‘Minimal State’ The Ideal

Theological Ethics, Volume II: Politics, by Helmut Thielicke (Fortress, 1969, 696 pp., $12.50), is reviewed, by Ellis Hollon, associate professor of philosophy of religion, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina.

In this second of his Theological Ethics, Helmut Thielicke applies his “contextual hermeneutic” to the ethical problems posed by two unique facts of our time—the “nuclearization” of the world and the “secularization” of the Western so-called Christian states. Thielicke’s approach to these two essentially political problems depends primarily on his crucial presupposition that institutions are “objectifications” of individual fallen men. The centrality of this presupposition for Thielicke’s argument can be shown by the following syllogism (constructed, I admit, by me: Premise One: The individual is a fallen, post-Noahic man whom power corrupts and whom absolute power corrupts absolutely. Premise Two: The modern democratic state and its institutions are objectifications of the individual fallen man. Therefore: (To quote Thielicke at this point) “A provisional emergency order does not apply to spheres which can be handled by other means on a non-emergency basis.”

To say the same thing another way: Thielicke, striving to employ his famous methodology of judging and deciding only “within a situation,” infers that an awareness of the “eschatological relativization” of the state brought about by man’s sin necessarily leads the Christian moralist to postulate the “minimal state” as the ideal. This means, concretely, that social responsibilities ...

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