2011-07-20

A Politics of Virtue

I have been struggling for quite some time to figure out where I fit politically, and crystalize it into some coherent form I could communicate with others. After reading quite a bit from the Left, some from the Right, and a healthy smattering of Hauerwas, Radical Orthodoxy, and MacIntyre, I have come across a concept called by some "Politics of Virtue" (cf. Philip Blonde). I think this is a pretty good summary of where I am at.

So, before I give my summary statement, I would like to clarify two things: What I mean by "politics" and "virtue".

By politics I mean how people behave toward one another in public, and especially how groups of people behave toward other groups, and the expectations they have of how our common "society" should function. Thus, anytime groups of people are together, politics is necessarily involved, because (as I like to say): Wherever there are people there are politics. Humans are political animals, and with any issue that impacts groups of people, they will inevitably develop ideologies about how to deal with the issue, and form sub-groups to enact their ideologies in public life. Thus, our political life consists of the groups we form (our parties), the solutions we propose (our policies), and the actions we take (our practices). Unless we are hermits, we are political actors on local, regional, national and international levels through our various parties, policies, and practices. Rather than trying to eschew politics or act like we are apolitical, it is best that we are conscious and deliberative about the political life we already are part of.

By virtue, I mean a certain "shape" or "form" of character that brings health and wholeness to persons and communities. Virtue is not a set of actions or list of rules, but a type or pattern of personality that gives rise to choices and actions that bring health to oneself and one's community. Vice is the opposite of virtue, and it refers to diseased, unhealthy and malignant patterns of personality that bring about damage and destruction to oneself and one's community. As followers of Christ, our standard for virtuous life- a life that is abundant in health, healing, harmony, and wholeness- is of course the life of Christ himself. This is not to say that virtue is confined to him alone or to Christianity alone. Certainly virtue is practiced and taught by other people and other traditions. It is merely to say that, for Christians, the fullness of life and completion of virtue is found in the God who became human, Jesus Christ. He is our Source and Exemplar of what it means to be virtuous as individuals and as a community. In various Biblical texts, notably Matthew 7, we are told to evaluate the virtue of a person as a farmer might evaluate the health of a crop by looking at it's "fruit". The "fruit" of a virtuous person consists of specific, namable personality traits which resemble Christ, and spread Christ's health and healing to others. Likewise, on a political level, communities exhibit certain character traits which are either healthy, life-giving, and virtuous, or sick, malignant, and vicious.

Thus, I can summarize my political standpoint as follows:

I stand for a "Politics of Virtue": A Way of public practice and policy that draws those who govern and those who are governed into the health, wholeness, and harmony of Christ-like communities. This pattern of virtuous personal and communal life is called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23, and it beckons us to asses our common political life based on the Christ-like virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. Thus we must evaluate our political parties, policies, and practices by the following criteria: 1. Does it grow communal love, in which we have unconditional care for our neighbors, and selflessly give of ourselves for the sake of their welfare? 2. Does it grow communal joy, in which we give thanks for our gifts and celebrate the grace found in creation and each another? 3. Does it grow communal peace, in which we practice peacemaking, reconciliation, and forgiveness? 4. Does it grow communal patience, in which we suffer with one another as long as is needed to bring about the common good? 5. Does it grow communal kindness, in which we use our blessings to bless others in acts of undeserved grace and personal sacrifice? 6. Does it grow communal goodness, in which we make our goods available to those in need, so everyone has access to the goods needed to sustain a good life of health and wholeness? 7. Does it grow communal faithfulness, in which we fulfill the vows and promises we make to one another, while protecting the community from those who are unfaithful, untrue, or unjust? 8. Does it grow communal humility, in which we recognize our own limitations and mistakes, as well as our interdependence upon one another and the God-given creation we dwell in? 9. Does it grow communal self-control, in which we practice a simple, satisfied, sustainable lifestyle in harmony with the resources granted to us by God? This "Politics of Virtue" transcends contemporary political systems, whether aristocratic or democratic, conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive, by judging all systems with the question: Does this system produce a community of people who exhibit Christ-like character? If the answer is yes, then it is a good political system: That is, it draws people to what is Good. If the answer is that it produces communities at odds with Christ-like virtue then it is a political system that needs to be reformed, rejected or replaced.

Copyright (c) 2011 Nathan L. Bostian. All rights reserved.

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.