Blogger Responds to the Terrible Two Party series

Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Blog brought up my four-part series on the Terrible Two Party system in American Politics.

part 1 ; part 2 ; part 3 ; and the conclusion.

Although he commended my stance against the two-part system, as we call it, the duopoly, he has some questions concerning my use of Martin Luther’s Priesthood of all believers, and the contradictions within Luther’s theology.

d.Eris says,

“It would be interesting to see how Rod squares the central contradiction of Luther’s theology with the call for consensus democracy and proportional representation. In On Christian Liberty, for instance, Luther employs a dualistic metaphysics of body and soul to allow for the possibility of spiritual freedom despite the reality of human bondage:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

In other words, Luther’s notion of Christian freedom is consistent with human slavery. Luther himself denounced peasants who were at least partly inspired by his teachings to rise up against their feudal overlords. During the Peasants’ War, the protestant reformer admonished the “murderous thieving hordes of peasants” first and foremost for breaking an implicit oath of “submission and obedience” to their social and political masters.”  “

I am glad Damon mentioned Luther’s dualism. It is something that I addressed in a presentation (and blog post last week).

First, we have to remember that no one’s theology can be applied universally, and we must take into context a person’s historical context.  When Luther was writing Against the Murderous Hordes of Peasants, he was reacting to criticism that he himself was the blame for the Peasant wars and rebellions leveled at him by the Catholics in Germany in the early 16th century.  Luther had to reject those arguments and he also had to persuade the princes to save the lives of women, who were being shared through wife swapping in the heretical anabaptist New Jerusalem.  His call was an act of mercy, not terror.

Second, Damon made a great point about Luther dividing spiritual freedom from all other freedoms, and the need for self-giving (submission) among Christians when it comes to political authorities, especially in his On Christian Freedom. It is this very dualism that is at the heart of Luther’s Two-kingdom theory, in which God had created two orders, one that is under the law (politics and society) and one under the edicts of the Gospel (the church).  The community of believers belongs to the second kingdom.  Civil authorities have no reign in the kingdom of the Gospel.  Christians owe no allegiance to the state, but because Christians are at the same time both made righteous and remain yet still sinners, we have to obey the law.[1]

What this means in the future of German history, after Martin Luther, is the German church’s submission to Adolph Hitler in the name of law and order.  However, if one want to continue in the tradition of Martin Luther, I would suggest to look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer, like most of the orthodox (non-violent revolutionary) Anabaptists in Germany, practiced Christian nonviolence, but he also opposed Hitler in his regime.  Bonhoeffer had to reject Luther’s Two Kingdom theory because Bonhoeffer re-examined Luther’s doctrine of grace, and what it meant for the church; the church was in the world, as Stanley Hauerwas noted, for all to see and not invisible while the state/government remained visible.[2]

Therefore, dualism is unnecessary.  Those who have been set free by the power of the Gospel are free in the world, to engage the world.  What this might mean for proportional representation and consensus democracy in the US? It means that rather than Christians fighting for power, being bought off by politicians through horrendous programs such as the Faith Based Initiative, Christians would have the liberty to created their own parties, that are openly Christian, like the Christian Social Democrats in Germany and the Netherlands. That would be a practical implication. a proportional representation system would benefit the church, third parties, the poor, and every American.

I hope that helps.

Truth and Peace,


[1] The Story of Christianity: Volume II by Justo Gonzalez , Page 36-37.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. Page 43

0 thoughts on “Blogger Responds to the Terrible Two Party series

  1. Nathanael Snow

    The two-party system in the US may be merely an artifact of the range of issues relegated to the political sphere. Public Choice Economists have studied the dimensions of American politics, and have generally found there to be only one dimension. In this case, Duncan Black’s Median Voter Theorem applies, and we end up with two parties, not very different from one another, but usually situated symmetrically about the median voter’s position.
    For the Christian this might mean that our politics are outside of the domain of publicly contested politics. In other words, US politics are about assignment of privileges and favors. Christian politics is about the elimination of privileges and power-over mechanisms. American Politics is about the creation of sub-classes, or interest groups, out of which politicians form rent-seeking coalitions to insure re-election and preservation of power. Christian Politics is about each of us coming to Christ, being made whole in Him, and casting off privileges we have carried from our birth in order to find common ground with others. It is about seeing past differences, avoiding distinction, eschewing favor, and serving one another.
    The two party-system is no more and no less corrupt than any other which seeks to assign privilege rather than to eliminate it.

    1. Rod of Alexandria

      I do not think I ever used the term “corrupt” in any of my posts, if you look at the four part series.

      I argued that the vision of power in the 2 part, majoritarian system was not beneficial. Key word: Majoritarian system, with the power being something as a zero-sum game, winner take all.

      And I believe that a multi-party system will allow Christians to better eschew favor and find common ground.

      1. Nathanael Snow

        I am sympathetic to your view here, and not intending to be argumentative, but rather practical, or strategic, in terms of what to do next.
        I think that in the current political context trying to form a third party or more is not useful. And I am something of a radical libertarian.
        The reason I say this now is based on solid research I have recently been exposed to as a graduate student in Economics at George Mason University. (By the way, I sat in on Hauerwas’ Lecture at Duke one year while I was working at Agape Corner in Durham, and mostly buy Yoder’s argument, though I think they go too far on economic policy. Callahan’s “Being Consumed” is just wrong.)
        The research shows that Americans are one-dimensional in their political preferences. Under these conditions a two party system is sustainable, and both parties will tend towards the median voter’s position.
        When a third party is introduced, it always takes voters away from whichever of the two original parties it is closest to, and then the other party wins!
        We have seen this in many presidential elections. Gore lost because of Nader. Bush I lost because of Perot. Coming in against someone with policies close to your own hurts them, and you end up with policies further from your own.
        Consequently, looking to a third party as a solution for injustices in the political system is a non-starter.
        As Christians, our role is to be subversive, despite the political climate we find ourselves in. In can never be our goal to influence the use of political force. Instead we should always work to limit the force available to politics. We should reduce the scope of the use of force.
        If, in fact, the American political spectrum is multi-dimensional, then the median voter theorem does not hold. Instead, no given party is able to form a majority, and coalitions must form among the existing parties in order to form a majority. The problem here is that it is not always obvious which coalitions will form. A and B may form against C, or B and C may form against A, or A and C may form against B. Indeed, over time the existing coalition may cycle among these outcomes. The result is a less stable political environment, electorally, which could result in more power being located in bureaucratic agencies which are not susceptible to voter feedback. Not a pretty picture.
        Now, there is another option. That is to allow everyone to vote for two candidates among a pool of three! In this case a third party will almost always emerge directly at the location of the median voter, and this third party will always win. In the long run the result is a one-party system instead of two, as all positions concentrate more on the middle!
        Again, the take-away for Christians here is that involvement in electoral politics is very ineffectual, and our primary attention should be concentrated on subversive methods such as being so effective in caring for the least of these that welfare is no longer necessary, or relinquishing the privileges of the state attached to marriage.
        By demonstrating to the state that power-over methods are less effective than voluntary power-under methods we erode the state’s foundation of legitimacy.

        1. Rod of Alexandria


          I still fail to see what your beef is.

          Just because a third party candidate is blamed for helping a candidate lose, I am being unrealistic.

          It is not a matter of being pragmatic or not; the point of the series of my posts (all four posts) before this one, is not to say “third parties” should take over. My point is this: the way the US system works right now, where there is one representative per district amounts to a zero sum game.

          There are many ways that one could be represented; the districting process is about power over others. The Founders had good reason to not want to have factions, but guess what? there was already a pro-slavery and anti-slavery faction building. They were just being in denial; they were being non-pragmatic in a sense. everyone has an agenda. I am saying lets make space for all agendas so that there can be real coalitions based on difference of opinion.

          So, as we go to your point about Christian involvement as ineffectual. You are calling basically for a withdrawal from US politics for Christians. i have heard the arguments before; I own almost every hauerwas book. He is wrong, however. If I may take the slavery question again, christian involvement was CRUCIAL to the success of the abolition movement, on the grassroots level and the political level. if indeed God is everywhere, and the church is in the world, the problem is not whether or not Christians should avoid the system but exactly what Christians should do and stand for as believers who may hold office or live as citizens. Hauerwas’s argument for withdrawal in the world is just an endorsement of the status quo. Christians, because of Jesus, are able to act in a way, in which they can reject the power-over model of leadership and apply it to US American politics.

          There are many ways to be subversive. Withdrawal is just one of those ways, but not the only way.

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