Progressive and Conservative standard bearers from 2012, Obama v Romney

Progressive and Conservative standard bearers from 2012, Obama v Romney

Paul Gordon Collier- Most of the dialogue about human governance that occurs in America operates on two divisions. On the political scale, the division is defined as being ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive.’ On the economic scale, the division is defined as ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism.’
The connection of conservatism with capitalism and progressivism with socialism is almost always drawn, so that we end up having debates over two major worldviews, the ‘conservative’ worldview and the ‘progressive’ worldview (never mind that neither camp predominately actually advocates for either true capitalism or true socialism).
Yet, if you go into the conservative camp or the progressive camp and talk to the people doing the work of advancing these worldviews, the answers to what a conservative is and what a progressive is are almost as varied as the amount of people you might interview.
In truth, American conservatisim, as it has been practiced in the last 50 years, and American progressivism, as it has been practiced in the last 50 years, have more in common with one another than people realize. You just have to change the paradigm of scales to begin to see the differences.
I, along with some people that I walk in fellowship with in Christian discipleship, look at authorities in human governance being divided into four major categories. These categories are social, sacred, market and civic. Whenever we look at an event, an action, a condition, we analyze it first from the perspective of determining what is the primary authority at play here?
Just about every action, event, etc will affect more than one authority, but just about every such action, event, etc has a prevailing authority that governs it. For instance, how we raise our kids will have secondary, tertiary, etc effects on all four authorities, but, for the most part, the prevailing authority is social authority, and the nested prevailing authority is the parent. How that parent governs their child should, by our reckoning, be done within the boundaries and responsibilities of social authority.
Not to get too weighted down with this (since explaining the nature of these four authorities is not my goal here), it should be noted that some actions within the family unit may actually have other primary authorities, be it sacred, civic, or even market authority.
This presumption on our part is based on our worldview, our Christian worldview. For us, and through our particular Christian worldview, the role of a parent is not to create a child with the ‘right’ worldview, but to equip a child with the power to choose the ‘right’ worldview (which, for us, is our particular Christian worldview). The child should be given the tools to make an informed, disciplined choice, not COERCED into fitting within a desired worldview.
This last point gets to the salient point I hope to make in this article, that the real debate that should be going on is the answering of two questions:
1. What is the degree to which coercion should be applied within the territory of sovereign governance to produce a desired effect within the four authorities?
2. What is the degree to which coercion should be applied OUTSIDE the territory of sovereign governance to produce a desired effect within the four authorities?
3. What worldview model should be the primary driver of defining the use and application of coercion in human governance?
Let me define coercion before I go on. Coercion, as I am using it, is the ultimate threat of an authority who wields lethal power to ultimately force you to comply with rules, regulations, laws, paying of taxes, fines, etc.
If we look at our current political divisions, conservative versus progressive, what we find is BOTH major political worldviews involve varying levels of coercion within the four authorities. For conservatives, coercive action is more encouraged in the social authority than any other authority, at least within the territory of the sovereign governance. For progressives, coercive action is more directly aimed across the board, with the least amount of coercion being applied within social authority (even then, the degree of coercion applied at the social level is at least as much, if not more, than the degree of coercion applied by the conservative worldview).
As far as the international level of governance, progressives would apply a lot less coercive authority on other territories of sovereign governance than would conservatives, but they are not coercive-free in their approach. And their coercive actions are directed more at social authority than any other authority. Whereas with conservatives, their coercive action is more directly aimed at civic authority. For the progressive worldview, it is important to use your power to reward and punish states that reflect their social moral views regarding ‘social justice’, whereas the conservative is more concerned that the state’s civic authority reflect, first and foremost, pro-American sentiments, and, secondarily, adopt American standards of civic governance.
I should add a caveat here. For both conservative and progressive administrations, it has been shown that states which offer some support for the cause are given passes when they violate the standards that both camps profess to uphold.
For the conservative, a projection of American power and the perpetuation of American dominance in the world is the primary goal and function of the Federal government. For the progressive, the creation of an ecumenical reality of ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ is the ultimate function of American Federal power.
Both assign a mission for Federal power that goes beyond, from our Christian worldview, the very limited definition of civic governance found in Romans 13, to mete out justice, to right wrongs.
Romans 13:
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
It is interesting that this is the extent to which God has given the believer any real instruction on civic governance in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, through the prophets, we find more instructions, but none of those instructions assign a ‘disciple building’ task to civic, lethal-force wielding authority. They have to do with feeding the poor, (but those who work), of not oppressing the weak (but not granting them special benefits) of respecting other nations, of staying within their assigned boundaries and honoring God.
Conservatives, at least as I see them through their actions, see civic authority as having a responsibility to create “Americans”, people who believe in individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and perpetuating American power and might. They have a model of governance that involves coercive ‘disciple building.’
Progressives also see a significant, even more significant role for coercive disciple building. They have a very real, ecumenical end-goal of creating a paradise of equality and social justice where everyone strictly follows a well-defined code of moral ethics, from championing gay rights to celebrating a woman’s right to choose, to demanding that no one makes too much or gets too little.
If we were to now look at those three questions, here is how they would be answered. I want to note in both the conservative and progressive camps that there are variations, and many within these camps actually hold worldviews that are inconsistent with the camps they identify with. It should also be noted that many have no real understanding of the real ideology being expressed and lived out by the leaders of their camps.
1. What is the degree to which coercion should be applied within the territory of sovereign governance to produce a desired effect within the four authorities?
Conservative- Coercive authority should be applied across all four authorities in the interest of producing and maintaining a powerful American state that reflects, to a limited degree (so long as these values do not adversely affect the primary function), individual liberty. Maintaining a strong civic authority is essential to executing the Law and Order required to keep the state on the path to greatness. However, coercive authority should be the last option within the other three authorities, and least within sacred authority.
Progressive- Coercive authority should be applied across all four authorities. Coercion is the primary mover in molding people to be more like the progressive ideal. Social authority may have the least amount of coercion placed on it, while the other three authorities all need to be heavily coerced to properly mold people to become more like the progressive ideal.
2. What is the degree to which coercion should be applied OUTSIDE the territory of sovereign governance to produce a desired effect within the four authorities?
Conservative- Coercion should be applied liberally to serve two ends, to advance the best interests of America and to spread ‘freedom’ to the rest of the world. The most amount of coercion should be applied in the civic authority, with the least being in the sacred and the social.
Progressive- Coercion should applied judiciously to other nations, but only to help guide them to have social values and mores that are more in keeping with progressive ideals (pro gay, pro-abortion, etc). The most amount of coercion should be applied to the social authority, with minimal coercion applied to the other three authorities.
3. What worldview model should be the primary driver of defining the use and application of coercion in human governance?
Conservative- For many, the Christian worldview should be the primary driver, but for many others (it might be 50/50), it should be the secularized expression of the values of the Bill of Rights, or Natural law. Both hold as an ideal the sacredness of the individual and the right of the individual being the primary check on power. All of this is subjected to modification and limitation insofar as it hinders the nation’s ability to be secure and to perpetuate its greatness on the world stage.
Progressive- The progressive worldview holds that community rights supersede individual rights, that human beings are valued only insofar as they are useful, that educated people of science should have the ‘freedom’ to change laws and standards of governance according to an evolving understanding of what is best for the collective to become more and more perfected. Perfection is defined as equality, social justice, where science and rationale rule the marketplace of ideas.
What we see here is that both worldviews actually favor a good deal of coercion. For the conservative, the government should have the power to coerce in the name of national security, order and greatness. For the progressive, the government should have the power to coerce in the name of equality and social justice.
Progressives in a conservative-ruled state face more coercive actions against them than do conservatives. The same can be said for conservatives in a progressive-ruled state. BOTH worldviews are similar in the scale of more or less coercion, with progressives favoring more coercion overall than conservatives do. They simply have different targets for coercion and serve different ends.
Despite the fact that conservatives favor less coercion than progressives, for the progressive, they will feel far more coerced in a conservative state as they will naturally fit with the worldview of the progressive state, so laws that might restrict conservatives will not affect the progressive at all. The progressive will see those laws as a natural, rational reflection of human reality,
The reverse can be said for the conservative versus the progressive under a conservative state. The same laws that coerce progressives will be seen by conservatives to be natural (for some, God-given) reflection of human reality.
In the wake of this latest progressive Presidency, where the power of the executive has been used so broadly to target political opponents and protect political allies, I see conservatives, if and when they reclaim the executive, applying the same exact tactics as the progressives have been doing under Obama.
In terms of the use of coercion, our real choice is really between the types of coercion we prefer. Do we prefer to be coerced to reflect the moral code of the progressive or the moral code of the conservative? We will be able to start a business more easily in a conservative-ruled state, but we will have more liberty sexually under a progressive state. We will be able to practice religion more freely under a conservative state, but we will have more liberty to be free from religion in a progressive state.
While I would certainly favor the kind of coercion and liberty offered by the conservative state over the progressive state, I would prefer even more the kind of coercion that, at most, punished the evil doer, the violator of another’s liberty, and settled disputes than either the conservative or the progressive state would offer. My coercion scale is considerably less than either camp currently accepts.
BOTH worldviews seek to use the power of the state’s gun to coerce the ‘proper’ discipleship from its citizens. BOTH go beyond the boundaries of government set by God in Romans 13. BOTH, from a Christian perspective, are unbiblical.
The conversation we should be having in America today is not between progressive and conservative, for both are just two different flavors of heavily coercive governance models. The REAL conversation we should be having is between THIS choice, THE choice that has been argued since the creation of the first governments. How much coercive power should we entrust our government with?
So far, the overwhelming majority of Americans have been answering, “a lot, but for the ‘right’ reasons.”