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Gordon Clark on the philosophy of politics

November 18, 2008

I doubt anyone has thought these things through or articulated them better than Christian philosopher Gordon Clark. The following quotes are taken from A Christian View of Men and Things, Chapter 3, “The Philosophy of Politics.”

“And when the World State shall have been formed, to which planet may the patriot emigrate?” (p. 81)

For some reason, that very thing has been on my mind a lot lately.

So has this:

“Politics is the art of the possible. Every doer is born for a time, and thereby the ambit of his attainable achievement is fixed. Rarely is a fine politician unaware of his limitations, and rarely does he overlook anything realizable within them. On the other hand, political idealists create out of nothing; their castles of the mind, constructed of airy concepts like wisdom and righteousness, liberty and equality, are built from the top story downward. The master of fact, for his part, imperceptibly directs what he sees and accepts as plain reality. The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.” (p. 85)

“The art of politics is to maintain one’s own nation inwardly in form for events outside. . . .But the future of the nation will not be decided by internal measures; it will be decided by international power politics. And since the masses are not so clear-sighted, a ruling minority must possess this quality on behalf of the rest. This is the basic principle, not of an aristocratic regime only, but of government itself. Anyone who should genuinely feel himself as the delegate of the people instead of their master would not remain in office for one day.” (p. 85)

As for the Christian view of the state, Clark observes,

“All the non-theistic systems assume that the present condition of man is normal; the Christian system views actual humanity as abnormal. This answers a question which is occasionally raised in political discussion as to whether the state is a positive good or essentially an evil. The Christian answer is that the state is not a positive or unconditional good, but rather a necessary evil. To do justice to the Christian view one must insist on both adjective and noun. The state is an evil not only because of the abuse of power by the magistrates, but also because it interferes with freedom and introduces an unnatural superiority among men. But the state is also necessary under actual conditions because without civil government each man’s evil nature would turn his freedom to intolerable actions. The existence of the state is a partial punishment and cure for sin.” (pp. 89-90)

On taxes:

“‘Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?’ Probably most of the Jews secretly believed that it was unlawful. Christ’s answer and Paul’s statement are justifications of de facto government. The powers that be, that is, the actually existing powers, are ordained of God. Their taxes may be, and in those days were, exceedingly unjust, but it is the religious, and not merely political, obligation of the Christian to pay them. Rebellion or revolution on account of taxation is not condoned by these statements. It does not follow that Christians are enjoined from using all legal and peaceful means toward a just and honest administration. On the contrary, the obvious tenor of the Bible is to lay an obligation on men to promote justice in all the activities of life.” (p. 91)

For some reason, I found this especially encouraging:

“Politics is not so much a device for discovering the good for the purpose of academic speculation as it is for coercing groups of people. The question is not whether a dictator can know, but whether one man can safely be trusted with power. Democracy is best, not because a majority is wiser than a dictator, but because a large number of evil people working at cross purposes does less harm than a single irresponsible ruler.”

The absolute:

“[A] belief in unchanging truth does not imply totalitarianism because something depends on what these truths are. One may believe that it is unchangeably true that human nature is evil and that no man should be trusted with unlimited power. Such an absolute belief is patently inconsistent with totalitarianism. . .the absolute values of political liberty and the unchanging truth of human depravity furnish far more stable opposition to totalitarianism than the position that what is right today may be wrong tomorrow.”


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