Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The liberalism we need today

Joe Klein (the famous anonymous author of Primary Colors) is one of the most astute observers of the political scene today. His review this week of Peter Beinert's new book about political liberalism, The Good Fight, is called "The [Harry] Truman Show." It seems to me that all Christians interested in politics (and all Christians should be interested....right?) need to be aware of what Mr. Beinert has to say. Here is one passage:

The need for American restraint and humility was at the heart of Truman's liberalism. It was the most significant difference between cold war liberalism and conservatism — and it is the most difficult part of Beinart's agenda to sell to the American public today. Conservatives passionately assume American exceptionalism, the uninflected righteousness of American power. But "in the liberal vision," Beinart writes, "it is precisely our recognition that we are not angels that makes us exceptional. Because we recognize that we can be corrupted by unlimited power, we accept the restraints that empires refuse."

If that gets your attention, and I hope it does, here is more, from earlier in the article:

Truman laid out the essentials in his 1949 Inaugural Address, offering a foreign policy with three pillars: a willingness to use military force to contain Soviet expansion, an aggressive effort to promote economic development abroad — especially in Western Europe's tottering democracies — and the resolve to remain humble in the process. "We all have to recognize — no matter how great our strength," Truman said, "that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." A fourth pillar was implicit in the third: that in order to be respected in the world, the United States would have to work assiduously to perfect its democracy at home. Hence, Truman's insistence on programs like civil rights legislation and universal health insurance.

I am not sure I would share this enthusiasm for Truman in view of his decision to drop the A-bombs and his refusal ever to rethink that decision. However, this Klein/Beinart assessment is compelling. To orient you further, here's more, going back to the beginning:

Once upon a time — 60 years ago, to be precise — liberals were the moderates in American politics. They were flanked on the left by so-called progressives who were either unconcerned about the threat posed by the international spread of Communism or covertly sympathetic to it, and on the right by conservatives who wanted to use anti-Communism as a rationale for domestic demagogy and unilateral military crusades. The liberal "vital center" — to use Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s phrase — was not, however, a force for milquetoast moderation or take-half compromise. It was a tough-minded, aggressively creative political movement. It was led by courageous politicians like Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey, who received policy support from a remarkable generation of public servants that included George Marshall, George Kennan, Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson. Intellectual ballast was provided by Schlesinger, Kennan and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, among others. Their immediate achievement was the containment of Communism. But Peter Beinart argues that cold war liberalism has enduring value as well: he believes it is the most plausible philosophical framework for an enlightened American foreign (and domestic) policy in the 21st century.

And finally, here is Klein's summary of the "global viruses" facing us (I find this a helpful concise list, for prayer and for preaching)

1) terrorism
2) plagues
3) transnational criminality
4) economic exploitation
5) environmental depredation

To read the entire article, cut and paste this link: