A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Preserving Democracy

Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. Preserving Democracy: What the Founding Fathers Knew, What We Have Forgotten, & How It Threatens Democracy (Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2010, pbk.).

In his book, Preserving Democracy, Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. argues that the foundation of democracy in America is being eroded because as a country, Americans have forgotten the intentions of the Founders as they gave birth to our nation more than two centuries ago. His positions are mostly politically conservative, but at times he is critical of current political conservatism as well. In examining the Table of Contents one can see that Hushbeck takes up the major and expected issues in working through such a discussion.

1. Nothing Lasts Forever
2. Taxes and the Welfare State
3. Planning vs Competition
4. The Rule of Law
5. Law and Justice
6. The Breakdown of Voting
7. The Distortion of Language
8. An Informed Electorate
9. The Loss of American Values
10. The Never Ending Struggle

In many ways Hushbeck is well informed and approaches each subject with competence. One can criticize him for not encountering liberal contentions to his views in a more rigorous way, but it is just as likely that a book written from a liberal point of view would not consider conservative points of view in detail either. One can only do so much in one book.

It is not my intention in this review to engage Hushbeck point by point. On some subjects I find myself largely in agreement, on other subjects, I remain unconvinced. What I want to do instead is highlight some larger issues in the discussion of preserving democracy.

First, concerns the matter of believing that certain disquieting problems have come on the scene only recently and that the Founders never encountered such things. There is this mythology present on both sides of the political aisle that many of our contemporary problems are new and being confronted by human beings for the first time. This mythology is seen most clearly in discussions on the contemporary judiciary. Hushbeck argues that judges have increasingly legislated from the bench instead of simply interpreting the law. Hushbeck does not like the notion of the Constitution as a "living document" and neither do I. In fact, I find the terminology itself to be a rather odd way of referring to a text. I also agree with Hushbeck that historically there has been a whole lot of judicial legislating taking place, but I believe that it has come from both sides of the political aisle. Where I disagree with Hushbeck is that he presents this as a rather recent problem, when it has been so from the beginning. One only need to read about President Thomas Jefferson's tensions with the Supreme Court and with his distant cousin, Chief Justice John Marshall to know that how one interprets law was a problem from the beginning. The point is that the problem of judicial legislation is not a new phenomenon; and it is not only a problem in reference to reading legal texts, but also religious texts. The current debates in Protestantism over homosexual practice, the ordination of women, etc. reflect the same hermeneutical dilemma that all of us face-- interpreting texts in their context and applying them to the current situation. There was no pristine time when judges "just" interpreted the law, and Christians "just" interpreted the texts of Scripture. I find the constructionist/deconstructionist dichotomy in reading texts to be more complicated than it is often portrayed.

Second, unlike Hushbeck, I am not convinced that our democracy in America is in decay. To be sure, there are things taking place that can undermine the practices of a free society, and I agree with Hushbeck that government has intruded itself into the lives of its citizens in ways and in places where it should butt out. Neither do I deny that a free society can erode into something much less free. All we need to do is to look at what Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela to know that democracies can begin to crumble. But I think democracy in America has a much stronger foundation. That does not mean that we should be unconcerned about voter fraud, for example. Hushbeck rightly points out that such fraud is a problem today and that it may very well grow. (Voter fraud is another one of those problems that has been around for a long time.) But I am not ready to sound the apocalyptic warnings just yet. I know that the political right thinks that if the political left gets its way our free society is in jeopardy; and that the political left believes that if the political right gets its way democracy will disappear. I personally think both sides protest too much.

Third, and here is the real controversial point-- As a Christian I am not sure how much of a stake I have in preserving democracy. (Oh, boy... am I going to get the emails!) I don't want to be misunderstood. I like living in a free society, and I think free nations are much better than the alternative. I also agree with those who have said that while democracy is a terrible form of government, it is also the best form of government we can have this side of perfection. (Actually, America is a republic, not a straight democracy, but that's another subject for another time.)

What I am suggesting here is that as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, my main stake is in that Kingdom, and my central purpose in life is to live as an obedient citizen of that Kingdom without reservation. That does not mean that I cannot participate in a democracy in a way that will benefit it and its citizens as long as my participation does not violate my primary Kingdom citizenship responsibilities. Indeed, I am happy to do so. But as a follower of Jesus my first and central concern is not preserving democracy, but living my life in such a way that I am the answer to The Lord's Prayer that God's Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.

I recommend Elgin Hushbeck's Preserving Democracy. In fact, I recommend that all political liberals read his book. The best learning experiences come in the midst of contention and disagreement. Political liberals would find their evenings far more productive if they read Hushbeck's book instead of simply having their views mindlessly confirmed by watching MSNBC's loony left evening lineup.

Now, if we can only convince Energion Publications to publish another volume on preserving democracy from a political liberal, so that political conservatives will have some productive evenings instead of having their views mindlessly confirmed by FOX News' wacky right evening lineup.

Indeed, the two books can then be sold as a set. They would then be a must on every bookshelf.


Chuck Tackett said...

I'm not sure why you should get a bunch of email about your statement regarding your responsibility, or lack thereof, to preserve democracy. Your right on point.

Christians too often forget that their first and primary allegiance is to God and that America's democratic principles, while inspired by Judeo-Christian values, are not from God.

Look at the Church in places like China, Vietnam or even the Middle East, all places that are hostile to the Church. Here the Church is flourishing and faith is growing and bringing light to the world.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks for your comments, Chuck. I agree with you. I will, however, get the emails. I may have some already. I have not checked.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Allan, Thanks. I don't care what either the left, right or center thinks on American politics as far as what shapes my thinking, and I know you agree. That just happens to be the context into which I must bring my understanding of the kingdom of God come in Jesus grounded in scripture along with tradition, reason and experience. And when I do that, I end up looking ideological if I participate at all in any way in the political dialogue or ideologue. So be it, because one can't avoid that. Unless one chooses not to engage in any way, and maybe that's closer to the way of Jesus. Maybe we're all too caught up in the political air.

But in the end, I can't help but think that it is not the church alone, nor the government alone which God holds accountable, but both. In the light of mercy and justice.

I think too many of us are caught up in America, and not in the kingdom of God come in Jesus as far as how we judge what is going on.

Henry Neufeld said...

I'd be happy to get a proposal submitted for a liberal book with a similar scope to Preserving Democracy. It would be very interesting to put the two side by side.