Christians have adopted a retreating, defeatist position which idolizes “secular” politics as the only real means of getting anything done. The ability to better the world seems to be attained at the price of “leaving your Christianity at the door,” while law and order seems to be established at the expense of the law of Christ and the order of charity. We are increasingly forced to accept a world in which the love of God no longer has any bearing on politics and economics. Worse, we are led to believe that this divorce is success. Politically engaged young people, dissatisfied with these options, find themselves drawn towards ideologies that are explicitly antagonistic to Christianity, like the alt-right and socialism. This dilemma does not rise from any sort of apoliticism intrinsic to Christianity, nor from any anti-Christianity fundamental to politics. It comes from a false anthropology, one which leads people to consider themselves as split into separate and competing spheres; the religious and the personal on the one hand, the political and the economic on the other. This false anthropology is called liberalism.
Liberalism reduces the world of human relationships into an abstract world of legal rights, juridical actors, and private property. Liberalism asserts that this abstract world is the real one and that the world of our loves, of our loyalties, of our self-emptying relationships is merely a private world of sentiment, important to us, no doubt, but ultimately without social consequence. Within the “truth” of liberalism, men are ultimately arrayed against each other in a relentless scramble to satisfy individual desires. Within the logic of liberalism, law transforms from a positive participation in the Eternal Law into a negative constraint on our subjective freedom. Instead of an ordering principle of society that demands a response from each of its members, justice becomes a merely technical fairness, arbitrarily decided and distributed by a welfare state. Freedom, which Christianity considers as a gift of God that allows us to become happy, devolves into the mere ability to satisfy our whims and desires. Liberals believe that wealth, which Christianity justified as existing for the sake of the common good, exists for the sake of consumption and power. Ultimately, liberalism denies that the defining characteristic of human societies is their fundamental orientation towards or away from God, by redescribing religion as the mere private choice of peculiar individuals. Liberalism is characterized by the assertion that man has a world apart from God. Postliberalism inverts this vision.
Postliberalism is not an attempt to reform liberalism from within its own categories; it is an attempt to think beyond its categories entirely. For example, postliberalism does not seek to demonstrate how the institution of marriage is beneficial to the state or economy, but rather to demonstrate that marriage is a more fundamental society than either. The concepts of the state and the economy are imperfect versions of the type of social bond found in marriage. In fact, the state is only justified in its existence insofar as it serves these real relationships of love. Or again, postliberalism does not address the loss of virtue in our society by arguing that virtuous men make good citizens. In fact, in an immoral society, immoral men make good citizens, because they serve the ends of their society and obey its laws. Exiting from the liberal framework, which always over-inflates the importance of the state, postliberalism would argue that virtue is not for the use of the state at all, rather, the laws of the state are only justified insofar as they lead men deeper into the life of virtue. The postliberal movement reclaims the real world.
The world of family, marriage, and friendship is the real world, the world in which we actually move, and together either ascend toward our Creator or descend toward our tempter. Mankind actually lives in a world defined by our love of God and our love of neighbor, a single love that Christianity identifies as charity. Where that love fails or is yet imperfect we rely upon external order provided by law or contracts. Where that love thrives, we approach society’s telos, the end of the external apparatus of state, law, and coercion and the fulfillment of our natures in union with God. This is the difference that postliberalism brings: rather than finding a place for Christian love in politics, postliberalism realizes that all politics is fulfilled in Christian love.
Postliberalism is a solution to the crisis of Christian conservatism because it offers a perspective on life and society that brings together our life with God and our life with each other. The vision of liberalism is failing to satisfy Americans, especially young people who know intuitively that their way of life and the order of politics and economics are not divorced. Socialism and the Alt-Right are attempts to meet this dissatisfaction by marrying political action to an identity and a way of life. Christian Postliberalism advocates an identity and a way of life modeled on Christ Himself.
If Christianity is to regain its influence within conservatism, let alone in society as a whole, it must move past being a mere “religion” operating comfortably in its liberalism-defined realm, and must become a true worldview that seeks to displace liberalism itself and that competes head-to-head with the ideologies of right and left, which are currently contending for control of America’s future.
Unlike the ideologies of right and left, postliberalism does not seek to gain control of the institutions of power, of the state and market, but rather to reduce their significance through fostering ways of life that do not rely upon their dominance. Small government is not merely about shrinking the apparatus itself; it is even more about becoming the type of people who are not governed externally but who govern ourselves internally, through charity. Postliberalism would see the creation of smaller communities that do not look to the State for their order. This, and not merely passing legislation, is the path toward small-government and political effectiveness and is simultaneously the path laid down by Christ. The intellectual and the practical are therefore bound together in postliberalism. We must come to understand that we might act and act that we might come to understand.
Postliberal Thought’s purpose is to become a stable center for postliberal ideas to be proposed, debated, corrected, and developed in an environment of academic seriousness – and free from the constraints and ideological pressures of the modern university system. Many scholars and public intellectuals are working toward various types of postliberalism, but the movement is lacking an institutional home that can serve as a hub of communication as well as a source of funding and publications. The Institute will become such a home. Through its work, those committed to a Christian worldview will coalesce into a movement capable of mounting meaningful resistance to the violent cultural and political trends of the liberal state.
But more than resistance, a highly articulate postliberal Christian discourse is precisely the means through which liberal society will become capable of conversion. Liberal society will not be converted by Christian promises of more freedom, more prosperity, more security, more “happiness” – in short, by more liberalism. Liberal society will be converted by the allure of the Gospel that places all these goods within a more fundamental good, which is ultimately the love of God and neighbor. Working toward this “allure” is the mission of Postliberal Thought.