Standard Politics is Still Valuable for Christians and other Non-Woke People, but Discernment is Needed lest we Waste Time and Support our Opponent

[Update 10/23/2021  I realize that my use of the phrase “standard politics” here can be misleading, and it is very important for me be to clear because otherwise the reader may think I am saying the opposite of what I am actually saying.

In my previous post on this subject I pointed out that the word “politics” can have a wider meaning: Any activity that influences the order of society. Within this wider meaning, “standard” politics refers to what the word usually means: elections, legislation, etc.

But an endorsement of “standard politics” could fairly be interpreted as an endorsement of the entire political system including the sense of granting it full legitimacy. This I do not do. The overall political system is strongly against us and Christians and other non-Woke people  must hack the system, that is, use it warily and wisely to our advantage.

Mea culpa for possibly misleading the reader.]

*

This article continues my opposition to the widespread right-wing belief that politics is a waste of time. This belief contains enough truth to be plausible, but it causes our side to miss important opportunities.

The theme of my previous post was that our opponent is tearing down good culture and replacing it with bad culture, therefore some of our people need to do the work of forming good culture. And anything having to do with the formation of culture may be called “doing politics.”

In this post I continue to build my case by making a point about “standard” politics, i.e., politics in the ordinary sense of the word (voting, supporting candidates, trying to influence government officials.) Standard politics can sometimes be useful for our side, and we inflict unnecessary harm on ourselves if we always stay away from it. I do not try to specify exactly how our side can engage in standard politics; I only make the case that it is sometimes good for us.

*

In a comment on my previous post, Bonald says

I would not recommend Christians engage in politics in the first sense [i.e., “standard” politics], because its only effect will be to help legitimize an evil democratic order, and Christians will be pressured to compromise their beliefs for the sake of political alliances while almost certainly getting nothing in return.

While this is largely correct as a summary, a blanket rule never to participate in standard politics is incorrect. In the language of Christianity, standard politics can be a good work. We can vote for a good county sheriff who will block some bad initiatives coming from above. We can pressure good state legislators to pass just laws, as Texas’s recently did. (As I write these words, this legislation is in the hands of the judiciary, but final defeat is not a foregone conclusion.) Mayors, city councilmen and school board personnel, among others, can still do good if we vote them into office.

While the overall political system is controlled by our opponent and is designed to frustrate our efforts, wisely-directed political action can benefit our people.

In the traditional American understanding, voting and influencing government officials are required of citizens because without mass participation, the political process is delegitimized. Traditional civic virtue required, at minimum, voting in every election. But this is no longer the case. At the national level, and at many state levels, the political system is mostly controlled by our opponent and is administered with the intent to harm us.

But this still leaves politics at many local and state levels as fields where we can still do good works, if we exercise discernment. Will the candidate for whom you are considering voting really fight for our interests? You have to assume the answer is “no” until strong evidence to the contrary is brought to light. But those who do fight for us deserve our support because it is within our power to put them in office.

We also must not place too much hope in the standard political process. Ordinary people have little influence on political outcomes, except in a few specific instances. Discernment is needed to locate these exceptional cases and then apply the right force.

The political system is deceptive. If you lack political discernment it is better not to vote than to vote foolishly. Politics is also a very emotional subject for many people. They often turn away in anger when their desires are repeatedly frustrated.

But we must not cede the entire field to our opponent. Politics resembles war. If you wage war foolishly you do more harm than good. But refusing on principle ever to engage the opponent does even more harm.

*

As Christians we understand that God controls the means as well as the ends. Voting can be a means to a good end.

We can also understand biblically the principle that we must not place final trust in politics. Ancient Israel sometimes went to war, and God often warned her not to trust in war horses and battle chariots, but rather to trust in their covenant God for the victory. But this did not mean that Israel was not to wage war. She was to use her armies as tools, not as idols.

Politics, like warfare, is a means to an end. If we treat it as a tool, not an idol, standard politics can be a good work.

25 thoughts on “Standard Politics is Still Valuable for Christians and other Non-Woke People, but Discernment is Needed lest we Waste Time and Support our Opponent

  1. This is a good continuation and clarification of your previous article.

    I like the analogy of alcohol, since both alcohol and politics (even the standard variety) have the potential to be intoxicating to a sinful degree. Not everyone avoids alcohol because of the potential just as not everyone avoids politics. But due to the level of discernment and the nature of the beast, should the default assumption be that you will, in fact, participate in standard politics?

    With alcohol, the object of your concern is at least an inamiate material good. The danger is purely interior, because you must have control over the desire to drink, and not the other way around.

    Politics deals with other people, and frequently it is the attention from other people (both negative and positive attentions) which draw us into a deeper intoxication.

    If we must be discerning, and if the nature of politics as concerning others raises the standard of discernment, i would argue that the default assumption should be non participation unless the matter in question is extreme. Voting as a civic duty creates an obligation to participate even in petty, minor political acts. If the civic duty means we will automatically vote, how discerning are we really being?

    Non participation at least forces is to consider whether the political issue is worth the effort and whether our effort will have a measurable result.

  2. From the material side, I have learned much from Curtis Yarvin (neé Mencius Moldbug) and the Zippy Catholic blog. Zippy’s analysis of individual voting is mathematically indisputable, that the single vote is an idealistic and not pragmatic act. From Yarvin, I find his idea of bloc voting, voting as a one-way transfer of power and force multiplier, intriguing. My tentative conclusion is that if an election is important enough and possibility of success high enough to counterbalance the evil effects of voting, then our possible duty that we contribute to persuading others how to vote (or even higher up, persuading others to persuade others how to vote, ad infinitum) is even more important than voting ourselves, according to our ability to do so.

    This is where I appreciate Scoot’s critique. Politics really is a dreadfully scandalous field strewn with near occasions of sin. How difficult it is to remain humble when one considers himself worthy enough to bear the responsibility of power! And how often are we burned in judging the motives of the men we support (and our own motives?)

    I find myself leaning towards Alan Roebuck’s position because of the dictum attributed, I believe, to Plato that good men take power only because the alternative of bad men ruling is even worse. I wish to believe that I am chief of sinners, but I am conscious of the idea that I can work towards something better in politics, and that not doing so is to bury the talent I am given.

    How many better than we fought for lost causes? Could I really do better than them? I examine my soul, and the answer is no. I understand, Mr. Roebuck, the limits you put on trusting in princes, on prioritizing local elections and how moderate the effect will always be. But when I examine the situation, all problems seem, in Yarvin’s term, “coup complete,” that is, requiring a complete change of regime to improve. But sometimes it is a duty to fight for a cause that seems lost.

    For now, I will focus on reforming my own soul, and hope and pray that God will grant me discernment.

  3. @Alan – I think you are flogging a dead horse on this line of argument.

    To argue in large abstractions about these matters conflates the past and other places with here and now – and for many/ most people here and now – politics is corrupt in a way and to an extent qualitatively greater than ever before known.

    All options are evil – all of them.

    There are no good men to vote for; only a choice of people on the side of evil in different ways and degrees – and whatever good voting (as a method of decision making) may once have had (and I suspect it always was little more than a stalking horse for corruption), has long since gone.

    There are now extremely few men who are on the side of good; and I don’t think any of these few (of which I am aware) are in politics – indeed public life has been cleansed of good people at the level of leadership.

    Actual politics is about shuffling different flavours of evil; about sustaining what is judged to be the lesser of evils, and ends by supporting one type or scale of evil against another – which is almost always corrupting. Whether we support Sauron, Saruman, Wormtongue, Shelob, or Old Man Willow (asserting our choice is ‘not so bad’ as the others) – we have still joined the side of evil.

    And I mean *evil*, I mean people who are on the side of Satan and against God, even when they may be personally nice and decent individuals, even when these are people you might like or love as individuals.

    Of course we *must* act – we live in a material world, after all (albeit the spiritual is primary); but our action should come from an appreciation of the vast scale of evil in the world now; and that those who act against it will be doing so as individuals, or – if lucky – with a handful of hand-picked allies… The realm of nationally significant institutions and organizations – i.e. ‘politics’ is now wholly in the hands of The Enemy.

    • @ Bruce: Maybe you are too pessimistic because things are worse in England than here in America. Here in the USA election results occasionally do genuine good. Even though the System is fundamentally evil in a way never seen before, as you correctly say.

      In America, the System does not yet control every breath we take. And sometimes you have to keep fighting even when the situation seems hopeless. If for no other reason to keep up your morale.

      You and Bonald say that since the System is deeply corrupt, participating in it even a little — by voting, for example — is deeply corrupting. That is a great danger. Many people cannot vote without emotionally identifying at a deep level with the one for which they vote. But this is exactly what must be avoided. If voting can sometimes do us good — and here in the USA it can, if we act with wisdom — we must vote without emotionally identifying with the party or candidate and thereby being led astray.

      If he fights for us more often than not, vote for him. Otherwise do not. And if no candidate will fight for us, then take the Charlton/Bonald position and do not vote.

  4. I tend to see the political situation as dire, as is evident in the item I posted shortly after you posted this one, but I agree that discerning engagement is a duty. I’ve argued a good deal with Scoot about the danger of quietism when, as you argued in your previous post, our enemies are engaged in a cultural revolution. They will used the schools to pervert your children and they will make homeschooling illegal. Quietists have no conception of what our enemy would do in the absence of opposition. The First Amendment will soon mean something very different if all Christians decide to stay at home and suck their thumbs.

    If I had any influence, however, I think I would advise Christians to boycott one major election just to show the politicians that say they represent us that we demand some representation. There are tiny minorities that have legislators on a leash, and one (rapidly shrinking) majority who gets nothing but occasional lectures on its dimwitted intolerance. I would also urge clergymen to regularly explain that the disestablishment clause is not a “wall of separation,” and to name the dishonest shysters who have persuaded so many Americans that it is.

    • Thanks for backing me on this, JM. Boycotting a major election, if the boycott was made clear so that the candidates would clearly see the cause of their misfortune, could do a world of good. Even if no public figure calls for a boycott, we should refuse to support any candidate who does not clearly fight for us.

      • Good point. Not voting in itself only protects the non-voter from participation in evil. Letting it be known that one is not voting and why may do some positive good. As you wrote,

        “In the traditional American understanding, voting and influencing government officials are required of citizens because without mass participation, the political process is delegitimized.”

        Delegitimizing the democratic order would be a good thing.

      • I suppose that’s a matter of strategy, and so will differ from case to case. Can one do more good by manipulating the process or by helping to diminish its legitimacy?

    • I’ve argued a good deal with Scoot about the danger of quietism (…) Quietists have no conception of what our enemy would do in the absence of opposition.

      The thing that I have trouble grasping is what the worst case scenario is. Glorious Martyrdom isn’t so bad if we believe we go to Heaven. I believe it is metaphysically impossible for the Church to be killed entirely. Even if we suppose it were possible, the achievement of that hastens the eschaton. They can oppress and suppress and depress us as much as they like, but as long as we have hope in Christ what is there to fear?

      Political fears are worldly fears, and to be Christian just is to believe in the everlasting life beyond this world.

      • If you review Christ’s last evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, you will find that even he was not insouciant about martyrdom. We must accept martyrdom if that is God’s will, but it seems to me that we commit the sin of presumption if we will our own martyrdom. We are fiends if we will the martyrdom of our children.

        The Church against which the Gates of Hell cannot prevail includes, and may very well be confined to, what used to be known as the Church Triumphant. The faithful dead are beyond Satan’s grasp. That is metaphysically certain. As for what used to be known as the Church Militant, I am not so sure. We know for certain that it can be suppressed to a point where millions will live and die in ignorance of the gospel.

        Politics is not the whole answer, of course, since not all our wounds have or will come from politicians. And there is real danger of mistaking a political defense of religion for religion itself.

      • “Political fears are worldly fears, …”.

        It depends on what you mean by “worldly.” The worldliness that the Christian is to shun is loving the un-Christian systems of the world. But we live in the “world,” and we can do good works within the existing systems. I think you would not denounce as “worldly” a Christian surgeon who seeks to perfect his craft, for it enables him to do better good works. Surgery, like anything else, can become an idol, but it is not inherently sinful to engage in it.

        The political system is more deceptive than the realm of surgery, but both are systems of this word within which it is possible for the Christian to do good works

      • “The Church against which the Gates of Hell cannot prevail includes, and may very well be confined to, what used to be known as the Church Triumphant.”

        Prof. Smith, your manner of writing delights.

        As far as the general topic, I agree with the Calvinist. I think it’s foolish to leave any weapons, tools, leverage, advantage, etc. unused. Perhaps it’s my inner Hebe, but I don’t want to cede an inch or pull a punch. If “our opponent” will win, I want the victory to cost him blood and misery. Don’t give the bastards an easy score.

        One can do such without falling into democratic idolatry.

  5. Joseph A.,

    If “our opponent” will win, I want the victory to cost him blood and misery. Don’t give the bastards an easy score.

    This is a bit like a french soldier playing chess against a german solider in no mans land during a world war 1 battle. It’s great to win, sure, but it’s not really important to everything else going on. Choose your battles, I just don’t see the rationale on the political theatre.

    Alan Roebuck,

    I think you would not denounce as “worldly” a Christian surgeon who seeks to perfect his craft, for it enables him to do better good works.

    Surgery is necessary, politics is not. Politics can certainly work to damn people, but I don’t see how it can work to save them. I don’t think political action has ever caused a conversion of heart, nor do I think persistent political action bears much fruit for our souls other than causing us consternation and worry. Things from God bring us peace, and even the talk here on the Orthosphere about politics is in the context of girding our loins for a great struggle–a struggle which is no more important, to my mind, than a chess match in the middle of the Battle of the Somme.

    JMSmith,

    I still don’t understand what the worst case scenario is. Why should I worry about politics? Why is it an urgent necessity that I be engaged politically? What should I expect the fruit of that effort to be?

    • Of course politics is necessary. Politics is the administration of human society, which is always necessary. It is always done, the only question is whether it is done well.

    • “Why is it an urgent necessity that I be engaged politically?”

      You personally do not need to be involved in politics. But it appears that you are urging all Christians not to be involved in politics, which is wrong.

    • Scoot @ You are a young man with many years to run before you “finish the race,” to use St. Paul’s metaphor. You may feel confident of your ability to “keep the faith,” but keeping the faith is in large degree a matter of keeping an environment in which the faith can be kept. We should all of us recall what happened to St. Peter shortly after he declared his resolve to keep the faith, no matter what, and should not flatter ourselves that our faith is more unshakable than the faith of St. Peter. No man knows how he will react to persecution until he is persecuted, and you can be sure that the antichrist has learned how to persecute men without giving them the satisfaction of being a “martyr.” Brainwashing techniques are not perfect, but a government policy of dechristianization would dechristianize a great many Christians who believed, like St. Peter, that they would never deny the Lord.

      As a young man you may still look forward to children and grandchildren, and you presumably wish to pass your faith down to them. This will be hard in the best scenario, and you should not snap your fingers at the idea that legislators can make it much harder. Atheist schoolteachers are presently under some restraint in deconversion, but this is only because the school boards that employ them have some fear of Christian voters. Remove that fear and you remove the restraint. What do you suppose would happen if churches were stripped of their tax exemption? What do you suppose would happen if the Bible was banned? There are plenty of people who would do all of these things and more if they were not opposed.

      • Catholicism was introduced in Japan by St. Francis Xavier in the late 1500’s, until Japan was closed in the early 1600’s during the Edo period. Catholicism survived for 250 years, known as kakure Kirishitan meaning “hidden christians”. They were cut off from the rest of the Church, bibles were confiscated, many were martyred. But for 250 years the faith survived, precisely because they had Faith. The Bible was turned into an oral tradition, like it was before it was compiled into the book we know today, and again, for 250 years they survived. Faith would survive in America too. And if they outlaw Bibles, and force the Church underground, and make martyrs of Catholics for practicing their faith, it would be hard but on the other side of it the faith would have survived. I maintain that if that is what they want to do, they cannot be stopped. Look at the vaccine mandates. All they have to do is threaten to fire people unless they renounce their faith–I got the vaccine because my employer (a hospital network, for whom I do accounting in a non-medical building) required 100% compliance.

        People will do all kinds of things that don’t make sense if their livelihood is threatened. But Livelihood is just stuff and Faith doesn’t need stuff to survive.

      • You aim should be for a faith that flourishes, not a faith that survives. It is romantic to suppose that we ourselves will be among the harried Christians meeting in the catacombs, but is is also sheer presumption. In any case, we should have charity for the millions are lost to perdition when the church is underground.

        Faith actually does need stuff to survive, because there is no faith if there are no faithful. Let’s not talk like high school sweethearts who tell their parents they are going to get married and live on love.

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  8. @Alan – “Of course politics is necessary. Politics is the administration of human society, which is always necessary. It is always done, the only question is whether it is done well.”

    Not quite. So far as is known the original human societies (hunter gatherers) had no politics, no administration, no ‘management’… because they were in essence familial/ clannish.

    And – of course – a good family is Not a political unit, but far transcends that. Ideally, each regards each other as unique, and coherence comes from love not laws.

    Also, I am personally certain that Heaven will be like the ideal and ultimate family in terms of human relationships – and utterly free from ‘politics’.

    Hell, on the other hand (including Hell on Earth) is Nothing-But politics…

    (To which the appropriate rejoinder is that we are not yet in Heaven. And until then…)

    • Perhaps you could agree with me that politics (rightly understood) is a “necessary evil.” All organization, even family/clan, requires effort to administer.

  9. Pingback: Politics is an Emotional Subject that Mesmerizes Some and causes Others to Give Up in Disgust and Miss Opportunities to Do Good by Hacking the System – The Orthosphere

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