or grand coalitions; 2. Balanced executive-legislative relations, semi-separation of powers; 3. Balanced bicameralism & minority representation; and 4. Multi-party system. Now we move on to numbers 5 and 8 which will fill out the principal characteristics of a political arrangement based on power-sharing among potentially antagonistic communities.

12 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 3: what is to be done?

In my previous posts I discussed the role that various consociational mechanisms have played in allowing potentially hostile subcultures to live together under the same political system. In my last post I mentioned four broad characteristics conducive to this co-existence: (1) élite accommodation, (2) mutual veto or concurrent majority, (3) proportionality in representation,  and (4) segmental autonomy. Now it's time to unpack these further into eight categories, which are useful as we compare them to the majoritarian principles employed in most English-speaking democracies, including Canada and the United States. These eight characteristics, four of which we shall look at today are based on empirical observation, but they might also be said to constitute an agenda for allowing potentially antagonistic subcultures to live together in peace. It might not fit well on a placard, and it doesn't lend itself to easy sloganeering, but it may be time to move beyond that.

10 March 2021

Canada's Crown: more than a symbol

Following the explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier in the week, Canadians and citizens of other Commonwealth realms may be rethinking their ties to the Crown. After a royal scandal, we can almost always count on someone, usually at The Toronto Star, to write an op-ed piece advocating that we scrap the monarchy and adopt an elected head of state. Thus it is refreshing to read this analysis at CBC News by Aaron Wherry: Time for Canada to retire the Queen? It's not that simple. An excerpt:

Any move to cut ties with the monarchy would, for instance, likely bring with it renewed calls for an elected head of state. That might seem like the sort of thing any respectable nation should have in 2021. But the possible future implications for the rest of Canada's political system should not be ignored.

09 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 2: the features of power-sharing

The late British political scientist Sir Bernard Crick (1929-2008) famously wrote that politics is all about the peaceful conciliation of diversity in a particular unit of rule. "Politics arises from accepting the fact of the simultaneous existence of different groups, hence different interests and different traditions, within a territorial unit under a common rule." It represents "at least some tolerance of differing truths, some recognition that government is possible, indeed best conducted, amid the open canvassing of rival interests." Totalitarian regimes pretend that a single interest characterizes entire societies and treats those failing to conform to it as enemies of the state. But ordinary politics presupposes diversity and formulates ways to address it rather than to suppress it.

08 March 2021

A Creed for troubled times

Christian Courier carries my monthly column in its new issue: A creed for troubled times: Proclaiming the resurrection amidst lockdowns and political tension. An excerpt:

Throughout the world many Christians recite or chant on a weekly basis the ancient Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, with these familiar closing lines: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When repeated so frequently, it is easy to neglect their inner meaning. Yet the words enter our hearts in a subconscious way, available to us when we need them.

And now, of all times, we definitely need them. The past year has been difficult for so many people. We long ago tired of the imposed (necessary) lockdowns. Tensions have boiled over into violence in the United States, Russia, and even the otherwise peaceful Netherlands. Existing societal divisions have been exacerbated by the need for physical distancing. More than two million people have died from COVID-19, and some of these deaths have touched family and friends. . . .

During these troubled times, the message of Easter takes on deeper meaning. In 12 years, we will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection, by far the most significant events in human history. For just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so he has promised that we too shall be raised at the last day. This is something that I am taking great comfort in after seeing so much adversity in so many people’s lives.

Read the entire column here.

Robert J. Bernhardt (1940-2021)

Our good friend Robert J. Bernhardt, an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, has died in the hope of the resurrection. His obituary can be found here: Rev. Dr. Robert James Bernhardt "Dr. Bob". I had known Bob for more than thirty years, and I had one of his daughters in my Canadian politics class the first time I taught it. Our family were for a short time parishioners of his at Chalmers Presbyterian Church here in Hamilton. Our condolences go to his family, especially his wife Jan, their three daughters and their families. We look forward to meeting again at the resurrection of the righteous.

05 March 2021

Dampening the culture wars, 1: how to get along while agreeing to disagree

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, France became a divided polity with one half of the country favouring its legacy of republicanism and secularism, and the other half retaining its loyalty to its older traditions of monarchy and Roman Catholic Christianity. Over the next nearly two centuries, France lurched back and forth between republican rule and two varieties of monarchical rule exemplified by the Bourbon-Orleanist kings and the Bonapart emperors. Altogether there were five republics, two monarchies, two empires, the Paris Commune, and the collaborationist Vichy régime of Marshal Philippe Pétain. During this unstable era, France suffered a series of military defeats in 1815, 1871, 1940, 1954, and 1962, and endured a succession of paper constitutions which, according to one observer, amounted to little more than "periodical literature." Other European countries were affected by a similar cleavage, as seen, for example, in Bismarck's Kulturkampf in imperial Germany and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

However, a few countries, while similarly divided, were spared the worst effects of this cleavage. Here the leaders of the different communities learned to co-operate for political and other common purposes, even as their respective constituents remained separated within their own communities. No longer was each side attempting to defeat the others and to gain power at their expense. Rather, they formulated ways of sharing power at the higher levels while tolerating a wide scope of diversity on the ground. Catholics, Protestants, liberals, and socialists maintained their own distinctive institutions, ranging from fraternal societies, schools, business enterprises, labour unions, artists co-operatives, and charitable foundations to print and electronic media and political parties. In short, the communities' leaders had come up with a way, in effect, to live and let live, permitting a high degree of communal autonomy so that one community would not feel oppressed by the others. Political mechanisms—some constitutional, others statutory, and still others merely conventional—were established to maintain a precarious balance among the several communities, often based on grand coalitions among several political parties, coupled with qualified majority requirements for the most significant of policy issues.

02 March 2021

Academic freedom in crisis? Towards genuine educational pluriformity

This is an important study: Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, undertaken by the very new Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI). According to its website, "The Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI) was formed in 2020 to help support research into underexplored ideas in political psychology and the social sciences. With the rise of populism, increasing polarization, and identity-based movements across the world, there has rarely been a better time to study these topics." So what are the findings of this new study? This is from the executive summary:

26 February 2021

Dois livros recebidos

Esta semana eu recebi dois livros de Editora Monergismo, Brasília: Thiago Moreira, Abraham Kuyper e as Bases para uma Teologia Pública (2020) e Derek C. Schuurman, Moldando um Mundo Digital: Fé, Cultura e Tecnologia Computacional (2019). Schuurman é um bom amigo meu, e eu tive o privilégio de escrever o prefácio para o livro dele.

Trent University Conservative Club

Last evening I was privileged to speak remotely to the Trent University Conservative Club at the invitation of a former student currently enrolled there. Trent University is in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. I spoke on the subject of "How Socialism Suppresses Society," on which I have spoken before elsewhere. The gist of my argument is that, while socialists rightly esteem communal ownership of property, they err in three ways: (1) they see it as the solution to the so-called social question, that is, the age-old existence of poverty; (2) they fail to recognize that communal ownership of property already exists, and in multiple forms; and (3) they seek to consolidate all of these into a single form, which generally leads to state absolutism, especially in its Marxist-Leninist version.

Here is an earlier version of this talk which I delivered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. Naturally last evening's version was adapted to a different audience, but the substance was the same. This one includes Portuguese subtitles for my Brazilian readers.

22 February 2021

February tidbits

Here are links to three articles that have come to my attention in recent weeks. All have to do with religion's influence on public life.

The American Exception: How faith shapes economic and social policy, by Benjamin M. Friedman, in the January/February 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine. Excerpt:

Because it is true that economics emerged from the Enlightenment, and because the conventional image of the Enlightenment downplays the importance attached to religion in favor of humanistic thinking, the commonplace assumption is that economics in turn likewise stands apart from religious ideas. This is not true, nor has it been, ever since the inception of economics as a modern intellectual discipline. Taking account of the influence of religious thinking is essential to a full understanding of one of the great areas of modern human thought.

If evangelical Christians are called to live in truth, why do so many believe political conspiracies?, by Peggy Wehmeyer, in The Dallas Morning News. Excerpt:

People I know and care about still hold a shocking but unshakable belief that a deep state, involving the Supreme Court, federal judges, election officials and mainstream media, stole the White House from Donald Trump. But evangelical Christians are people who are called to live as though the truth is true, no matter the cost. I share my friends’ conservative moral values as well as their disdain for some of the progressive policies of the Democratic Party. But my fear of where President Joe Biden might take us doesn’t tempt me to swallow a web of conspiracy theories whole.

How the Civil Rights Movement Converted Liberal White Protestants to Secularism, by Daniel K. Williams, at Anxious Bench. Excerpt:

After the 1960s, mainline Protestant denominations experienced a decades-long continuous decline in membership. While the causes of the decline are complex, most analyses have pointed to one central factor: the failure of mainline Protestant churches to retain their children, first with the Baby Boomers, and then with Gen-Xers and millennials.  And while a few of these youth left mainline Protestantism for conservative evangelical or Catholic churches, most became nonreligious. Yet in many cases – especially if they pursued graduate education – they retained the progressive political commitments that some of their pastors had acquired in the civil rights movement. But now that they had the moral commitment that came from the civil rights movement, they no longer saw the need for organized religion – especially organized religion that was not quite as fervent in its social justice commitments.

18 February 2021

The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution

The Cateclesia Institute has published my review of Carl Trueman's recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution: The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution. An excerpt:

In exploring the Revolution’s architecture in part one, Trueman draws on three twentieth-century figures—Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre—whose categories he believes help us to understand recent history. Rieff, whose Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966) anticipated current trends, analyzed western history in terms of three successive worlds. The first world is pagan, and its ethic is rooted in myth, such as the predictive power ascribed to the Delphic oracle. Human beings are subject to an impersonal fate that prevents them controlling the outcomes of their lives. Man in a first-world culture is political man (Trueman, 44). The second world is characterized by faith rather than fate—a faith in a God who has revealed himself in specific ways to specific peoples. Human laws are in some sense based on the will of this God, who underpins the customs and mores of entire societies. In a second-world culture, political man gives way to religious man. Both the first and second worlds justify themselves by reference to a transcendent sacred order.

17 February 2021

Biden's Burden

The new issue of Christian Courier carries my monthly column, "Principalities & Powers," titled, Biden's Burden: Will the new American president be able to make good on his promises? An excerpt:

I’ve often said that an American president must function as both king and prime minister, and that few have played each role equally well. I believe that Biden’s address was a suitably regal speech, laudably attempting to unite a divided nation – something that his immediate predecessor seemed altogether incapable of doing. But what sort of prime minister will he make? Presidential promises to bridge divisions too often falter over the reality of divisive policies pursued in the Oval Office and in Congress. And these will inevitably hamper his efforts towards unity.

Historically Biden has been a moderate Democrat, shunning the more radical elements in his own party. But over the decades he has also shown himself to be flexible, or, to put the matter more negatively, irresolute, changing his convictions as the times and his party appear to demand. This makes Biden’s actual discharge of his duties somewhat difficult to predict. Will he expand and harden the Democrats’ non-discrimination regime, even at the expense of religious liberty? Or will he refrain from unduly interfering in the institutions of civil society and the standards they maintain as part of their core identities? How he approaches this will determine whether he is genuinely capable of reaching out to his political opponents.

Read the entire column here.

11 February 2021

Christianity and Political Life

Just over a year ago, in November 2019, I spoke at the Indonesian Reformed Evangelical Church (IREC) Trinity in Toronto, pastored by the Rev. Joshua Lie, on the subject of "Christianity and Political Life." Here is the video of my talk, which I've also posted on my RECENT ACTIVITIES page. You may need to turn up the sound to hear it.

WSJ on Catholic social teachings

On 5 February this article by Francis X. Rocca appeared in The Wall Street Journal: Can Catholic Social Teaching Unite a Divided America? Subtitle: "President Biden, Sen. [Marco] Rubio and many non-Catholic thinkers see a way forward in the church’s long tradition of public discourse, even as they disagree in interpreting it." The article is behind a pay wall, but here is a brief excerpt:

What is Catholic social teaching? And why should it matter to the nearly 80% of Americans who do not belong to the church?
A body of doctrine on law, politics and economics developed by popes since the late 19th century, Catholic social teaching has historically been more influential in Europe and Latin America than in the U.S. But some on both sides of the aisle, not all of them Catholic, say its concepts are especially needed at this fractured moment in American politics. “If you’re looking for a way to bridge differences and find some unity and healing, Catholic social teaching offers a path forward that challenges both right and left and calls us to work together for the common good,” said John Carr, a former adviser to the U.S. bishops who teaches at Georgetown University and who endorsed Mr. Biden last fall. “In a society with very few strong moral paradigms left, Catholic social thought is a well-organized tradition that has something for both left and right,” said Adrian Vermeule, a conservative professor of constitutional law at Harvard University. “Catholicism, despite or because of our polarized age, is becoming something like an organizing common language for a great deal of American public life.” . . .

10 February 2021

Schuman Talk

Yesterday Jeff Fountain interviewed me for the latest episode of Schuman Talks, under the auspices of the Schuman Centre for European Studies. Robert Schuman (1886-1963) was a French statesman born in Luxembourg and one of the founders of the European Union in the 1950s.

The Last Caravan

In November of 1950, when he was 22 years old, my father travelled with a camel caravan from Kano, Nigeria, where he was living at the time, to Timbuktu, then in French West Africa. He seems to have stayed in the latter city through January of 1951, apparently growing a beard at a time when beards were far from fashionable. Timbuktu is a fabled city at its height during western Europe's late Middle Ages, when it was a centre of learning and commerce in the heart of Islamic west Africa. Today it contains a huge number of ancient manuscripts which residents have kept safe from invaders for centuries, most recently during the troubles of the second decade of the 21st century. It's still a largely Muslim city, with its glory days behind it. But my father was determined to see it, recounting his experiences in the form of a lengthy epic poem, mostly in a very rough iambic tretrameter in 660 quatrain stanzas in English. The accompanying photograph is one he took during his trek through the Sahara.

My father died in August of last year at the good old age of 92.

09 February 2021

Order of Malta

I've long been fascinated by the Order of Malta, formally known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, because of its unusual status as a holdover from a much earlier era and its one-time connection with my father's native island of Cyprus. Established almost a thousand years ago in 1048, it was once headquartered successively in Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta. As such it functioned as a sovereign territorial entity with its own military, led by a grand master. Sovereignty over Malta ended when Napoleon captured the islands in 1798 during his Egyptian expedition. Now located in the Grand Magistral Palace, on Via Condotti in Rome, the Order of Malta still retains some of the trappings of statehood and maintains diplomatic relations with 110 states. It mints its own coins, produces its own stamps, and issues its own passports. However, without territory many would judge that it cannot be considered a state, as James Kerr-Lindsay concludes in this video:

In 2008 the Order established diplomatic relations with Canada, although the two did not exchange ambassadors as such. Canada's contact with the Order is through this country's ambassador to the Vatican.

04 February 2021

Laymen's Lounge interview

My recent conversation with Mike Wagenman has been posted at The Laymen's Lounge: Civil Society in a Time of Cultural Division. An excerpt:

I would love to see Christians and other likeminded citizens mobilize to launch a public justice movement. What would it look like? Unlike liberals and socialists, it would unequivocally affirm the institutions and communities of what collectively is often called civil society. Rather than attempt to have government solve every problem, it would recognize that a healthy society requires a variety of communal formations to function according to their respective callings. Businesses take seriously their stewardship of the limited resources of the earth. Families nurture the next generation and care for the aged. Schools educate children and youth. Churches gather people together to worship God and serve their neighbours. Labour unions protect workers in the workplace. Political parties formulate policy agendas seeking public justice and the common interest. You get the idea. Government would be less about solving problems and more about maintaining the legal space for a variety of agents—both individual and communal—to do what they do best.

Read the entire conversation here. Learn more about The Laymen's Lounge.

03 February 2021

Joseph's 'Little Bible'

My January column for Christian Courier was just posted online two days ago: Joseph's 'Little Bible'.

As I was preparing a chapel meditation on Job some weeks ago, I read a commentary that described Job’s story as a microcosm of the entire biblical redemptive narrative. It begins with an idyllic life of one of God’s servants, takes him through the darkest valleys of affliction, brings in his friends’ proposed solutions to his plight, and ends with God restoring Job’s fortunes. This prompted me to look at other examples of “little bibles” in the Scriptures, and I believe several can be found in the first book of the Bible, one of which I will explore here.

The story of Joseph always moves me emotionally when I read it, as it recounts a tale of reconciliation and forgiveness in a severely dysfunctional family. Yet it has some peculiar features which make for a complicated relationship with the larger biblical narrative. Joseph is the hero of the story. Or is he?

Read the entire article here.

02 February 2021

Cristianismo e ideologias políticas

 As minhas aulas para o Seminário Jonathan Edwards agora estão disponíveis.

Schuman Centre talk coming up

The Schuman Centre for European Studies will be hosting this online event next week. The time will be noon EST in North America. I'll be speaking with Jeff Fountain.

01 February 2021

Electoral reform at last? The case for representation

The institutions of democracy are supposed to represent the citizens' political convictions, but all too often they fail at this central task. The chief problem is that elections are more about winners and losers than about representation. And this could be exacerbating the current political crisis in the United States.

Both Canada and the United States operate according to what political scientists call a single-member-plurality (SMP) system, or what the popular media call first-past-the-post. In a single-member constituency candidates compete for one office, the winner being the one receiving the largest number, or plurality, of votes. Where three candidates are evenly matched, it is possible for one to win with only slightly more than a third of the total number of votes cast. In the last Canadian federal election in 2019, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party received 33.12 percent of the votes cast--just under a third of the total! Yet Trudeau remains prime minister leading a single-party minority government against the preferences of two-thirds of Canadian voters. That this is considered acceptable in a democratic country skirts the edges of insanity.

29 January 2021

A path away from Kant?

Someone has been reading my second book, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God: A path away from Kant? Koyzis’ provocative thesis on authority and liberty. Chris Krycho writes:

It’s early pages yet, but the idea is striking: not simply that we’ve been getting it wrong with liberalism, but quite specifically: that the key mistake of liberalism is to ground all our ideals in liberty as such rather than to see individual liberties as a proper response to the authority of a human person qua human person: that abridgements of liberties are abridgements not because liberty is itself the supreme ideal but because it is violating another’s rightful authority over her own person (an authority that itself stands under the authority of God the creator).

Every prior critical treatment of liberalism I’ve read has had a fundamental failure: it had no answer for why we should see individual liberties as goods worth preserving. Koyzis, it seems, does. . . . Color me deeply, deeply intrigued.

 Keep reading, my friend! Prospective readers can obtain We Answer to Another from the publisher or from the usual online vendors.

26 January 2021

Misreading Kuyper? Stewart, Hawley, and The New York Times

Shortly after this month's uprising in Washington, DC, journalist Catherine Stewart published this piece in The New York Times in which Abraham Kuyper's name came up: The Roots of Josh Hawley's Rage. I have just posted a response here: Misreading Kuyper? Stewart, Hawley, and The New York Times. An excerpt follows:

Enlisting Kuyper into the contemporary North American culture war has a certain plausibility, because there really are battles to be waged in the larger culture. . . . However, and this ought not to be forgotten, the antithesis between belief and unbelief does not run quite so tidily between different groups of people. Any effort to assess in a spiritually discerning way the true character of the various ideological visions and illusions on offer cannot be content to point fingers. On the contrary, we must begin within ourselves. True knowledge begins with self-knowledge, and without the latter, our efforts to remove the speck from our neighbour’s eye will be unpersuasive.

Read the entire article here.

21 January 2021

Context appearance

Last week I was interviewed by Maggie John for the programme Context which airs over Yes TV in Burlington, Ontario. The topic was the storming of the Capitol two weeks ago.

19 January 2021

Defending ordinary politics: Crick's contribution

Sir Bernard Crick
In 1962 British political scientist Bernard Crick (1929-2008) wrote a book that quickly became a classic, In Defence of Politics. Receiving a knighthood late in life for his contribution to citizenship education, Sir Bernard was a partisan of an unusual sort. A professed socialist, he was an advisor to Neil Kinnock's Labour Party in the 1980s. 

Yet he was often mistaken for a Burkean conservative, due primarily to his expressed conviction that politics is a distinctive enterprise that ought to be valued, not only for its ability to deliver desired goods, but for providing a framework in which potential opponents can work out their differences in peaceful fashion. Crick defined politics as

the activity by which differing interests within a given unit of rule are conciliated by giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and the survival of the whole community. And, to complete the formal definition, a political system is that type of government where politics proves successful in ensuring reasonable stability and order (21).

For Crick politics serves an important purpose, but one that cannot be reduced to the provision of, say, economic benefits to the greatest number of people, as many of his fellow socialists would assume. After defining politics, Crick goes on in his book to defend politics against a variety of potential threats, including ideology, democracy, nationalism, technology, and false friends such as “the anti-political socialist.”

18 January 2021

Madison's nightmare

James Madison & John Adams
This week the venerable British newsweekly, The Economist, has published an editorial drawing on two and a half millennia of political philosophy: Madison's nightmare: Political theorists have been worrying about mob rule for 2,000 years. An excerpt:

The Founding Fathers argued that democracy could avoid becoming mobocracy only if it was hedged with a series of restraints to control the power of the people. Power was divided between the branches of government to make sure that nobody wielded too much. Citizens were given extensive constitutional rights. Senators were given six-year terms to insulate them from fads. They were also initially appointed by state legislatures rather than directly elected. Supreme Court judges were appointed for life, ensuring they cannot be removed by people from other branches.
Alexis de Tocqueville added his own worries about mob rule in ‘Democracy in America’. For him the constitution alone is not strong enough to save democracy from the mob. A vigorous civic culture rooted in self-governing communities (he was particularly keen on New England’s townships) and a self-reliant and educated population are also necessary. So too is a responsible elite that recognises that its first duty is to ‘educate democracy’.

15 January 2021

Capitol Hill Insurrection

Christian Courier has published a slightly modified version of my blog post from last week: Capitol Hill Insurrection. An excerpt:

Until recently I had assumed that a political culture of respect for the rule of law was securely established in the United States, due largely to its debt to the English constitution and to the long experience of representative government extending back to colonial times. While we might expect to hear of an attempted coup d’état in Pakistan or Bolivia, we knew that it couldn’t happen here. Not in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the U.S. We’re too politically stable and our constitutional traditions too resilient for that to happen. Yet what we must learn from January 6’s events is that we can never afford take our political culture for granted.

13 January 2021

The Emperor and the Bible

Brazil is unusual among western-hemispheric nations for having begun as a constitutional monarchy, sharing this status with only Canada and a few Caribbean island states. There was no Simon Bolivar or George Washington for Brazilians. Rather the king of Portugal, Dom João VI, appointed his son Dom Pedro I, to rule Brazil in his stead while he returned the Portuguese throne to Lisbon after a period of exile during Napoleon's occupation of the Iberian peninsula. In his father's absence, Pedro declared Brazil an independent empire under his own rule in 1822. When Pedro abdicated the imperial throne in 1831, his son, Dom Pedro II, took his place and reigned for decades until he was ousted in 1889 following his abolition of slavery the previous year.

The Emperor's name comes up in this story: O imperador Dom Pedro II e seu amor pela Bíblia (Emperor Dom Pedro II and his Love for the Bible). The Emperor attended one of D. L. Moody's revival meetings in New York in 1876, responding affirmatively, but silently, to his message. This quotation has been attributed to the Emperor:

I love the Bible, I read it every day and the more I read it the more I love it. There are some who don't like the Bible. I don't understand them. I can't comprehend such people, but I love it. I love its simplicity and I love its repetitions and reiterations of the truth. As I said, I read it daily and each time I do so I like it more.

12 January 2021

Cultural dysfunction and public policy

I have a new post at Kuyperian Commentary: Cultural dysfunction and public policy. The first paragraph:

Hours before the failed insurrection of 6 January, I had finished reading J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, the young author’s absorbing autobiography of growing up in an extended Appalachian family in a failing industrial town in Ohio. Reading it prompted me to consider the unique features of specific cultures and subcultures, deeply rooted factors that make for flourishing and those that obstruct it over the long term. In recent decades we have come to assume that all cultures are equal and that the different ways of doing things that separate distinctive groups of people are equally valid. If one group suffers disproportionately from poverty and social instability, we are generally loathe to examine internal contributing factors for fear of being accused of blaming the victim. Nevertheless, if we take seriously the status of our fellow human beings as responsible agents, we cannot afford to overlook these factors. This has profound public policy implications.

Read the entire post here.

09 January 2021

Mauldin's grieving Lincoln

I remember all too well when the late Bill Mauldin published this cartoon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Now I'm seeing it again following the events of wednesday, 6 January, in Washington, DC. Most appropriate.

Six Cents Report

Several weeks ago I had a conversation with these two very fine gentlemen, Darnell Samuels and Joel Nicoloff, on the Six Cents Report. The link to our talk has now been posted here: Unmasking America’s Political Idolatry with Global Scholar: David Koyzis - 6CR #103. My apologies for the sound quality on my end, which I suspect is due to my beard rubbing against the microphone of my headphone. According to the website, "The Six Cents Report is a weekly podcast that reports on events related to Canadians from an economic and theological perspective."

08 January 2021

The Tempering of Democracy

Polybios (c 200-c 118 BC)
Five years ago I wrote something for First Things which I believe continues to have relevance for today, especially after the events of two days ago: The Tempering of Democracy: How Recovering the Classical Mixed Constitution Could Affect the Way We Vote. Attempting to more thoroughly democratize a constitution can backfire and lead to would-be authoritarian leaders coming out on top. An excerpt:

The need for democracy is satisfied by giving citizens a choice between two or more candidates thoroughly vetted by their respective party organizations and presented to the people as the best persons for the job. The aristocratic principle—necessary in all political systems—should come into play within the parties themselves as would-be candidates are screened in accordance with established criteria to insure a high level of competence and personal integrity. Only then would they be brought before the public for their verdict.

Read the entire piece here or here.

Common Good conversation: uprising aftermath

Yes, it's time for another conversation with Ian Simkins and Brian From at WYLL, AM 1160, Chicago. Who knew men of the cloth could be so much fun to talk to? Guest: David Koyzis, Political Scientist and Author - Response to the Siege on the US Capitol - January 7, 2021.

07 January 2021

Capitol Hill insurrection: the day after

In AD 410 Alaric led his army of Visigoths into Rome and ransacked the city. By then Rome was no longer the capital of the western Roman Empire, but this single event sent shock waves throughout the known world. How could the founding city of the greatest empire in history be so vulnerable to barbarian tribes who could scarcely be called civilized? As we know, pagan Romans argued that, because Rome had abandoned its ancient gods, the latter had abandoned the city to its fate. Many thought Christians especially culpable, because, a generation earlier, the Emperor Theodosius had proclaimed Christianity to be the state religion, thereby angering the gods. Augustine, bishop of the north African city of Hippo, took up the challenge to defend the Christian faith from pagan accusations. The result became a classic of western literature, De Civitate Dei, known in English as the City of God.

I thought of this historical event as our family watched on television the events unfolding in Washington, D.C., on 6 January. We were, of course, horrified. It hardly seemed possible that a band of hooligans, egged on by the President of the United States, could invade Capitol Hill, breaching what we had assumed to be an effective security perimeter, and vandalize the offices of members of Congress. This is the sort of thing one associates with the Russian Federation in 1993, or a nonwestern country unschooled in the customs and constitutional procedures of democratic governance. In English-speaking democracies we have come to expect that all political actors of whatever partisan sympathies will play by the rules, acquiescing in the smooth transition of power once the electorate has made its decision at the polls. No one pretends that it's a perfect system, but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is almost certainly the least worst of the political systems on offer in today's world.

Barbara Martha Calvert (1935-2020)

Barbara Martha Calvert (née Finstrom), born 5/18/1935, died 12/29/2020. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Barbara Finstrom was raised in a Scandinavian sea-faring family which emigrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Barbara recalled childhood days roller skating on the sidewalks of Brooklyn, attending Public School 102, and worshiping at the local Episcopal Church. She later attended Fort Hamilton High School where she won awards in mathematics and vocal performance.

She later worked at Macy’s and as a secretary for Pfizer in Manhattan where she met Roy L. Calvert (1925-2019). They were married on February 12, 1956. No matter where she lived, she always proudly said she was from Brooklyn when asked. Most recently, she resided in Downers Grove, IL, and Hillsdale, MI.

Barbara’s brother, Ronald G. Finstrom, survives her, as do her children Nancy Lynn Calvert-Koyzis (David), Kenneth Roy Calvert (Beth) and Emily Calvert Moran (Bill), as well as seven grandchildren.

Barbara’s parents, Borghild Alvilda Finstrom and Axel George Finstrom, who served as a Captain in the Merchant Marine in World War II, preceded her in death, as did her older brother George Finstrom.

She will be remembered for her hard work and determination, her love of family, her stellar homemaking, and her eye for detail, particularly during the many years she spent as Editorial Coordinator for Today’s Christian Woman at Christianity Today Publications. She found great comfort in her faith and was involved in many church congregations over the years. 

06 January 2021

Rod Dreher's jeremiad

The Cateclesia Institute has just published my review of Rod Dreher's Live Not By Lies: Living in Truth: Rod Dreher’s Jeremiad. An excerpt:

Could too expansive a nondiscrimination regime produce a climate in which faith-based communities, with their distinctive standards for membership, will be suppressed? Could a therapeutic focus on the expressive individual create an inhospitable climate for churches which by their very nature call members to subordinate their own wills to God’s word? We would be unwise to deny such possibilities.

Having studied and written about political ideologies for decades, I believe that all ideologies have totalitarian potential. They may not lead to forced labour camps or mass murders, but they do make claims which compete on a basic level with the traditional religious faiths, and they do require sacrificial victims, if only in damaged reputations and fewer career opportunities. This is why we need above all to be spiritually discerning in our assessment of them.

Yet, political ideologies do not operate in a contextual vacuum. All of us, whatever our ultimate convictions, live and work within the larger panorama of God’s creation. Even if a Supreme Court justice proclaims that “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992), the cosmos itself remains stubbornly unpersuaded, impervious to our subjective notions of its meaning or lack thereof.

Read the entire review here.

Innes: Christ and the Kingdoms of Men, a review

Voegelin View has published my review of David C. Innes, Christ and the Kingdoms of Men. Innes teaches political science at the King's College in New York, and I've known him for several years, although we've not met personally. This is a very fine book, with one significant flaw: the lack of an in depth treatment of justice, which I believe illustrates the limits of political theology as a discipline. An excerpt from my review:

If political theology begins with Scripture, political science as an empirical discipline begins with the raw data of political life. To be sure, political science is not religiously neutral, and the practitioner does not and cannot park her ultimate beliefs on the sidelines before plunging into the subject matter. Nevertheless, the empirical nature of the discipline means that one must attend to the ways governments actually function in the real world. Every government balances the various interests within its jurisdiction. Even the political realist preferring to banish justice to the separate realms of morality and religion will speak of a balance of powers—language by which justice sneaks in the back door. Weighing interests in the balance is quite simply what governments do. They may get the balance wrong in small or large ways, yet the jural task of government—of rendering to each his or her due—is always present, if sometimes in distorted form.

05 January 2021

Link for American donors

Global Scholars Canada informs me that prospective American donors should contribute through the website of its American counterpart by clicking here: Global Scholars. I have added a link in the right sidebar to reflect this change. Thank you for your understanding. May you enjoy God's blessings in the new year.

02 January 2021

Matt Crummy's 'Six Insightful Reads'

I am pleased to see Political Visions and Illusions make the list of Matt Crummy's 6 Insightful Reads To Help Make Sense of Our Culture and Historical Moment. About the blogger: "Matt is a multidisciplinary creative director, designer, musician, & writer. Husband & father. Drake U grad. Walk aficionado. Jesus follower."


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Contact at: dtkoyzis at gmail dot com