16 June 2014

Kuyper and the State

I'm still plugging my way through James Bratt's biography Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. For some earlier snippets go here. Chapter 7 is titled "Political Theorist," which Bratt begins by observing, "Kuyper showed his greatest ambivalence toward the fourth sphere, the state." Why? For the same reasons anyone today from the political center and rightwards would say: "Divinely ordained and the guarantor against chaos and depredation, [the state] deserved obedience and gratitude. Bearing the power of the sword and sharp tendencies toward expansion, it should provoke fear."

Nonetheless, even in his moments of greatest concern about the danger of overreach by the state, Kuyper did not see "the state ... as a purely external means of compulsion." Even without the appearance of sin in the world, a growing human society would have needed some form of coordinating authority. 

On a note dear to the hearts of followers of Grover Norquist, Kuyper "opposed any move toward income taxes as likely to expand state activism." On the other hand, Kuyper could sound like a 19th century Thomas Pikkety where his political program "bore down upon the wealthier by calling for a property-tax regime."

Kuyper also supported state intervention in the cause of promoting virtue among the populace, calling for "stricter regulation of prostitution and alcohol abuse" and the honor of God by "requiring the oath for legal testimony, prescribing Sunday as a day of rest, restricting cursing and blasphemy in public speech and print."

In any event, it will not do simply to call on the name of Kuyper is support of free-market capitalism or massive state intervention in the economy or society. A rich political thinker who functioned from both 30,000 feet above the scene and in the midst of the fray cannot be so simply pigeon-holed.

1 comment:

  1. "coordinating authority" and "compulsion" are not synonymous