Some twentieth-century Christian interpretations of liberal political thought
A study of Christian interpretations of liberalism is important for social theology for two reasons: first, liberalism is the dominant political ideology of modernity, and (especially in the form "liberal democracy") is the most prominent form of public self-definition in the West, its claims often being taken to be self-evidently true. Second, liberalism is historically indebted to Christianity, and the two are susceptible of mutual confusion. A critical theological analysis of liberalism is necessary to ensure the authentically Christian nature of contemporary political theology. This analysis is conducted principally through a discussion of the criticisms of liberalism made by three Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, the American Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), the French Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), and the Canadian George Grant (1918-1988). After an introductory chapter, chapter two presents an interpretation of liberalism, mapping the historical contours and varieties of liberalism from five liberal writers, and elaborating a loose framework of the conceptual structure of liberal thought. Chapter three examines Reinhold Niebuhr's criticisms of liberalism's alleged facile progressivism and optimistic conceptions of human nature and reason, and chapter four looks at George Grant's claim that John Rawls' liberal theory fails to provide the ontological affirmations necessary to defend human beings and liberal values against the dynamics of technology. Jacques Maritain's account of pluralism and the ideal of the secular state, and the contribution he can make to the current debate between liberals and communitarians, are the subjects of chapter five, while chapter six attempts to secure some theological purchase on the issues of Bills of Rights, judicial review, and the constitutional restraint of democratic majorities, with special reference to the British context. In the concluding chapter it is argued that the liberal account of justice is impossible to realize, and that central insights must be borrowed from the Augustinian tradition.