Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Reformational Eco-Socialism?

by Dean Dettloff

Liberalism is a notoriously sticky term. It attempts to encompass a diverse tradition, full of modifications, nuances, and variety, but to get a handle on it as a useful concept we might note that its roots are in the work of John Locke, who championed the freedom of the individual and famously delineated a triumvirate of natural human rights: life, liberty, and property. To ensure the security of these rights and the individual liberties of human beings, liberalism espouses a differentiation between the state and the economy, which, when both are properly limited, should allow particular freedoms to flourish (like free speech) and wealth to grow. Yet the division between the state and the economy creates a political bind for liberals, setting the terms of political decision-making for most Western societies.

On the one hand, liberals leaning to the right suggest the individual freedoms identified by Locke are best expressed and exercised in the competitive environment of the free-market, leading to a disparaging of the role of the state, seeing it as, at best, a necessary evil. On the other hand, liberals leaning to the left suggest the state protects individual freedoms from the abuses and fallout of competition, perhaps best summarized in the creation of the welfare state, but not without preserving a fair field of play for the competition of the market. Though one might lean to the right or left within a liberal paradigm, the paradigm itself is at the very heart of Western societies and values, even sparking the French and American revolutions. As a result, it comes to us as a default political position; whether one is a republican or democrat in the United States, for instance, both positions are committed forms of liberalism.

Owing to Abraham Kuyper's notion of “sphere sovereignty,” arguably the catalyst for reformational philosophy itself, liberalism is also built into reformational politics and economics. Sphere sovereignty identifies a variety of distinct social domains that all have equal weight and importance as well as accompanying institutions (the state, the family, the church, etc.), but nevertheless function best in integral harmony, neither encroaching on other spheres nor giving up their own claims to legitimacy.

Owing to Abraham Kuyper's notion of “sphere sovereignty,” arguably the catalyst for reformational philosophy itself, liberalism is also built into reformational politics and economics.

Forming the basis of Kuyper's own political activities and even the ontological work of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, sphere sovereignty is constitutive of reformational thought. Even the most ardent critics of an uninhibited market, for example, like Lambert Zuidervaart and Bob Goudzwaard, have to spend a lot of time both hedging their claims and wrestling through the legacies of statespersons like Kuyper and legal theorists like Dooyeweerd to articulate a political vision outside of this double-bind while remaining in the reformational tradition.