Classical Liberalism vs Christian Nationalism in the “Negative World”

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For those who haven’t noticed, “Christian Nationalism” is the latest fad among conservative Christians. In theory, it sounds innocuous and completely compatible with traditional American political principles. But many of its most vocal proponents actually pit it against the American ideals enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They scorn American concepts like the individual rights of life, liberty, and property as belonging to the supposedly outdated and flawed political philosophy of Classical Liberalism.

This article won’t be an entire refutation of their arguments against Classical Liberalism, but it will help the reader navigate some of the most common rhetoric on the topic. To that end, I’d like to focus on a recent thread by Jeff Wright (a prominent advocate of Christian Nationalism) in which he explained why he (and likely many others) have gravitated toward Christian Nationalism recently.

The entire thread from Jeff is helpful in understanding much of the motivating thought behind the recent surge in Christian Nationalism. But it has a number of fundamental flaws that I keep seeing over and over again in the rhetoric. I picked this tweet about Renn’s “negative world” to display because it sharply highlights the main flaw.

Renn’s three worlds (Positive, Neutral, and Negative) are meant to represent the different ways that the world has viewed & responded to Christianity in different eras. The idea I’ve seen many imply (including Jeff here) is that our political convictions should change based on how the world views / responds to Christianity.

Of course, this gets mixed with a practical concern about Classical Liberalism not being sufficient to meet the challenges of “negative world.” But I think this is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of Classical Liberalism, rooted in a sense of betrayal by the Church leaders who were falsely presumed to represent Classical Liberalism to some degree or another.

A Common Path Toward Christian Nationalism

Jeff describes an arc in his political thought that many current advocates of Christian Nationalism likely relate to: Libertarian / Classical Liberalism Ron Paul fans around 2016 with general trust in Evangelical political thought, then gradual disillusionment about the Evangelical leadership class through the Trump years, followed by outright shock at Evangelical leaders through the COVID years, effectively being “red pilled” (or black pilled) into a full on rejection of Evangelical political thought (and the Classical Liberalism it supposedly represents), as they began to search for a political alternative.

I sympathize with this arc, but I have to point out that it didn’t have to be this way. Some of us were never taken in by the shallow Evangelical political thoughtif one could even call it “thought.” We saw Timothy Keller’s “political philosophy” for the shallow anti-political philosophy that it was. We saw the “just preach the gospel” and “let’s try to win the world” political strategy as naive, unbiblical, unjust, and foolish. We saw that even Albert Mohler’s political philosophy wasn’t a coherent set of principles, but a pragmatic and inconsistent mishmash of pseudo-principles. 

Classical Liberalism and “The Negative World”

For us, Classical Liberalism wasn’t an attitude or strategy for Christianity to impact the world. It was a robust political philosophy in its own right. It was (and is) justified as the best political philosophy because of its commitment to actual justice, not because of how well it might have served some other purpose in the “Positive” or “Neutral” worlds. And because it is the ideal political system, rooted in justice, we don’t see any reason to think that it needs to be discarded in this “negative” world we find ourselves in. Unlike many of our brothers who are now embracing Christian Nationalism, we didn’t allow Classical Liberalism to be redefined in our minds by the impotent strawman its supposed evangelical advocates attempted to build in their shallow political musings.

So what actually is Classical Liberalism? It is the political philosophy of the American founding, which begins with the inalienable individual rights of life, liberty, and property. It insists that the only proper function of government is to protect these rights from being violated. If that’s the case, why should we think that Classical Liberalism is insufficient to protect us in this “negative” world? Forced gender surgery for your kids? Classical Liberalism says “no.” (In fact, Classical Liberalism is fully on board with outlawing such procedures for children.) Forced vaccines? Classical Liberalism says “no.” Unequal justice based on race? Classical Liberalism says “no.” Virtually every political complaint about the “negative” world would be opposed under Classical Liberalism.

One might say (as Jeff has indicated in this thread) that the Classically Liberal Constitutional system we once had has been replaced by a fairly recent revolution in political thought driven by leftist ideology. This is true, but so what? How is this an argument against returning to Classical Liberalism? Isn’t it an admission that this negative world isn’t a result of Classical Liberalism? 


The Cause of This Negative World

Some would answer that Classical Liberalism set the stage for the leftist hellscape we are now living in. But every argument I’ve seen to that effect amounts to “Classical Liberalism came before the leftist hellscape, therefore it’s the cause of the leftist hellscape,” which is an obvious fallacy (post hoc, ergo propter hoc). 

I would argue that Classical Liberalism was abandoned by its own supposed supporters (American conservatives) a long time ago. Despite being called “liberals,” the leftists have always opposed the Classically Liberal constitutional design of America in favor of increasing degrees of statism. They’ve always spurned individual rights in favor of collectivistic and tribal group “rights”knowing that this twisting of the language would allow them to smuggle in their statist goals while utilizing terms that sound like they pay homage to Classically Liberal ideals. 

And conservatives have complicitly capitulated to the anti-American leftists at almost every opportunity. In other words, the leftist hellscape we all find ourselves suffering through isn’t the fault of Classical Liberalism. It’s the fault of us abandoning Classical Liberalism. 

Of course, this isn’t a full argument to re-embrace Classical Liberalism as opposed to embracing Christian Nationalism. This is just a refutation of the common reasons people cite for rejecting Classical Liberalism in favor of Christian Nationalism. 

One important concern of Jeff’s which I share is: How can we turn society around? Classical Liberalism would put a stop to much of the injustice in our current society. But unlike certain varieties of Christian Nationalism, it wouldn’t use the state to prohibit activities which are not violations of true individual rights. Instead, we would argue that the Church should do the hard work of persuading the masses of truth and righteousness in the open public square of ideas.

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