Archive Civic Polity Nota Bene Simon Kennedy

Christianity and Political Liberalism

My recent essay on the extant tensions between political liberalism and Christianity, published in the October issue of the Australian cultural and political journal Quadrant, is now available online. In it, I attempt to demonstrate the historical links between Christianity and liberalism, vis-a-vis Larry Siedentop. The article is also my effort to persuade a secular audience about the necessity of Christianity for the health of the liberal political order.

Liberalism has begun to impose itself upon the individuals it claims to help thrive. It now upholds certain liberal tenets at the expense of more fundamental, traditional liberal tenets. These more fundamental tenets were formed and grown in the soil of Christianity, and in the intellectual milieu of a Christian society. Subsequently, contemporary liberal ideals are beginning to clash regularly with the demands and claims Christianity makes on its followers. Liberalism is not as liberal as it thinks it is. As it has moved away from its Christian roots it has begun to find Christianity’s claims an inconvenience. Christianity gets in the way of the formation of the perfect liberal order because it makes claims which contradict the claims of liberalism. Even though liberalism allows for different religions to share the public square, and worship as they wish side-by-side, in the end that worship has to fit into liberalism’s rules. As liberalism changes, Christianity’s tenets are gradually becoming uncomfortable for the liberal order. The two no longer fit together as they once did.

My solution to the tensions between liberalism and Christianity? As has been similarly argued by Peter Escalante on this wesbite, I suggest we need to return to understanding our society as a part of Christendom. The liberal political order is fundamentally evangelical (that is, founded upon the gospel), after all.

One solution which is both plausible and has potential to succeed in the short term is that liberalism give up its claims to hegemony and reharmonise itself with its own first principles and ideas about freedom, which are in essence an outgrowth of the Christian view of the good life. A Christian political liberalism is the solution. Christianity’s claims do not contradict the basic tenets of liberalism as they stood in their original form. This is historically the case, as liberalism was partly formed under the tutelage of the Christian faith and developed by the Protestant Reformers, and jurists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Returning liberalism to its Christian roots would reinvigorate the liberal project and pre-emptively end the impending stand-off between Christians and the liberal order. Liberal ideas were never designed to be total and hegemonic; they originally existed within the clear bounds of Christian morality and theology.

Read the whole thing here.


By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.