Archive Civic Polity Peter Escalante

Hart-ers Gonna Hart

Yet more murmurings from Fogey Life, despite the question having long since been settled. Why exactly Darryl Hart feels compelled to flail at a straw-man version of Christendom is at this point a mystery known only to God. But it’s worth making a few points by way of reply, for the sake of those who have come late to the conversation – if it can be called that.

It’s really very hard to make Hart, grey eminence of the Grumpies, happy. One would think that he would greet with a sigh of great relief Douglas Wilson’s little essay on blasphemy and civil order, since it seems that fear of a Muscovite theocracy sweeping the nation and taking away the television keeps Hart up at nights, and yet, Pastor Wilson’s essay is the least theocratic thing imaginable. We aren’t Douglas Wilson, can’t speak for him, and don’t always agree with him. But his reflections in the essay are actually a very cogent exposition of the developed Protestant position as one finds it in the later jurists and the American founding, and in it he makes just about every distinction, and offers just about every safeguard, which any civil libertarian might wish for. But since Hart is committed, by his own theological principles, to the idea that any Christian civil order must necessarily be a merciless totalitarian clerocracy, he thus takes Pastor Wilson to be offering a watered-down, “Americanized” version of the third commandment of no real use; Hart posits the false dichotomy of either killer commandments or no commandments. But if one doesn’t share Hart’s peculiar principles, his conclusion doesn’t at all follow. In fact, Pastor Wilson is simply offering a consistently Protestant reading of what the general equity of that commandment might look like in modern circumstances. Since, as a great many political commentators now admit, modern liberal order is having trouble accounting for its own freedoms and thus spends a lot of time fretting in a cold sweat about how to defend them, Pastor Wilson’s principled approach should be of considerable interest.

Hart’s critique of Christendom deals entirely with the medieval situation, which was Papal-dominated and (in response to Muslim incursions) militarized, and we would share a number of his critiques of its exclusivity and intolerance, which Hart mistakenly thinks follow directly from Christian political theology, rather than from distortions of it. Rather like Dr Brad Gregory’s pretty silly historical narrative (though Dr Gregory pines for the middle ages, and Hart most definitely does not), Hart claims that the Reformation was wholly destructive of Christendom. This is historically untrue in every way. The Reformation was destructive of the things Hart dislikes about the middle ages, but constructive of the things he likes about modernity, though not at all in the way he imagines, not even remotely; the way it built those things he likes about modernity was as integral parts of a reformed Christian political order. The Reformation intended the reformation of all of Christendom, particularly the central Empire and adjacent states of the Latin West, and although it did not manage to accomplish this (being prevented in many cases by violence), wherever it did succeed, it not only kept but actively cultivated the idea of a Christian political order and a society of Christian nations. And although the road was long and winding, it was precisely there, in that project of a Reformed Christendom, that we find the origins of the modern order of civic freedom of which Dr Hart imagines himself the defender, though in fact his principles are directly subversive of it, since he thinks that one can only get golden eggs by getting rid of the goose.

As for us, we have made our principles perfectly clear, and have many times refuted every one of Hart’s misrepresentations of them. We have also demonstrated repeatedly that his “two kingdoms” has very little to do with the original two-kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers. He, unfortunately, seems to be altogether unable, for whatever reason, to register what we have made very plain. Those not similarly hampered can find the basics here.

By Peter Escalante

Peter Escalante is a founder and editor of The Calvinist International. He holds a MA in Philosophy.