Civic-Minded and Heavenly Good

How Christians should practice 'right politics.'
2002This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Progress often comes from hurting others." That, according to Robert Kaplan, is Machiavelli's cruel but accurate assessment of political reality. And that is why America's political leaders today need a pagan rather than a Christian ethic if they are to defend American lives and interests. So says Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Random House, 2002). "Machiavelli," says Kaplan, "believed that because Christianity glorified the meek, it allowed the world to be dominated by the wicked: he preferred a pagan ethic that elevated self-preservation over the Christian ethic of sacrifice."

Exactly right, says Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas. "War becomes the great event in American life, because that's when we send the young out to die and be killed. … It's an extraordinary sacrificial system, but sacrificing to the wrong god, Mars. … Christianity is an alternative to that sacrificial system" (quoted in Mark Oppenheimer, "For God, Not Country," Lingua Franca, September 2001).

Kaplan the political warrior and Hauerwas the pacifist agree: it is time to break up a Christian-pagan political marriage that should never have taken place. Kaplan thinks Christianity's private morality offers no public virtue. Hauerwas believes that Christianity's greatest virtue is displayed when Christ's followers renounce all use of violence. Furthermore, they say we can't have it both ways. If you want to protect America and the best of its "private, Judeo-Christian morality," says Kaplan, you will have to work publicly to uphold good pagan virtue for "the preservation and augmentation of American power." On the other hand, if you want to be an undivided Christian, according to Hauerwas, ...

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