Ross Douthat’s “The Crisis for Liberalism”

Ross Douthat’s “The Crisis for Liberalism” ( ably makes the case that the “naked public square” (echoing Richard John Neuhaus from thirty-two years ago) lacks sufficient resources to resolve the crisis generated by the identity politics of the left and made evident by the results of the recent election.

Lacking a national vision of a common good, a compelling sense of our place in the world, a unifying civil religion, the US is wedged between a rock and hard place. With a new administration that seems hell bent on governing as though the tattered remains of the late, great Judeo-Christian ethic is still in place, makes for a combustible situation indeed. Whether its fumes can reunite us around its largely abandoned vision of life in America is doubtful indeed.

But, insists Douthat, that vision or something very like it is what has to be recovered if we are to find our to unity and purpose again. The human needs unmet by identity politics or, I would add, Republican obstructionism,

“a deeper vision than mere liberalism is still required — something like ‘for God and home and country,’ as reactionary as that phrase may sound. It is reactionary, but then it is precisely older, foundational things that today’s liberalism has lost. Until it finds them again, it will face tribalism within its coalition and Trumpism from without, and it will struggle to tame either.”

I believe he is spot on here in his analysis. What I question, though, in fact what I don’t believe is desirable even if it is possible, is “something like ‘for God and home and country’” as the remedy.

Truth is, we’ve been there, done that, and if you were not white and male, it wasn’t all that great. And it did no good for the church’s witness to be a sponsor of the civil religion of an empire.

The question Douthat’s analysis does open up is the place and function of the church when it is no longer chaplain on the Good Ship America but cast out beyond the pale of the naked public square. God tells his people exiled in Babylon:

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.                       Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and                             give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters;                  multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where                           I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its                           welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer.29:5-7)

If such holds for God’s people, exiles in America, as well, what might it mean in light of Douthat’s analysis? I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer the best guide into this moment. But more important than what I think, is what other readers approach this situation we are in. So chime in, friends!


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