15 October 2010

Book: Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love

Grant N. Havers, "Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love" (University of Missouri Press, November 2009):


From the publisher's description: "Abraham Lincoln extolled the merit of 'loving thy neighbor as thyself,' especially as a critique of the hypocrisy of slavery, but a discussion of Christian love is noticeably absent from today's debates about religion and democracy. In this provocative book, Grant Havers argues that charity is a central tenet of what Lincoln once called America's 'political religion.' He explores the implications of making Christian love the highest moral standard for American democracy, showing how Lincoln's legacy demands that a true democracy be charitable toward all – and that only a people who lived according to such ideals could succeed in building democracy as Lincoln understood it. [...] This carefully argued work defends Lincoln's understanding of charity as essential to democracy while emphasizing the difficulty of fusing this ethic with the desire to spread democracy to people who do not share America's Christian heritage. In considering the prospect of America's leaders rediscovering a moral foreign policy based on charity rather than the costly idolization of democracy, Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love makes a timely contribution to the wider debate over both the meaning of religion in American politics and the mission of America in the world – and opens a new window on Lincoln's lasting legacy."

Excerpts: "Despite my discussion of political philosophy in the pages to follow, I am inclined to classify this work as political theology. Most secular academics tend to separate the two fields: political philosophy studies the human understanding of politics, while political theology reflects God's revelation. My contention is that, at least since Lincoln, this separation has never been successful in American political thought, although there have been many procrustean attempts to impose an artificial separation. The fact is that religion and politics have always been mutually dependent in American history [...]. Whereas [the founding fathers] Jay, Hamilton, and Madison are describing the meaning and process of government in profoundly secular terms (they rarely mention Christianity), Lincoln's speeches resonate with theological themes. Whereas The Federalist presents a new 'science of politics,' Lincoln offers a political theology. [...] Lincoln expected charity alone to be the primary foundation of a new political theology."

Grant N. Havers is Professor of Philosophy and Political Studies at Trinity Western University, Canada.

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