23 June 2014

Abraham Kuyper: Red Tory

You can read my earlier posts from my walk through James Bratt's Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Eerdmans 2013) here, here, and here. Bratt devotes two subchapter of the chapter "Christian Democrat" to Kuyper's economic theory and policies. Anyone familiar with Phillip Blond's recent book Red Tory: How the Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It will have a good idea of Kuyper's take on a Christian response to the dislocations--economic and social--of industrial capitalism. As Bratt puts Kuyper, 
For economic conservative (that is, neoliberals) and American evangelicals, who assume an automatic affinity between their respective positions, Kuyper's deliverances will be bewildering at best, outrageous at worst. [Kuyper] denounced laissez-faire capitalism as inimical to human well being ...; as out of tune with Scripture and contrary to the will of God; as the very spawn of "Revolution."
But why did Kuyper see the market revolution in such apocolyptic colors?
In replacing the spirit of "Christian compassion" with the "the egoism of a passionate struggle for possession" ... In the abrogation of the claims of the community for the sake of the sovereign individual. In the commodification of labor ... In the idolization of the supposedly free market, which deprived the weak of their necessary protections, licensed the strong in their manipulations, and proclaimed the consequences to be the inevitable working of natural law. In the advertising that inculcated a covetous consumerism as the norm of human happiness.
Does Kuyper's excoriation of a market society put him in the Socialist camp? In a word, no, but whether his hopes for a specifically Christian response to the developing state of affairs bore much chance of changing an inexorable commodification of all of life depended on a relatively homogeneous people with recent memory of non-market society.

On the other hand, "Kuyper was also sensitive to the realities of power. He proposed to divide and balance powers for the best approximation of justice that might be attained on earth." But to get to the heart of matters--and showing his paleo-conservative side, Kuyper believed that
Only proper consciousness would replace materialism and egotism with compassion and equity ... Since the state was incompetent and the market uninterested in generating such values, their cultivation belonged to the agencies of public opinion--church, school, and press.
What Kuyper didn't see was that the church, school, and press were not up to the tasks of inculcating non-market values. The health-and-prosperity "gospel," education oriented toward income-generation, and a press in utter subservience to its corporate paymasters destroyed whatever hope Kuyper had that the "little platoons" could stand between the the individual and the state.

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