2008 US presidential election is almost a year and a half away,
and yet the various campaigns are in full swing. With states vying
to move the primary season up into late 2007, it is time that we
as citizens of the United States start to think about who we would
like to see elected to the White House next year.
I express my own thoughts about the upcoming election, let me begin
with a couple of obvious, but nonetheless vital, observations. First
of all, reasonable people — and certainly the reason-endowed sheep
of Christ's flock — can disagree about political philosophies and
the relative virtues and vices of particular candidates. I do not
believe that there is one "Orthodox" answer to
some of the questions that I will raise below. In other words, I
will question neither the purity of your faith nor the sincerity
of your commitment to Christ if you disagree with my thoughts.
is necessary because our Lord did not deliver to us any particular
"political philosophy." When the Pharisees tried to trap
Him with a question about money He replied simply, "Render
unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things
that are God's." Later, the Pharisees accused Him of trying
to put Himself in the place of Caesar. When Pilot asked Him about
this He replied, "My Kingdom is not of this world." St.
Paul admonished Christians to obey those in civil authority — even
though they were pagans — but later writers, living under intense
persecution, were somewhat less enthusiastic about their allegiance
to the Roman Empire.
in the fourth century the Roman Empire underwent a slow and sometimes
painful process of Christianization. (Eusebius' rose-colored version
of events needs to be taken with a grain of salt.) This eventually
gave rise the Byzantine theory of "symphony" between Church
and state. There is no question that the conversion of the Empire
had many benefits, chief among them the development of a genuinely
Orthodox culture — with all of its artistic, literary, and architectural
achievements — and greatly increased missionary expansion. At the
same time, however, there was always a very real danger of identifying
— confusing, really — the state with the Kingdom of God. Indeed,
the actual history of Roman Orthodox symphonia is a decidedly
mixed bag. Our calendar is full of saints who suffered exile and
even torture at the hands of the "most pious Christian Emperors"
(Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Maximus to name but three). The point
is that Orthodox Christians throughout history have lived all over
the world under quite diverse political circumstances. While Byzantine
symphonia holds an honored place within the history of the
Church, one cannot claim with any theological seriousness that this
is the only Orthodox political philosophy.
leads me to my second observation, which is that contemporary American
culture is far removed from that which has developed within traditionally
Orthodox lands. Therefore, I do not for one minute believe that
the political principles that I shall advocate below are necessarily
exportable to other cultures. Frankly, I would be delighted to see
the restoration of an Orthodox monarchy in Russia. (For the record,
I do not subscribe to the Third Rome theory.) However, there
is absolutely no chance whatsoever of such a thing happening over
here. And frankly, I would not want it to happen even if it were
possible because our culture is so profoundly different from the
Russian culture, which is the product of a thousand years of Orthodox
these observations in mind, we must begin with the principles that
make the American system unique in the world. Certainly most of
the nations of the developed world could be termed "democracies"
in some sense, and yet it is clear that our political culture is
quite different from that of France or Germany, or even Mother England
for that matter. The political principles that undergird the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution are technically known as "political
liberalism" and go back to the empiricist philosopher John
Locke. ("Liberalism" in this sense is quite different
from the typical modern use of the word.) The differences between
Locke's approach and that of Continental philosophers like Rousseau
and Kant are crucial to understanding the uniqueness of the American
to Locke and his spiritual heirs such as Thomas Jefferson, the function
of government is to secure the liberty of individual citizens. Thus,
the American political philosophy begins with the individual.
Of course, for the Orthodox, individualism is a very problematic
notion, one that is intimately connected to our understanding of
the Fall of Man. Yet, we must keep in mind that no secular
political philosophy could possibly do justice to the Orthodox concept
of persons-in-communion. Given the choice between secular
individualism and secular collectivism, a good case can be made
that individualism is preferable.
belief that the purpose of government is to secure the liberty of
its citizens necessarily entails limited government. The
equation is quite simple: the bigger the government is, the more
it tries to do, the less freedom is available to its citizens. The
purpose of government within the American tradition, then, is neither
to make its citizens righteous nor to take care of them from the
cradle to the grave, but to protect their God-given liberty.
American form of political liberalism is not a perfect system by
any stretch of the imagination, and we must always be wary of granting
America a sort of messianic status as some Evangelical Protestants
have done. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that given our political,
social, and cultural history, the kind of government envisioned
by Jefferson is by far the best form of government for Orthodox
Christians in America who wish to live their lives in pious obedience
to the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church.
political system will not guarantee righteousness — no government
can — but it does guarantee the fundamental conditions of liberty
in which a life of true evangelical righteousness can blossom. Neither
will this system guarantee that every citizen is "taken care
of." Yet, we must not forget that the admonition to feed the
hungry and clothe the naked was addressed to the Church, not to
Caesar. Sometimes we confuse the two and expect the government to
do our work for us. This is an abdication of our evangelical duties
to the poor, not their fulfillment. At any rate, a limited government
would mean a more expansive role for the Church within society,
whereas an expansive government necessarily means a diminished role
for the Church. For example, the Roman Catholic Church in California
has had to alter its participation in the state's adoption system
because of state rules regarding same-sex couples. Government involvement
always involves government regulation.
example, however, illustrates the fact that the kind of government
we have now at all levels bears little resemblance to the system
envisioned by Jefferson and the other founders of our Republic.
All three branches of the federal government — branches that were
created precisely as checks on each other's power — systematically
ignore the limits imposed upon the federal government by the Constitution.
The Congress passes all manner of legislation not authorized by
the Constitution, limiting the freedom of the public through an
ever-increasing network of laws and taxes, while at the same time
almost completely abdicating its constitutional duties in regard
to foreign policy and war. Presidents, for their part, routinely
abdicate their duty to veto unconstitutional legislation and act
as a check on congressional spending and instead have taken to themselves
the almost monarchical power to promulgate their own laws (Executive
Orders) and to wage war without a congressional declaration. (The
last time Congress declared war was 1941.) And rather than keep
the other two branches of government in line with the Constitution,
the judicial branch instead rewrites legislation or invents new
laws simply by fiat. (That is how we ended up with Roe vs. Wade.)
short, the problem we face is that while the constitutional form
of government envisioned by Jefferson may well be the best form
of government within our cultural context, yet, quite clearly, this
is no longer the kind of government we actually have. The question
is whether or not this form of government can be restored to the
American people. I believe that it can and that the presidential
election of 2008 is the key to this restoration.
am 43 years old and for the very first time I will be voting for
a presidential candidate rather than against the other guy.
I am convinced that Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, a candidate from
the Republican Party, is the single most important presidential
candidate in my lifetime. I make this bold statement because he
is the first presidential candidate that I have ever heard who clearly
understands the philosophical foundations of our republic and who
is committed to governing in accordance with the Constitution —
including abiding by the limitations placed on the power of the
more than seventeen years as a US congressman, Ron Paul has never
voted for an unbalanced budget. He has never voted for legislation
that is not authorized by the Constitution. He does not even participate
in the congressional pension plan. His consistent, principled stand
for constitutional government has earned him the nickname, "Dr.
opposing runaway congressional spending, Congressman Paul has also
been an indefatigable opponent of runaway executive power. Committed
to the constitutional principle that only Congress can declare war,
he voted against the resolution approving of President Bush's war
plans for Iraq. (Congress refused to actually declare war, so they
passed the buck by granting the president the "authority"
to go to war.) Furthermore, he voted against the Patriot Act, which
represents one of the gravest threats to individual liberty in American
history. He stood almost alone among Republicans in this. (He also
opposed President Clinton's illegal war against our brother Serbs!)
have tried to portray this position as being contrary to conservative
and Republican principles. Yet, Congressman Paul knows well that
non-interventionism is the traditional Republican stance.
The foreign policy of the present Republican administration is designed
by a clique of former Trotskyites who have embarked on an imperialistic
program of perpetual war abroad and ever-greater government power
at home. Ron Paul understands that…
- There is
nothing conservative about an undeclared war against a country
that has not threatened us.
- There is
nothing conservative about threatening other countries (Iran)
with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
- There is
nothing conservative about "spreading Democracy" at
- There is
nothing conservative about suspending or ignoring habeas corpus.
- There is
nothing conservative about warrantless searches.
the contrary, these are all the actions of leftist, totalitarian
governments. The failures of the Bush administration are not the
result of traditional Republican principles; they are the result
of the abandonment of traditional Republican principles. Quite frankly,
Ron Paul is the only traditional Republican in the race.
I am not claiming that Ron Paul is perfect, and neither is he. Paul
is not running for "Savior of the World," but for president
of the most powerful nation on earth — a nation that is so far removed
from its founding principles that it is now one of the greatest
threats to freedom in the world, both at home and abroad. The United
States has certainly become a threat to our Orthodox brethren around
the world. Witness the US-backed persecution of our brethren in
Kosovo and Palestine. Certainly the Christians in Iraq are much
worse off now than they were before the US invasion. Furthermore,
if current policies continue in place, we will be headed for an
inevitable confrontation with a resurgent Russia. Our children and
grand-children may be in for another Cold War — only this time we
may just be the Evil Empire.
I believe that Ron Paul is uniquely qualified to turn our country
from this disastrous course and return her to her constitutional
foundations. In particular, he possesses two character traits essential
for this task. These are traits to which every Orthodox Christian
should aspire: personal integrity and humble obedience.
is a sad commentary on our society that integrity is not a trait
we have come to expect from our politicians. As the GOP candidates
crawl all over themselves to claim the flag of being for "family
values," it is fascinating that the (current) top four candidates
(including Fred Thompson) have seven wives between them. Ironically,
the Mormon is the only one who is not a serial bigamist! In addition
to the fact that Ron Paul has been married to the same woman for
fifty years (five children, seventeen grandchildren), his voting
record after more than seventeen years in Congress is the very picture
of consistency and principled dedication. Indeed, he seems to be
from another century altogether. The Scripture enjoins us: "Let
your u2018yea' be u2018yea,' and your u2018nay' be u2018nay.'" Whether you
agree with all of Ron Paul's positions or not, you know exactly
where he stands today and can be assured that he will not change
his principles tomorrow for the sake of political expediency.
our ascetical literature, one virtue stands out as the surest way
to achieve Christ-like humility and love, and that is the virtue
of obedience. When Ron Paul became a US Congressman he took an oath
to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That oath has determined every vote he has cast in the House of
Representatives. In other words, he placed himself in obedience
to the Constitution. He has never voted for a House bill that is
not specifically authorized by the Constitution. Again, I am not
suggesting that Congressman Paul is an Orthodox saint; he isn't.
But his humble obedience to his oath of office is an example for
us all. He certainly behaves as "one under authority."
(Imagine how much better off our Church would be in North America
if our bishops always acted in accordance with the canons!)
as a conservative Protestant and as an obstetrician by trade, Congressman
Paul has consistently opposed abortion — far more consistently than
most of the other Republican candidates. Most importantly, however,
Paul opposes abortion on sound constitutional as well as religious
grounds. This means that he will be able to make a clear and credible
case why the most fundamental right of all — the right to live —
must be guaranteed to the unborn.
have never contributed to a presidential campaign before. I have
never put a political bumper sticker on my car before. And I have
never written a letter like this before. I have done all three because
for the first time in my life I truly believe that there is a chance
to return this nation to the rule of law under the Constitution.
Traditional Republicans feel betrayed by the Bush Administration,
and anti-war and pro-civil liberties Democrats are beginning to
see through the hypocrisy of their own candidates. The time is right
for a man like Ron Paul, and Ron Paul is precisely the man we need
for these times. As Judge Andrew Napolitano recently commented after
reviewing a litany of tyrannical, post 9/11 "homeland security
measures": "We need a Ron Paul in the White House more
desperately now than we ever have at any time in our history."
you are interested in learning more about Ron Paul, please go to
for your prayers for our Nation, I remain,
Quotable Ron Paul
Hate Crime Legislation
week, the House of Representatives acted with disdain for the Constitution
and individual liberty by passing HR 1592, a bill creating new federal
programs to combat so-called "hate crimes."… HR 1592,
like all hate crime laws, imposes a longer sentence on a criminal
motivated by hate than on someone who commits the same crime with
a different motivation. Increasing sentences because of motivation
goes beyond criminalizing acts; it makes it a crime to think certain
thoughts. Criminalizing even the vilest hateful thoughts — as opposed
to willful criminal acts — is inconsistent with a free society (May
Censorship and Racism
be perfectly clear: the federal government has no business regulating
speech in any way. Furthermore, government as an institution is
particularly ill-suited to combating bigotry in our society. Bigotry
at its essence is a sin of the heart, and we can't change people's
hearts by passing more laws and regulations…. Racism is simply an
ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly
as members of groups rather than individuals. Racists believe that
all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are
alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.
By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates
of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism. Their obsession
with racial group identity is inherently racist.
true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited,
constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual
rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism,
which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color,
gender, or ethnicity (April 18, 2007).
the Federal Budget
fiscal year 2008 budget, passed in the House of Representative last
week, is a monument to irresponsibility and profligacy. It shows
that Congress remains oblivious to the economic troubles facing
the nation, and that political expediency trumps all common sense
in Washington. To the extent that proponents and supporters of these
unsustainable budget increases continue to win reelection, it also
shows that many Americans unfortunately continue to believe government
can provide them with a free lunch.
summarize, Congress proposes spending roughly $3 trillion in 2008.
When I first came to Congress in 1976, the federal government spent
only about $300 billion. So spending has increased tenfold in thirty
years, and tripled just since 1990.
one-third of this $3 trillion is so-called discretionary spending;
the remaining two-thirds is deemed "mandatory" entitlement
spending, which means mostly Social Security and Medicare. I'm sure
many American voters would be shocked to know their elected representatives
essentially have no say over two-thirds of the federal budget, but
that is indeed the case. In fact the most disturbing problem with
the budget is the utter lack of concern for the coming entitlement
meltdown (April 3, 2007).
much-vaunted Senate "compromise" on immigration is a compromise
all right: a compromise of our laws, a compromise of our sovereignty,
and a compromise of the Second Amendment. That anyone in Washington
believes this is a credible approach to solving our immigration
crisis suggests just how out of touch our political elites really
are (May 31, 2007).
Protecting the Border
talk must stop. We must secure our borders now. A nation without
secure borders is no nation at all. It makes no sense to fight terrorists
abroad when our own front door is left unlocked.
Ending the War in Iraq
I wrote when this measure first came before the House, we have to
make a clear distinction between the Constitutional authority of
Congress to make foreign policy, and the Constitutional authority
of the president, as commander in chief, to direct the management
of any military operation. We do no favor to the troops by micromanaging
the war from Capitol Hill while continuing to fund it beyond the
one is unhappy with our progress in Iraq after four years of war,
voting to de-fund the war makes sense. If one is unhappy with the
manner in which we went to war, without a constitutional declaration,
voting against funding for that war makes equally good sense. What
occurred, however, was the worst of both. Democrats, dissatisfied
with the way the war is being fought, gave the president all the
money he asked for and more to keep fighting it, while demanding
that he fight it in the manner they see fit. That is definitely
not a recipe for success in Iraq and foreign policy in general.
is the best way forward in Iraq? Where do we go from here? First,
Congress should admit its mistake in unconstitutionally transferring
war power to the president and in citing United Nations resolutions
as justification for war against Iraq. We should never go to war
because another nation has violated a United Nations resolution.
Then we should repeal the authority given to the president in 2002
and disavow presidential discretion in starting wars. Then we should
start bringing our troops home in the safest manner possible (May
Speaker, for some, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
For others, it means dissent against a government’s abuse of the
people’s rights…. The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility
and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future
of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the
notion that patriotism means obedience to the state. Resistance
need not be violent, but the civil disobedience that might be required
involves confrontation with the state and invites possible imprisonment
(On the floor of the House, May 22, 2007).
him mail] is assistant professor of philosophy at Tennessee
Technological University in Cookeville, TN. A graduate of Carson-Newman
College, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, and the Catholic
University of America, he is a sought-after speaker on Orthodox
issues. He is the author of the five-volume Faith Series
from Regina Orthodox Press, and his weekly podcast, "Faith
and Philosophy," can be heard on the Internet at Ancientfaithradio.