Orthodox Christian







Is Liberalism Finished?

By Carole P. Leret


The thinking that informs Liberalism centres chiefly around the concept of freedom or liberty.  Liberal derives from the Latin word 'Liberalis' - Liber (free) and liberalism consequently views everything in relation to man's freedom.


Definitions/ Explanations of Liberalism

John Dunn places liberalism under the following categories: 'Individualism', 'political rationalism, hostility to autocracy, cultural distaste for conservatism and for tradition in general, tolerance'.(1)


The immediate effect of this Ideology is two-fold:

Firstly, man's freedom becomes an ultimate condition for judging everything else by.  Man is placed at the apex of existence and existence becomes comprehensible only by and through man's reason.  This places supreme faith in the individual and individualism is conceptualized as self-realization, or the realization of an individual's full potential.  This thinking has its roots in the spread of humanism during the Reformation which helped to 'spread respect for the autonomy of man'.(2)  It soon became the inspiration of much of renaissance and post renaissance literature and is to be recognized in Hamlet's speech (Act 2 Sc.2).

'What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason!  how infinite in faculty!  In form and moving how express and admirable!  In action how like an angel!  In apprehension how like a god!  The beauty of the world!  The paragon of animals - '.

Secondly, it places man always in a present situation.  It cuts him off from his past and traditions because to bind him to them might be regarded as an infringement of his liberty and throws his rationality into a secondary position.  The human being should be enabled, endowed as he is with reason, to solve the problems of the present, be they his own personal problems, or his social and political ones.  Following from this a distaste for autocracy becomes in effect a suspicion of authority, because all authority in the eyes of the liberal lends itself so easily to authoritarianism and so presents a threat to the individual's freedom of choice.  It becomes an essential part of liberalism to question particular authorities and to make reforms possible when and where they are deemed necessary so that the politics of the day are seen to adequately cover the changing needs of man in a changing world.


Individualism in conjunction with tolerance leads to a situation where each individual's 'truth' or ideology becomes equal to everybody else's.  What is good (or bad) comes to reside in the thing itself, the individual, or the group of individuals and good and ill are judged according to consequences.  In modern liberalism goodness or truth has no independent existence, in the sense that Plato understood (The Form of the Good that determines existence or Aristotle who begins his book on Ethics stating that 'all actions and arts aim at an end that is good').(3)

As a final consequence of liberal thought, man's reason replaces 'The Good' (and in many instances God) as the ultimate directing source in determining human affairs.  Truth is regarded only in relationship to man, and liberty comes in effect to replace an absolute truth as a form of authority, while justice which in the past (in classicist philosophy) rested on truth, now rests on tolerance towards the other's accepted 'truths'.  In this liberalism has much in common with modern day humanism and Julian Huxley's statements in 'Essays of a Humanist' seem to realize, reflect and re-echo something of the spirit of Hamlet's proud speech on the nature of man and certainly the spirit of liberalism:

'- man's true destiny - is to be the chief agent for the future of evolution on this planet.  Only in and through man can any further major advance be achieved.' 'Humanism - will have nothing to do with Absolutes, including absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute perfection, and absolute authority, but insists that we can find standards to which our actions and our aims can properly be related.  It affirms that knowledge and understanding can be increased, that conduct and social organization can be improved, and that more desirable directions for individual and social development can be found'.  'For humanism in this sense, man's duty and destiny is to be the spearhead and creative agent of the over-all evolutionary process of this planet'.(4)

(Interesting to note the lack of any self-criticism here and the underlining authoritarianism).


A short history: government

The positive aspects of this ideology - the ideals of liberalism - the striving for human rights, freedom of conscience, speech, and religious toleration, cannot in themselves be underestimated and the struggle to achieve them has followed a steady historical process and struggle in the centuries since the Reformation.  A 'distaste for autocracy', leading liberal thinkers to a questioning of particular forms of authority, led inevitably to changes in government.  Authority first vested in the absolute rule of monarchy was finally overthrown in England when it took upon itself the 'Divine Right of Kings,' which was justly seen by growing liberal thought to be no more than the rule of despotism over an enslaved people whose rights were subsequently subjected to the whims of particular kings. Never-the-less, Charles I who had so abused the rights of his people recognized the responsibility vested in government in his last speech to his people on the scaffold:

'Truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whosoever; but I must tell you their liberty and freedom consists in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods maybe most their own'.(5)

No-one doubted the need for an external authority to regulate the freedom of individual members of society and the thinking of the time gave rise to the idealistic notion of the state in the eighteenth century.  From Burke's statements at this time - and bearing in mind the circumstances of the time, the French and American Revolutions - it can be clearly gathered that the state was believed by many to be an almost divine authority for the regulation of society generally.

'Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants - .  Among these wants is to be reckoned the want of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions.  Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected - but the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled and their passions brought into subjection.  This can only be done by a power out of themselves - .  In this sense the restraints of men, as well as their liberties are to be reckoned among their rights' -- .  'He who gave us our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection - He willed the state - He willed its connection with the source and original archetype of all perfection'.(6)

While the sincerity of Burke cannot be denied, the ordering of such a state as he advocates requires for its just administration ideal rulers, something on the lines of the philosopher kings in Plato's Republic.  In fact the authority of the state in eighteenth century England was placed in the hands of a largely self-elected minority which consisted of the aristocracy, land-owners and gentry who knew little or nothing at all about the lives of the majority of ordinary people who were again subjected to laws which were expedient to those in power.  Such a state was little more than a gentleman's dictatorship where the mass of the people had effectively no say in the ordering of their personal affairs and property.  Cobbett writing at this time about the changes in agricultural England stated:

'We are daily advancing to the state in which there are but two classes of men, masters and abject dependents'.(7)

Yet as early as the seventeenth century Locke was already aware of the limitations of such forms of government and was strongly advocating  (Second Treatise of government 1690) (8), that it was reason, not an independent body of the state that ultimately teaches each individual the rules that regulate 'perfect freedom'.  It was Locke, though himself a Christian, who instigated secular and individual rights and the 'questioning to claims of authority' by pressing for a separation of church and state.  In 'A letter concerning Toleration' (1667), he stated:

'Liberty of conscience is everyman's individual right'(9)

Yet although these ideas, and others along with them, played an important part in gradually bringing about a change in attitude over the following two hundred years and an eventual growth in human rights and civil liberties, Locke was questioning particular forms of government, but not the concept of government itself.  What Locke was advocating was political rationalism, that is, for a government with policies for governing determined by what individuals deemed reasonable and not based on some external or independent authority which might be against the individual conscience, and which might rightly be judged an autocracy.  Locke was far from disputing the need for government for he also wrote:

'Where there is no law there is no freedom'.(10)

In this he was one with Burke and Kant as Isaiah Berlin points out:

'Liberty (in their understanding), so far from being incompatible with authority becomes virtually identical with it.'(11)

Indeed only Bentham among the great liberal thinkers prior to this century seems alone in advocating:

'Every law -  is an evil, for every law is an infraction of liberty'.(12)

A society without rules and government, which relies solely on man's individual reason as a directive to acceptable behaviour, takes on the characteristics of anarchy and it is this recognition that order is required within a society to prevent civil chaos that makes politics of some kind a necessity:

'If one prescinds from historically conditioned goals, one can affirm in general that political rule has the function of maintaining order.  In every society political rule is one of the most important factors of order.  The order in so far as it is produced by political rule, can be called political order.  Political action is then action related to this order.'(13)

All just governments then, fundamentally, have two essential concerns; there may have to be chiefs (14), to maintain order in the state, but they necessarily must be considerate of the needs of individuals.  To make this a certain possibility, individuals within any modern society, must be able to inform governments of their needs, choices and opinions.  The gradual process towards democracy, which has become world-wide (one man, one vote, the rule of the people by the people), must by and large seem a worthy achievement of liberalism and justice: the only possible way to justly govern and order.

An understanding of human rights and education for all has grown along in this century with a decline in the influence of the established church and the reforms in legal practices which less and less adhere to the authority of Christian practice and tradition.  Politics and law are determined very much more by rationalism and an increasing knowledge of human psychology.  The individual is freed finally it would seem from the last bonds that bind him.


The Limitations of Liberalism

Is man then, within the limits of the natural human condition (which becomes less limited with the advances in technology, science, medicine and education), at last progressing towards the goal of ideal liberalism, a state of perfect freedom?  Are we in the process of achieving the perfect society and, if we continue along the same reasonable and liberal path, will we realize it?

For some who have a fervent belief in liberalism and a deep commitment to the ideals of freedom, liberalism, far from being finished may seem to have all the conditions for making further advancement possible.  But for others of us something seems to have gone fundamentally wrong along the way and the world we live in seems over-shadowed with impending disaster.  The goals are worthy, the ideas fine but perhaps that's it: liberalism is an ideology with beliefs and practices founded on ideas, the result of mental activity, and perhaps within them an understanding of the diversity and fullness of human nature is failing to be fully recognized.


Plato in the eighth book of the Republic states:

' The excess of liberty whether in states or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery. 

- Yes, the natural order.

- And so it is from democracy, and from no other source, that tyranny naturally arises, and the harshest and most complete form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?

- As we might expect, he said.'(15)

Our concept of democracy may have changed and developed since the times of ancient Greece but  human nature remains basically the same.  These words of Plato are, therefore, relevant to our own times and it may be worthwhile to consider if 'an excess of liberty' in our modern democratic societies might well lead to slavery and ultimate tyranny.


Freedom of conscience is an undeniable human right which few of us would question.  But that 'no man is an island' is also a truism and if many of us would desire to be something of a peninsula at least in certain aspects of our experience, it presents a dichotomy in the human condition which the consequences inherent in liberalism fail to bring any satisfactory solution to.  Indeed it presents a threat to the possibility of harmonious community living.  It becomes infinitely more difficult in practice for the propositions of liberalism to co-exist.  In modern day practice the difficulty becomes increasingly more apparent.  Individualism based on self realization, threatens tolerance for the self realization of others, and tolerance in turn threatens individuals, and in the absence of a permanently and generally accepted body of authority to direct personal morality, liberalism threatens to destroy community life as a whole. 

That an 'excess of liberty' on a personal level leads to a state of slavery is not difficult for most of us to appreciate.  We would hardly describe the drug addict, the alcoholic and the sexually promiscuous as free, though we might recognize that extreme conditions of these cases have their roots in personality sickness, rather than being merely the results of bad habit, and that this perhaps requires entry into a different realm altogether - .  Choosing to 'tread the primrose path of dalliance' (Hamlet Act I Sc I) with full consciousness does, of course, enter a definite moral area and can lead to human beings becoming enslaved to their lower nature and passions, but it is difficult to see how this can be prevented by any particular authority being in power.  This personal choice would still remain even under the rule of the most perfect of philosopher kings, has occurred under the strictest of authoritarian rules and is likely to go on occurring.  However, the questioning of authority generally and a breakdown in the acceptance of a body of authority does rather look like leaving individuals generally to their own devices and allows for a situation where each individual becomes his or her own authority in forming attitudes governing personal behaviour.  A realization of an individual's full human potential also includes becoming a member of a community for the individual is also a social being and life within a society requires structures and guidelines so that all individuals within it can exercise a reasonable measure of freedom.  An excess of freedom in pleasing one's self threatens the structures of society as a whole and has the ultimate effect of throwing the individual further and further upon him or her self until the community is in danger of breaking down into individual units.  Individual freedom may indeed be a worthy goal to strive for but it undoubtedly calls for a high level of responsibility which can not always be guaranteed and the absence of a generally accepted body of authority can lead to general insecurity too.

A breakdown in community structures is inevitably accompanied by a parallel breakdown in family life where human beings are left in danger of being very much alone, uncertain and insecure.  It is within the framework of the family that an attitude regarding rules is passed from parent to child and when this tradition is undermined children may be left to grow up without a means of controlling their own freedom which may subsequently become excessive.  In such a situation, desiring the security that structures give, human beings are left to become the victims of those very personality sicknesses cited above.  This is hardly to enjoy a state of personal freedom.

Freedom without authority also carries within it other inherent dangers.  Human beings recognizing the need for codes of behaviour to direct and control their lives look outside themselves to social groups and institutions that seem to offer an answer to their particular needs and can become the ready prey of freak movements and authoritarian groups. 

The consequences of an excess of liberty is the direct result of the fostering of individualism which lends itself to numerous possibilities.  For expecting individuals to make good and worthy choices when left to themselves is naive optimism and places a faith in human nature that is unfounded.

John Dunn states:      

'To be individual - is to be distinctive; and to be an individual is simply the common human fate.  But to be an individualist is to embrace this fate with suspicious alacrity, to make vice out of necessity.  Being individual - in aspiration at least - is simply doing one's own thing, a private concern or a consensual pleasure.  But being an individualist is well on the way towards disregarding the rights of others or denying the presence of any basic commitment of one human being towards another.  Being individual is an almost purely aesthetic category and on the whole an affirmative one.  Being individualist is plainly a moral category and veering strongly towards a negative one.'(16)

Individualism is a wide term which allows for negative as well as positive interpretations and it is when negative individualism is accompanied by excessive tolerance that the danger of tyranny arises.  Where negative individualism gains for itself an influence within a group and the group collectively voices an authoritarian ideology it may well threaten a society or the freedom of others.  

A liberal society which claims as one of its main propositions, tolerance, may be left feeling very uncomfortable when dealing with opposition for ideally the only thing it can do is to tolerate and hope that reason will prevail and the opposition gradually fade away and die.  In our own country we feel this way about The British National Party which might be cited as a negative ideology; and others of us might  regard the legalizing of abortion as a negatively moral issue.  This latter has been accepted as an achievement of liberalism in its fostering of 'self realization' for women, but it is self realization bought at a price perhaps.  In a society that fosters human rights and freedom a particularly vulnerable sector of developing humanity is being left without any protection, freedom or human rights at all.  One might be permitted to wonder, at least, about the nature of human potential that requires for its realization the killing of the unborn.

Tolerance combined with excessive liberty unfortunately allows for everything being tolerated.  In situations where tolerance is carried to extremes there is no good or bad, no truth or falsity - everything is permitted.  This lends itself to tyranny, corruption and mediocrity.  There is no black and white where everything and everybody is enmeshed in shades of gray and there is embarrassment in pronouncing any reasoned judgement for being judged in turn intolerant, tyrannical or politically incorrect.

The liberal might insist in telling himself that tolerance is based on what is deemed humanly reasonable and is, therefore, a progression from the barbarism of the past, but there is no evidence for making such a claim.  Across the whole of Europe in the last two hundred years of civilized living some of the greatest human sacrifices in human history have been made.  In France during the revolution (based ironically on its liberal claims of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity), in Marxist Russia and in Nazi Germany, whole sectors of humanity have been wiped out, and this the result of ideologies based on idealism and human reason, which apparently has no limits and is yet so ardently advocated by the liberal.  'In apprehension how like a god!' How like a god indeed and if our liberal societies find such excesses repellent and appalling, they can only combat them by becoming themselves intolerant; a state they conveniently term 'just war'.  The problem with just wars is that in their means, methods and effects they look very much like unjust wars and create a similar amount of human suffering. 

Placing man at the apex of existence, dismissing a final authority and priding ourselves on individualism and tolerance leads to unbridled freedom in all directions, not to a free society but to a permissive one.  In this falsely termed 'brotherhood of man' where self realization (whatever it happens to be), must be tolerated to keep the ideal intact, everybody's ideology becomes equal to everybody else's and presents the ever present possibility of some more dominant and authoritarian view taking precedence over the rest.  For the liberal's creed (though he may deny he has one), is built around such statements as Hobbes:

'A FREE MAN, is he, that in those things which he has the strength to do, is not hindered to do what he has a will to do'. (17)

And where he is not hindered there is very little he has not the strength and will to do!



A growing disillusionment with the effectiveness of an ideology causes a mass movement in society for seeking after an alternative that promises to give authoritative directives and issue in yet another new era of mankind.  The most feasible alternative (taken up on an almost global scale), of the twentieth century has been Marxism.  It too grew out of humanism and liberalism: the Liberty, Equality and Fraternity of the French Revolution become Equality, Freedom and Fraternity.  Where human beings are equal, it was imagined, they will be free and a brotherhood (comradeship) of mankind will result.  In order to achieve this paradise on earth, however, all those who disagree or get in the way are to be conveniently removed. Revolution on the scale envisaged by Marxism entails the mass extermination of millions.  The stories of the Gulag coming out of Russia coupled with those emerging from Mao's China tell their own abysmal tale and equal the horrors of the other authoritarian 'ism' of the twentieth century, Fascism.

We have grown so civilized that we have intellectualized evil, we have submitted it to liberalism along with truth, goodness, love and justice.  This ideology, the supreme achievement of Western European thought threatens in its turn every other human value.

It comes as a shock to realize that liberalism so long accepted by the West as the truth, the only humanly just and possible ideology for civilized living threatens today our very existence.  Yet to dismiss or deny this might well mean mass suicide and the end of civilized society as we know it.  The consequences of liberalism lead to a situation where one is attempting the impossible, trying to place a plug in an erupting volcano, or presenting a white-washed facade to hide already cracked and crumbling walls.  There is a growing sense too, that mankind with all his advances in science and technology, is in reality mounting upwards and onwards on precariously waxen wings while below him yawns an ever widening abyss.  One might pose the question that John Dunn raises, has man any future at all? (18)


Considering a universal absolute

There is no freedom without order, and order rests on the acceptance of an authority of some kind.  The child initially accepts the authority of mathematics to make a free exercise of this discipline a possibility. (19)  The authority of learning undisputedly frees men and women from ignorance.  When our future hangs in the balance, what kind of authority can we accept, or is there indeed any ultimate authority?

The propositions of liberalism taken at face value -their positive aspects - are not wrong.  The striving for civil rights and freedom of conscience are worthy enough goals in themselves but they are being presented as the whole truth when in actuality they are only aspects of it.  The weaknesses inherent in Liberalism make it impossible for it to remain a leading ideology.   In order to evolve and survive liberalism requires a whole new dimension added to it.

'Will not a knowledge of - Supreme Good be also of great importance for the conduct of life?  Will it not better enable us to attain what is right, like archers with a target to aim at?  If so, we ought to determine at least in outline what this Supreme Good is'. Aristotle. (20)

To accept an ultimate authority does present society with a means to organize itself.  Without a framework or structures no organization can exist and freedoms of any kind are limited.  Societies become disorientated and insecure facing the danger of becoming authoritarian and Fascist, adopting the dialectic materialism of Marx, choosing any other 'ism' around, or descending into anarchy.  

The rejection of some Supreme Good has its roots in the spread of rationalism at the beginning of the Reformation.  It is the natural consequence of extreme nominalism* which gradually came to inform all western European history.

* [I think I am right in saying that nominalism  is a rational philosophy.  It has its roots in the 'moderate realism' of Aristotle which was adopted by the Scholastics, the greatest of whom was St. Thomas Aquinas, 'who was largely responsible for the new authority of Aristotle'.(21)  The Latin European Church (R.C.) which influenced all western European thought in the pre-Reformation period, was as much philosophically as theologically based.  In order to safeguard the faith of the church Aquinas recognized that 'some concessions had to be granted to the free exercise of reason which was bent on questioning everything'.(22)  Aquinas solved the problem by dividing theology into 'revealed' i.e. theology to be accepted on the authority of the church and 'natural' theology.  This led gradually and inevitably to a separation of theology from philosophy and the natural sciences.  It opened the way (inadvertently) to Protestantism in the first instance, humanism, liberalism, empiricism, upon all of which ideologies have been formed.  Each of these ideologies lend themselves to the possibility of replacing a Supreme Good (or God), by man's reason as the ultimate directive authority in human affairs.  But these ideologies seem incapable of forming an effective authority: Liberalism's propositions are limited in application as demonstrated, and Marxism tends to authoritarianism - equally as much as Fascism -.]  

Nominalism led to liberalism (political rationalism), humanism (respect for the autonomy of man with his rational propensities), empiricism (observation and experimentation) and Marxism (dialectic materialism).

Liberalism informs western politics and to-day it is so widely accepted in every sphere of experience that it is rarely seriously questioned.  Its limitations have, of course, been recognized and has led many liberals to add or accommodate Christian ethics to it but this is submitting Christianity to rationalism.  There remains for many of us, therefore, a dissatisfaction in making liberalism, humanism, Marxism or for that matter, any other 'ism', an end in themselves.  Just as there is a certain reluctance in making, for example Evolution, most particularly when described by the humanist, explain completely the natural world.  It may deepen our appreciation of its order, yet not fully explain the profusion of new life in the Spring; the greenness of leaves; the tender freshness of the snowdrop.  And the deepest biological and psychological knowledge in the end hardly explains one single human life; birth and death; where we came from; the point of our being here or what our ultimate future may or may not be.  Questions that have perplexed man from the beginning of his existence and perplex him still.

In much the same way empiricism might improve our understanding of history but taken alone it does not explain the whole nature of man within it.  This might be illustrated by Karl Marx's statement:

'man's first historical act is thus production of the means to satisfy needs, the production of human life itself'. (23)

This may have been a first principle in the hierarchy of survival but others rapidly became equally as important.  Man was conscious at the dawn of his history and his consciousness grew in awareness fed by his curiosity to make inquiries about the world in which he found himself.  The knowledge he searched for grew as a consequence of his historical discoveries and developed his capacity to think.  This search after knowledge and for understanding of himself and his place in the scheme of things became as important to man as his search for a means of production to satisfy needs, for when his basic needs were satisfied he still had to face old age and dying.  Ideas, imagination, religion, philosophies of one sort and another are essential to the nature of man and inform the historical process just as surely as the development in the means of production. To undervalue this aspect of human life, or to designate it a subordinate place, is to take from man a whole human dimension. It is to remove the very things that make him most truly human so that he becomes no more than a mechanical and materialistic facet in the moving wheel of history.

When empiricism and dialectic materialism combines with liberalism and humanism it has the effect of greatly reducing and robbing human beings of their humanity.  Even human rights take on a different aspect when considered by this kind of thinking.  They may become no more than a recognition that the others must needs have their place in the sun if I want mine.  This is essentially a selfish creed.  In a truly human society the others needs become a matter of concern where human beings care and feel compassionate towards each other: it is this sense of understanding, and no other, that forms a true basis for the making of a community.

A Supreme Good must have something to do with justice that rests on love and truth, must have something more, that is, than simply human rights and civil liberties for these when viewed alone finally reduce man to his lowest common denominator.

John Dunn writes:

'Liberal values today are still not without their attractions.  Nor need we on balance regret being the heirs to a Christian Europe.'(24) 

For Christians a Christian Europe is a worthy inheritance and Christianity an acknowledged authority.  If there is no freedom without authority this seems on balance, for many of us, a worthwhile one to re-access.  Of course, fundamentally it demands an act of faith, but not one we need  be ashamed of.  Liberalism also demands faith in man's reason and so does Marxism in promising some future golden age where the human being:

'can become accomplished in every branch he wishes'

he can:

do one thing today and another tomorrow, hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner'.(25)

(What does this say about  Karl Marx's  understanding of human psychology!) and where the human-being, presumably becomes perfect and selfless overnight.  Sadly ideal environments do not necessarily produce ideal human beings.  These are acts of faith which stretch reason to its limit and border on the fantastical.  There are no such promises of a new golden age on earth in Christianity, which on the face of it sounds like common sense. As for the other claims of Christ, perhaps they deserve, at least, the attention afforded to liberalism and Marxism.

'Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfil'.(26)

The law Christ is referring to is the Hebrew Law of the Torah, central to which are the Ten Commandments.  Pre- Reformation scholastics, drawing mainly on classicist philosophy were unable to combat the rise of extreme nominalism  and Protestantism  which gave rise in turn to humanism and liberalism with their emphasis on the autonomy of man, because they failed, perhaps, to recognize that it basically opposed Hebrew Law and the Christian teaching based on it. 

'In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! (27)

The Hebrews raised the position of man describing him as being made in the 'image and likeness of God', and  of being 'little lower than the angels',  and yet in the humanism of the reformation exalting in the autonomy of man, we find that  man seems to be regarded  as a little lower than a pagan god.  Is reductionism  also a by-product of humanism?

A further reference to the Commandments made by Jesus have been looked upon as the rhetorical sayings of Christ when in fact they are much more than this.

'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is likewise unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'.(28)

 Behind these words lies the most profound intellectual grasp of what informs Hebrew law and what was intended to underline  a Christian society.  The first commandment becomes a positive commandment, placing God as the ultimate reality, the truth the Supreme Good  and the authority on which Hebrew society was based, organized round and strove towards.  The remaining Ten Commandments, ( the 'shalt nots'), are economized by Jesus into one affirmative command, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.  The negative commandments are to be recognized as having one purpose, that is, they safeguard love, for both one's self and one's neighbour, against possible abuses.  As a basis for individual living and life within a community they might be said to be unsurpassed by any later consideration of freedom and tolerance.  There is within this concept the recognition that man is an individual with a responsibility for his individual existence (virtue is seen to be not instinctive but achieved only by effort).  But there is also the recognition that man is a member of society and can only exercise his individuality within a society in so far as he does not violate the 'love of his neighbour'.  This requires obedience to the law or authority.

Obedience to these commandments becomes an absolute requirement of Christianity, because the keeping of the law in this Christian sense is fundamental to being a Christian.  The commandments carry within them the understanding that there necessarily are restrictions, or demarcation lines, that keep freedom intact and beyond which the human being cannot go without entering into an area of not being free any longer, either because he becomes a slave to himself (his own lower nature and passions), or a prisoner of society because he has abused his neighbour's freedom.  Love of one's self and one's neighbour also adds dignity to the human condition, a respect towards one's self and towards the other.  This contains a balance which allows for equality (and justice); that all human beings should be treated the same, even if in certain respects they have unequal attributes: the Christian is not commanded to love his neighbour to the detriment of himself, or himself to the detriment of his neighbour.  One can also ascertain from this that if any individual decides to change the world or put it to rights he cannot begin by ignoring himself, he must needs be concerned to attain some measure of the personal qualities he demands from others.  

So these commandments are not denying man's reason, but acknowledging most fully that he has one, but that the intellect is only one faculty of his complete personality, and this whole personality must be directed towards what is good.  Christianity is based upon a deep perception of human nature; its negative aspects are acknowledged in its 'negative commandments' (which are neither dismissed nor diminished), and man's human positive potential is presented with the fullest means of realization.

But what of tolerance?  A tolerant attitude towards other human beings is both a positive and attractive human attribute,  but it cannot  be extended to the tolerating of bad and threatening human  behaviour or to corrupting and threatening political ideologies.  This is not tolerance but cowardice which quickly degenerates into indifference towards one's fellow human beings.  

Christianity is opposed to evil and Christians should be intolerant of it.  Being intolerant of evil-doing and defending what one believes to be right demands courage.  Our European history is full of remarkable acts of courage of every kind.  When human beings were called upon to fight against the evils of fascism or to stand firm against the worst abuses of communism millions were prepared to do so.  Today we may be being called upon to oppose the abusive excesses of liberalism or to affirm with confidence and courage our Christian beliefs in the face of the scorn so frequently poured on them.  


Finally, what of truth?  

This essay has dealt with the the half truths and limitations inherent in all ideologies, liberalism as an off shoot of humanism being the most persuasive and long lasting.  Half truths being equal to everybody else's half truths.  

Truth is not based on ideas about reality and must, therefore,  be more than a construct of the human mind or imagination.   Truth is the very essence of love and justice - realities of existence - there are no half truths in these absolutes. They are an essential part of our total being and  we do not want them to be less than what they are.  It is impossible to remove them from our being and remain human in the fullest sense.  

Christianity is based on these absolutes.  To dismiss Christianity lightly as an ideology that places man under servile subjection is, therefore, false.  Man is in a servile position while subjected to perpetual crises of his own rational making, abuses from authoritarian ideologies, and the world-wide general malaise.  

The Christian's act of faith in the authority of Christ is an acceptance that these truths exist and can be experienced in some measure by us all.  

Faith in Christ also carries with it, the human beings recognition and acknowledgement of his own human limitation, that is, that truth in its entirety cannot be fully comprehended by human reason.  When we have knowledge about something we say we know the truth about it,  To have complete knowledge about all existence is to know absolute truth, the ultimate reality, which for human beings (even collectively), is impossible.  To accept God then, is to accept the gift of the possession of truth, but not to claim all knowledge of it.  This is hardly to deny knowledge or a search after truth, Christianity simply gives a directive to man, that is, that his search after knowledge and truth must keep within the framework of goodness, love and justice.  When human beings ignore this framework truth becomes destructive, but within it all new findings can be openly and freely shared.


The Christian need have no regrets about being the heirs of a Christian Europe.

To be a Christian demands an act of faith and demands finally a total commitment.  It is this lack of compromise that has led to diminished expressions of Christianity where Christians attempt to adapt the tenets of the faith to fit their individual requirements.   But this does not make Christianity a half truth it simply makes us less than good Christians and  present day Europeans could do a lot worse than readopting this very human faith.   




1       'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future': John Dunn pg 32

2       'Tolerance' Werner Post, 'Sacramental Mundi': vol 6 pg 264

3       Cited in 'Philosophy for Our Times':  C.E.M. Joad pg 27 

4       'Essays of a Humanist': Julian Huxley pgs 37, 77-78 and 249

5       Cited from Wedgewood, Trial of Charles I: pg 217 and quoted by J Dunn 'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future' pg 3

6&7  'Culture and Society': R Williams pgs 28-29 and pg 33

8&9  'Modern Political Theory: L J Macfarlane pg 54 onwards

10, 11, 12,  Four Essays on Liberty: Isaiah Berlin pgs 147-148

13     'Politics': Manfred Hattich, 'Sacramental Mundi' vol 5 pg 39

14     Mao se Tung, cited by J Dunn: 'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future' pg 1

15     Plato's, 'The Republic': Translated by Benjamin Jowett (vol4), 8th Book of  'The 'Republic', Section 564 (pg 353)

16     'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future': J Dunn pg 33

17     Cited in 'Modern Political Theory': L J Macfarlane pg 143

18     'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future': J Dunn

19     'Four Essays on Liberty': Isaiah Berlin pg 141

20     Cited in 'Philosophy For Our Times': L E M Joad pg 28

21&22  'Christianity, Communism and the Ideal Society': James Feibleman pg 33

23     'The German Ideology': *Marx and Engels, edited by C J Arthur pg 48

24     'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future': J Dunn, pg 53

25     'The German Ideology':  *pg 54

26     St Matt:  ch 5 v 17

27     Hamlet: Act II scII

28     St Matt: ch 22 vs 37-40



1     Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future: John Dunn

       Cambridge University Press.  First published, 1979

2     Sacramental Mundi: An encyclopedia of theology, vols 5&6

       Edited by Karl Rahner with Cornelius Ernst and Kevin Smyth.  Published by Burns and Oates, 1970

       Articles used: 'Tolerance' - Werner Post and 'Politics' - Manfred Hattich

3     Culture and Society: Raymond Williams

       Published by Penguin Books in association with Chatto & Windus.  First published, 1958

4     Essays of a Humanist: Julian Huxley

       Published by Penguin Books in association with Chatto & Windus.  First published, 1964

5     Philosophy For Our Times: C E M Joad

       Published by Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd.  First published, February, 1940

6     Modern Political Theory: L J Macfarlane

       Published by Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd.  First published, 1970

7     The Dialogues of Plato: Translated by Benjamin Jowett, vol 4, The Republic

       Published by Sphere Books Ltd.  First published in Gt Britain, 1970

8     Four Essays on Liberty: Isaiah Berlin

       Published by Oxford University Press.  First published, 1969

9     Marx & Engels: The German Ideology: Edited and introduced by C J Arthur (Students' edition)

       Printed in Gt Britain by Unwin Brothers Ltd.  First edition, 1970

10   Christianity, Communism and the Ideal Society: James Feibleman 

       Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd.  First published, 1937

Also used: Hamlet: W Shakespeare

                  The Authorized Version of the Bible 


Copyright Carole P. Leret, (1980) School of Education, University of Bristol.



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