Monthly Archives: July 2017

Heretics tell the truth

Marcion (on right): “First-born of Satan” (per Polycarp) or “an important leader in early Christianity” (Wikipedia)?


The MacMillan Encylopedia says about heresy, in part: “Owing to such factors as the rise of theological liberalism and the ecumenical movement, the term ‘heresy’ is rarely used in modern Church circles”

To say the least, this is most certainly true! And yet, as Pastor Todd Wilken of Issues ETC. says, “false teaching hurts people”.

And here is the kicker:

The biggest problem with heretical speech is that it is often always right.

In the words which are uttered, there is often nothing spoken which is, in itself, wrong. In fact heretical speech is often comprised of many true statements. The problem however – which is related to the definition of the word heresy itself – is that the picture that they paint with their statements is completely wrong at worst and incomplete at best. And dangerously so.

It is not so much what is said that makes the heretic. It is what is not said.

A heretic is someone who does not wish to embrace all that one is given to embrace. They are “choosy”. Literally, a heresy means to “pick and choose”.[i]

2nd century pastor Irenaeus of Lyons’s metaphor for heresy: the same puzzle pieces can be put together to show the King or to show a fox. But what is the image on the cover of the puzzle?

Another major problem with heretical speech however, is that so often it does not come from hardened heretics. In fact, in all likelihood (we cannot know human hearts!), it rarely does. No doubt the famous second century Christian heretic, Marcion, (pictured above) seemed quite genuine in his profession of Christianity. And, perhaps, as seems to be the case with Eugene Peterson, those who fall into heresy are more like reeds shaken by the wind then they are those who consciously “masquerade as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14).

Speaking of which, I am very glad that Eugene Peterson has recanted. I hope that the recantation is genuine, from his heart. I definitely hope to see him in heaven!

That said, I don’t think I will be paying much attention to his books anymore. Around the time of the news last week a man on a Facebook group I am on said the following (used with permission):

Peterson’s “thing” in evangelical circles was to highlight the introspective, meditative, and mystical elements. So those who wanted a “deeper” faith circled around him like moths to the flame. Peterson was in evangelical precincts what Nouwen was for Roman Catholics and Liberal Protestants. Most of his nearly three dozen books were well received among evangelicals. Then, when he was in his early 60s, he did a stint as Professor of Spiritual Theology at highly regarded Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, for another decade and a half. But, his “circle” of evangelical admirers expanded to take in a very different constituency among American evangelicals: the church growth types. They LOVED his “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible because it was so “accessible,” and did not employ “churchy” language. I could never understand how a mainline Presbyterian in the PCUSA garnered such a large following among theologically conservative evangelicals. But, for Peterson, much of his writing exalted the interior spiritual experience. Experience often seems to trump doctrine among some segments of evangelicalism and that carried him a very long way in the evangelical camp. Notice how his criterion for acceptance of homosexuality was the fact that “gay Christians” seemed to have “as good a spiritual life as I do.”

“Experience often seems to trump doctrine.”

Mark and note that friends.

Trust in the Word — the living Word and His living words in Scripture — and pray that your faith would be deep and strong, like a nail driven into a board. That is the experience you need.

Is your God good and strong enough to save you?



[i] See here.

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Posted by on July 26, 2017 in Uncategorized


Is Truth What Works?

Not quite?


For a man like Jordan Peterson, interpretation is only “true” if it works, which means it is credible, taking into account material and social constraints. For Christians, an interpretation is true if what is stated is what is – what is actually the case. Christianity offers a knowledge (justified true belief) that is stable and even eternal.* The world, purging the word “secular” of any connection with religion, has only a “knowledge” which is constantly in flux — it is conceivable useful trust — depending on the latest intellectual desires and fashions.

In the classes on beginning Christianity that I teach, one of the questions I ask later in the course is this: “Is Christianity true because it works? Or does it work because its true?”

I get a lot of interesting answers, but invariably, as students have already read much of the Bible by this point, they choose the second option.

Of course, I then go on to qualify that we need to talk about Christianity as an “it” and define “works” in this context (i.e. we are not talking about what the world calls “success”). The cross, after all, might not seem to have worked very well.

In sum, the Christian faith tells a distinct story, or history, of the world which is meant for all persons (see Acts 17). And this narrative offers us not only stable but eternal truths that we can cling to with our whole lives.

I can’t say it better than this:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men** and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian*** and apostolic Church I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Man. Church isn’t church if I don’t hear those good words. Amen indeed!



*”Becoming” in the world is part and parcel of what is.

**Us men means all people.

***Christian: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.


Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Without Tradition as Truth, the West – and the Rest – Cannot Be Saved

It is not so much the incontrovertibly “mixed bag” of the West that saves, but the Gift given to us sinners.

This past week, responding to the President’s well-received speech in Poland, the Atlantic wrote:

“The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian and largely white… He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.”

Well, excuse me (Rod Dreher’s response to), but I had always assumed people who talk like our President did in Poland not only tend to think that “democracy and capitalism [are] not uniquely ‘Western,’” but that the same holds true for our Christian heritage. In other words, it is not only a critical part of who we are as a people, but it is needed by the whole world.[i]

If you agree with me about this, you might like what follows.

I posted the Atlantic article on a Facebook group I’m on, and one man made the popular comment that: “The ‘West’ is that part of the world influenced by Greek and Roman thought, with Christianity added to it. We adhere to Western philosophy.” I think that is a pretty good way of looking at it, and when it comes to “Greek and Roman thought,” I note that many of the elites in the West look to the famous philosophers from these cultures – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca, Cicero, Lucretius, etc. – as powerful guiding lights.

At the same time, the most important part of our Western heritage, by far, is the Christian faith. The historical account the Bible provides is in fact What Athens Needs From Jerusalem.

Philosophers: some better, some worse, all wrong?

As the caption in the picture above demonstrates, it is for this reason I don’t have trouble downgrading — no, not eliminating — the importance of the world’s great philosophers for us. Years ago, noting that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy said…

“The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events. It raises the possibility of “learning from history.” And it suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine history itself and the nature of historical knowledge…”

I observed that

“What is surprising though is that no serious philosopher seems to have really seen these matters as [highly] significant when it comes to doing philosophy until about the 18th century, or arguably, a bit later (particularly with Hegel) – when the Enlightenment (and Romanticism after it) ran with the Christian idea that man was not subject to the blind forces of fate.”

A wise interlocutor, however, pushed back:

“Just because [someone like Plato] didn’t do philosophy of history, doesn’t mean he didn’t care about history. Socrates chooses to drink the hemlock because philosophical considerations trump historical ones when it comes to doing the right thing. But history is the only way anyone knows that he did in fact do the right thing. Or what he said in any of his dialogues.” (italics mine)

This showed me that I needed to further explain my original What Athens Needs From Jerusalem post. I think it is neither true nor wise to say that “philosophical considerations trump historical ones when it comes to doing the right thing.”

Socrates: How well did he know himself?

What do I mean? I am not saying that the philosophers thought we could learn nothing from individuals in history or that historical facts are unimportant. Indeed, Plato wants to show us how to live by Socrates’ example which he believes personifies the highest wisdom.

We would be wrong, though, to think that Plato – or even Aristotle, who prepared the histories of 200 political regimes in order to assist politicians in his present – is saying that a particular narrative about “what happened” in the past regarding a particular people in a particular nation in a particular time… following up on the heels of a particular account of the creation of the world… should have absolute controlling significance over how every human being understands meaning in life or the “how should we then live?” (2 Peter 3:11) question (the “then” is very significant!). That such an account demands to be examined and taken seriously (note very carefully what the Apostle Paul says in Athens in Acts 17).

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” — Acts 17:30

I think my saying that that is indisputable, and in this sense philosophy as conceived in the world could not be further apart from revealed religion – not to mention any historical tradition human beings might be inclined to value and uphold in the face of seemingly contradictory views put forth as rational and scientific! As Martin Luther put it in his antinomian disputations, “after Christ’s coming, this sin of unbelief and ignorance of Christ has been made known throughout the entire world by the public ministry…(p. 111, Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus)

This is what I am saying (though perhaps quite clumsily indeed) in my What Athens Needs From Jerusalem post above. Christians in general, and Lutheran-Christians in particular – and remember, I also count myself as a “liberal Christian nationalist”! (consider this post part II of why I am that) – are the ultimate “historical conservatives”. In my mind, it is just crazy that so many Americans, for example, think that they can “champion the liberty and rights of the individual stripped of corporate and historical identify” (Gottfried, Search for Historical Meaning, 116) – particularly *Christian identity*!

Many may try to deny it, but this Christian identity — based on the Bible as God’s word and history — has always been part and parcel of “the West,” even with weakening Christian influence in light of things like the Thirty Years War, the Enlightenment, and the French and American revolutions. As such, in America the Englishman John Locke had a strong influence on the course of our nation as he presented a political philosophy which derived not only from Christianity but from materialism (atomism)[ii].

“Locke [and Hobbes] assert that human beings are fundamentally self-interested, equal and rational social atoms…” — Wikipedia

And yet, Locke and others who followed in his train still made some very important observations inconsistent with purer forms of philosophical materialism. He said, for example, that human beings realize that taking from others what they have attained by their honest industry without their consent is an injustice – even if one would call it justice (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1959, p. 234).[iii] The influential 20th century economist Friedrich von Hayek had an even more profound thing to say about the West, which, on the face of it, might appear to contradict Locke: “We do not owe our morals to our intelligence; we owe them to the fact that some groups uncomprehendingly accepted certain rules of conduct – the rules of private property, of honesty and of the family – that enabled the groups practicing to progress [and] multiply…” (italics mine) [iv]

What these men say actually does not contradict. We, contra Socrates, can know what is right and yet get in the habit of not practicing it. In fact, we both suppress the universal truths we know (see Romans 1) and often find ourselves not questioning many of the assumptions and practices – good and bad – of our heritage. Taking several steps back now, I don’t think what Hayek points out is incomprehensible at all. To me it all seems rather obvious: All of this goodness comes to us in a certain way – not as much through “principals” or “propositions” – but through the Person of Christ, His people, and those influenced and encouraged by them. Other influences are there to be sure, but in the best case scenarios they have been curtailed by Christianity and/or culturally appropriated (gasp!) and refined (“redeemed” in a sense).

And when I talk about Christianity, I am talking history and not philosophy. As Thomas Molnar once asked “Why is it that Marxists, unlike conservatives, can inspire students with their vision of history”? It is because they actually talk about a story involving real persons, even if that story is very inaccurate. As human beings we are built for stories but we really are built for The Story that we all need. The Story of the True Hero who rescues us and embodies what we are to be… the True Myth that Became Fact, as Lewis said.

“Myth Becomes Fact.” — C.S. Lewis, from “God in the Dock”

We Christians are neither “historicists” in the mold of Hegel who merely assert “the indispensability of historical consciousness to the Western understanding of man” (Gottfried, Search for Historical Meaning, 116) nor merely those who assert confidently than any person or group, regardless of their historical circumstances (and therefore regardless of their particular historical prejudices), can, just as easily, through their own rational means, “apprehend the Good and the Just,” as Leo Strauss (and perhaps Plato?) may have put it. This is not because they have no knowledge of this – may it never be! – but because, in wickedness, the knowledge they do indeed have of it has been un-nurtured, buried, suppressed (sometimes more, sometimes less), etc.

More on what I mean here: un-nurtured, in the case of those who are given the Gospel but whose seed is snatched, choked, etc ; un-nurtured in the case that a Gospel-deficient natural knowledge of the law of God given in childhood, is not encouraged and nurtured throughout one’s youth ; buried or suppressed, for example, as people may very well convince themselves that they know or should be confident about other things that appeal to them more than the natural knowledge of the law that is in them as human beings.

Luther: “many laws that are useful for this life are also given, written together with the Decalogue, and are written on the hearts of all men, unless they are utterly unnatural…” — Luther

This is what is so very wrong about what the highly influential 20th century conservative political philosopher Leo Strauss did. He exalted classical philosophy vis a vis relativism and postmodernism but downplayed as much as he could the Christian influence here (see Gottfried’s 2012 book on Strauss). He lumped anyone who believed that a real controlling story, Tradition, was ultimately of more importance than classical philosophy’s program as historicists. So the great and pious Christian statesmen Edmund Burke was unjustly tarred by him (and Strauss appears to have deliberately lied about Burke in his famous book Natural Right and History ; see p. 110 in the Search for Historical Meaning, also by Gottfried).

As Paul Gottfried put it in his 1986 book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (p. 123). “There is a difficulty integrating the past into a regime whose founders declare it to be a “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages].”

To say the very least! He is right. This is impossible. Hence, again, my Liberal Christian Nationalism.

Basically forbidden history.

If we as a nation would like to retain the gains of classical liberalism, we need to pay attention to what men like Tom Woods, Alvin Schmidt, and Vishal Mangalwadi, are telling us about the massive impact of the truth of Christianty on the West. The alternatives? Well, Michael Gerson writes of Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”:

Harari has one great virtue: intellectual honesty. Unlike some of the new atheists, he recognizes that science is incapable of providing values, including the humanistic values of Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson. “Even Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and the other champions of the new scientific worldview refuse to abandon liberalism,” Harari observes. “After dedicating hundreds of erudite pages to deconstructing the self and the freedom of will, they perform breathtaking intellectual somersaults that miraculously land them back in the 18th century.”

Harari relentlessly follows the logic of reductionism as it sweeps away individualism, equality, justice, democracy and human rights — even human imagination. . . . (see here)

Mr. Dawkins, are you willing to posit any non-material force, being, thing or entity that is really good or strong enough to dissuade a particular human being who has the power to impose his evil will on other human beings?

Stuff like that might just prompt some more materialist types to take a Jordan Peterson-led leap of faith!

So what should be the Christian’s main frame here? I think it is this:

We view historical time providentially, but are rooted in the past so we can move forward. We are those who realize that without trust in Tradition, embodied most fully in the Scriptures, we cannot be saved. That without this Tradition the world – in desperate need of its historical particularities which bring universal salvation – cannot be saved. At the same time, we do not say that we have fully understood what this Tradition means – for, as Paul does with the Bereans, we may find ourselves going back to the Fount to more rightly and deeply remember and, yes, learn, what it is we are to know.

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz listed eight kinds of good and salutary traditions, including Scripture (more here).

Again, when my friend writes: “Concern for universal truth is more important than concern for individual customs. The Christian Church has always insisted that its doctrines are universally true, even against critics who find them parochial, (italics mine)” I initially agreed with him. That said, as I reflect, I come to the conviction that things are being set against one another that should not be. We should, contra men like Leo Strauss, also insist that preserving certain individual customs might be very important when it comes to people’s willingness to embrace the most important universal truths. This is the primacy of Tradition.

In his own way, a man like Jordan Peterson might appear to be bringing the more secular among us back to this reality. Recently, he tweeted out a link to an Eastern Orthodox Christian who I am guessing he believes builds a good bridge between what he is saying and what devout Christians have always believed:


I have some issues with some of the things that this man says, and even more issues with Peterson (as much as I can’t help loving the man for his integrity and the important information he does share). Peterson, for example, might be willing to say the Tradition is True but only because it “works,” as he is, at bottom, a pragmatist (see footnotes here). Nevertheless, he might well agree with me when I assert:

“…the Tradition of Christianity has endured enough criticism and skepticism and doubt. The time of severe questioning and attempts at demolishing it and its significance must end.”

…even as he goes on to tell a story, a new Tradition, of something that is really even more True. In the end, I cannot fathom how the Darwinian story, in his telling, cannot ultimately dissolve the Christian story.

In sum, it seems that classical philosophy and its reductionistic offspring, philosophical/scientific materialism, are still hopelessly at odds with revealed religion – and, I would insist, at odds with the significance of history in general.

That is why Athens Needs Jerusalem. For it has the Particular that gives us the Universal we all Need. And yes, the Scandal (see 1 Corinthians 1:23) is in the Particularity.

“For God so loved the world….” therefore, Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

He is the Logos we need.

“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” — Hebrews 2:8b




Images: Richard Dawkins by David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0) ; incarnation pic from ; all other non-book pics from Wikipedia.


[i] Or maybe I’m full of it and what I’ve written here, for example, is just so much subtle “white nationalist” propaganda.

[ii] I get the impression that he particularly fell down in emphasizing things like human rights more than human responsibilities (and here I point out, our supreme duty to pass on tradition in filial piety – ultimately our duty to the Supreme Father). Also, as regards Locke’s own ideas, note the claims I share in this post about the likely influence of Roger Williams.

[iii]The “common sense” Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid took this even further, as according to Arthur Holmes he noticed that

“…[m]oral indignation is evident even among those, who, like robbers, have little active regard for the common good. Gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just, and resentment for injury only because it falls short of justice. All these natural sentiments presuppose the idea of justice. Property rights likewise depend on it” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 1997, p. 117)

These are just some of the things it seems different groups of people do not really “design” or “construct” (unconsciously or consciously), but instead, as if by built-in design, can recognize and receive. In other words, they appear to be ethical principles that are intrinsic to properly-functioning human being. Even as this knowledge of truth can be suppressed and consciences badly seared.

[iv] I say with less excitement that he then goes on to say: “…and gradually displace the others.”


Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Uncategorized


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“Should Christians Think Twice about Attacking the Alt-Right?” and Related Questions

Pepe the Frog, symbol of the “Alt Right”.


NOTE, posted Nov. 16, 2020: Please recognize that this article was written when what “alt-right” really meant was still “up for grabs”. We know it eventually, by media fiat, became a synonym for “white supremacist” or “neo-Nazi,” but that is not how it was originally being talked about. When Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos wrote this article in March of 2016, they basically defined it as a “Trump supporter”. This, interestingly, is what Michael Malice seems to have more successfully done (moderately at least) in 2019 with his excellent book The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics (as indicated by the cover of the book itself).


Should Christians sing “God bless America,” “God bless the whole world,” or both? Should Christians display national flags in their sanctuaries? Is it responsible for Christians to decry ill-defined movements like the “Alt Right”? (is it white nationalism or something more subtle?)

This post aims to make you think more critically about questions like this – even though these questions are, for the most part, not directly addressed in the content of this post.

My thesis is that the reason why these questions — always good questions — are taking on particularly import for many today is because we are all wrestling with what Paul Gottfried points out in his 1986 book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (p. 123):

“There is a difficulty integrating the past into a regime whose founders declare it to be a “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages].”

You think?

And the quote also syncs with other things Gottfried has observed, most recently in his 2012 book on Leo Strauss, arguably the thinker most embraced by political conservatives in America in the 20th century (he is certainly one of the most influential in terms of seeing “success” [as measured by the right, at least] in politics).

Given the events in American (and European) politics over the past couple years, anyone reading his book will no doubt find what he says on page 128 to be extremely interesting:

“Like the neoconservatives, Straussians refer to the United States as a ‘propositional’ or ‘universal’ nation, held together by a natural-rights creed applicable everywhere on the planet. Such a notion, which has become widespread in America, breaks with any notion of democracy’ in the premodern… sense. In the 1980s and 1990s, Straussians and their neoconservative allies fought with an older American Right, which they accused of being tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism. It would be hard to argue in light of this recent history that the Straussians are trying to apply organicist ideas to a hypothetical American volkisch community.”

That is, however, part of the concern now – not that the Straussians are doing it, but that the Trumpians of the world are. Going along with the quote above about the “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages],” they, “tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism” vehemently resist things like immigration and free trade. On the other hand, someone like Karl Marx was very much in support of something like “free trade”. Why? Because he believed that it would break down traditional (think tribal and organic) communities.

On one level that might sound like a very good idea. On the other hand, for Marx and those who follow him today – overtly or covertly – this effort includes the attempt to break down the traditional family.

And that is kind of logical, right? Isn’t the tribe basically an extended traditional family? The idea of nationalism has gotten a good deal of attention from Christians in America lately, due to the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent condemnation of white nationalism as well as those identifying as “alt right” (see here and here and here for more). I think, however, that we dismiss the concerns that many of these folks express too quickly and, ultimately, to our own peril.


Yes, I think so. What follows is another fascinating observation/proposition Gottfried makes in his book – this time about Straus himself. We see in this extended quotation that even in the 1960s Strauss had noticed something about conservatives and liberals that foreshadowed the emerging nationalism today (as the American right starts to “regress,” as many see it) vis a vis the more “globalist” philosophy (now, increasingly coming to be seen even by thinkers like R.R. Reno as communism’s replacement!):

“…unlike his followers, Strauss in the 1960s foresaw the true lines of division between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ In his preface to Liberalism Ancient and Modern, he abandons his customary distinction between ‘liberal democracy’ and its enemies to observe the tension between ‘modern liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ Strauss tries to narrow this difference by stating that most people are ‘moderate’ in their identification with either of the two ideological poles; therefore, the distinction between them might not amount to much in the end. Strauss then muddies the water by telling us that ‘the conservativism of our age is identical with what was originally liberalism.’ Indeed, ‘much of what goes now by the name of conservatism has in the last analysis a common root with present-day liberalism and even with Communism.’ All of this repeats what are merely truisms. No one but a historical illiterate or a hardened, time-bound ideologue would deny that the current Right looks like some form of the archaic Left, whether it is celebrating a crusade for human rights or preaching some variation on eighteenth-century anarchism, with appropriate attributions to Tom Paine.”

Note again what is happening here: Gottfried shows us that Strauss is distinguishing between what we might call “classical liberals,” (he calls them “modern liberals” above) which might make up the majority of today’s “conservatives” in America, and other “conservatives”. Again, this is a frequent complaint of some on the Alt-Right. Today’s conservativism really isn’t “conservative” as it doesn’t really conserve anything. It, rather, is just a constant capitulation to the left (hence the popularity of the word “cuck”). They have nothing but mockery for those like William Buckley, who gave the impression that conservativism is simply the man standing in the railroad track, bravely facing the incoming locomotive, and shouting “Stop!” (or, perhaps, just “slow down”?)

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” — William F. Buckley’s National Review mission statement.


“What is more interesting, however, than these references is Strauss’s pinpointing of two diametrically opposed worldviews. Partisans of the Left, according to this interpretation, look toward a ‘universal homogenous state,’ a creation that Strauss’s correspondent Kojeve defended in his writings. Any ‘approximation to the universal homogenous state is for liberals a move in the proper direction, although they may conceal their enthusiasm by pretending to be advocates of ‘hardheaded politics,’ who believe that ‘the state has been rendered necessary by economic and technological progress,’ ‘the necessity of making nuclear war impossible for all the future[‘] and by the ‘increasing wealth of the advanced countries.’

Against this liberal vision Strauss opposes an essentialist conservative one. Its advocates ‘regard the universal and homogenous state as either undesirable, though possible, or as both undesirable and impossible.’ Conservatives may have to accept in the short run a United Free Europe, as an alliance against the Soviet communist threat, but[,as Strauss says]:

“[T]hey are likely to understand such units differently from liberals. An outstanding European conservative has spoken of l’Europe des patries. Conservatives look with greater sympathy than liberals on the particular or particularist and the heterogenous; at least they are more willing than liberals to respect and perpetuate a more fundamental diversity than the one ordinarily respected or taken for granted by liberals and even by Communists, which is the diversity regarding language, folksongs, pottery and the like.”

Yes, that is right. Strauss is saying that it is conservatives, not liberals, that are ultimately more respectful of diversity. Chew on that for a while!

“Furthermore, ‘[i]nasmuch as the universalism in politics is founded on the universalism proceeding from reason, conservativism is frequently characterized by distrust of reason or by trust in a tradition which is necessarily this or that tradition and hence particular.’ Finally, ‘[c]onservativism is therefore exposed to criticism that is guided by the notion of the unity of truth,’ whereas liberals, ‘especially those who know that their aspirations have their roots in the Western tradition are not sufficiently concerned with the fact that tradition is ever more eroded by the changes in the direction of the One World which they demand or applaud.’

Gottfried then goes on to say: “It would be hard to find a more perceptive analysis than this one for addressing the distinction between Left and Right.”

Can “classical liberalism” remain the Right in America? Without a Christian core?



“The underlying insight goes back to Carl Schmitt and his criticism of the ‘universal, homogenous state.’ Strauss is repeating here Schmitt’s critical observations for the benefit of Anglo-American readers. He assumes Schmitt’s famous equation of the universal state with universal tyranny, and he incorporates this distinctive perspective into his delineation of the conservative worldview. Strauss also cites Charles de Gaulle, who as French president in the 1960s argued against an overly close union of European states in favor of a continued national consciousness among European peoples. Strauss presents this conservative type as the exact opposite of the liberal, with his unrealistic and utopian expectations. This conservative antithesis is nothing, however, that he finds disagreeable or which he feels threatens ‘liberal democracy.’

Still and all, it would be a mistake to associate Strauss with his conservative pole too closely. The ‘conservative’ side in his analysis bears a certain resemblance to his targets in [his famous 1953 book] Natural Right and History, particularly to [Edmund] Burke and German romantic conservatives, whom Strauss considered to be more revolutionary than even the Jacobins. One must also keep in mind Strauss’s descriptions of ‘conventionalism’ as an obstacle to philosophy and his insistence that the search for virtue and justice necessarily encompasses the universal.”

Strauss’ implied criticism that conservatives believe excessively in the ‘unity of truth’ goes back to his brief against relativism. He long complained against those who paid homage to Tradition as Truth and he was now reviving this animadversion in a less incriminatory fashion. The unwillingness to apply a universal standard of Reason, we are told in Natural Right in History, has led to destructive wars [my comment: read wars caused, in part, by religion that was unwilling to give up its place in more enlightened society] and has precipitated the demoralization of liberal education. Like his students, Strauss saw this failure to apply rational judgement because of an infatuation with particularities as a conservative flaw.

In other words, what this means is that Strauss does not see particularities such as Christianity as giving any support whatsoever to the idea of “universal standard[s] of Reason” (which one might think would help point to, perhaps, consistent laws in the moral realm). Perhaps given the impact of persons like Hegel on 20th century American conservativism, all of these statements from Strauss above should not have surprised me so much. Hegel, to, would have some real issues with the idea that respected Tradition, in any sense, could be equated with Truth (and insofar as Christianity is seen as being an integral part of what we call Western Civilization, I argue it can’t be separated from this notion of Truth).

But at the same time, you might say, “didn’t Strauss speak out against historicism?” He did indeed, but I note that elsewhere in Gottfried’s book he seems to drop hints that he thinks that even Strauss himself could not escape what were in fact his historicist tendencies. This makes some sense in the context of Gottfried’s work, because it seems that in his view, anyone who thinks positively about progress to some degree should and will embrace a conservative form of historicism (again, see this post for more).

Hart discusses Augustine’s influence on American ideas and ideals – no historicism needed to recognize historical context.


From my limited reading on this topic, it appears to me that Strauss was perhaps unaware of – or not forthright about – what were in fact his historicist tendencies, but that someone like Edmund Burke for example, a devout and traditional Christian interested in society’s advancing, should not necessarily be lumped in with the historicist philosophy, with its, I think, very acidic tendencies. It seems to me – again, from the limited reading I have done on the topic – that Burke is misread by both Strauss and Gottfried.

Just the kind of thing you might expect a Liberal Christian Nationalist to say…. That said, don’t think that my interest in “identity politics” means that truth has no place. In fact, if you want real, and not just feigned, concern for the truth to stay, I submit that Christians and Christian allies need a continuing voice in our nation’s political conversation.

But the Left also occasionally appealed to particularity, albeit more disingenuously, to win acceptance for its ‘one world’ idea. In the short run, it stressed the diversity that it would ultimately have to remove to fashion a universal homogenous state based on uniform human rights (pp. 63, 64).

When concepts of equality, social justice, and human rights are untethered from a Christian frame, what we in the West have experienced in our lives to be good about those concepts is lost.

There was a time that the idea of “uniform human rights” had some appeal to me. Now, however, I see this as the primary tool of those who would spurn the Christian religion en route to accomplishing their own Global, Utopian promises. As one Alt-Right voice recently put it, Jesus Christ didn’t die for the sins of the world so that you could build your new Tower of Babel.

That, at least, rings true. God won’t be mocked – used – by either nationalists or globalists.

Practical application? If, for example, communists or globalists demand we put their flags in the church’s chancel, we should refrain. But we should also be cautious about people who say things like this:

“A Christian church has absolutely no business displaying a national flag in the sanctuary, at least not as it is commonly done. The church born at Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, not a doubling down on the fragmentation of Babel.” (see here).

Joe Carter: “How can we claim to be sons and daughters of God while separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters?” (see context here). Should Christians, then, strive to end nations?


For more of my thoughts on Christians, nations, and nationalism, see here.



William F. Buckley: ; Joe Carter – Gospel Coalition website.


Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Uncategorized


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