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Essays

Given the important role played by American Catholics in determining the outcome of presidential elections, many commentators have speculated that Newt Gingrich might be the one to capture the prized Catholic vote.

For Gingrich’s campaign, his recent conversion from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholicism almost functions like the makeovers of popular reality TV shows. His past record of “double spousal abandonment” and congressional ethics violations, we are told, are sins of a previous life that are irrelevant for the newly made-over “Catholic Newt.”

In late November, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, surged in the polls to become the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election. In recent days Gingrich’s poll numbers have faltered, but he retains a slight lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in national polls.

Having converted to Catholicism in 2009, Gingrich is one of two Catholics running for the nomination. He has not made his Catholicism an important part of his campaign rhetoric, although he has not hidden it, either. At many of his campaign stops, he shows the film Nine Days that Changed the World, a documentary on the role of Pope John Paul II in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe produced by Gingrich and his wife Callista.

So far, discussions of Gingrich’s faith have focused on his personal character, but less attention has been given to the influence of Catholicism on his political views…..

Without a vision, the people perish. Let your young men see visions and your old men dream dreams. Those words sound particularly hollow at the moment, and yet they resonate with what is lacking and remind us of what inspired the original followers of Jesus and also the hopes of those who greeted his arrival. Where are the visions now, and what do we have to guide us through what may well be a dark period?….

During the past two decades, political liberalism has been put on trial. Political theorists indebted to Sheldon Wolin (William Connolly, Romand Coles, Bonnie Honig) have, in various ways, exposed liberalism’s tendency to conceal or downplay significant dimensions of political struggle. These authors indict liberalism for its narrow understanding of public reason, an understanding that underestimates qualities, practices and interactions within our lifeworlds that tend to thwart liberalism’s drive toward consensus and agreement (here I am thinking of clashing visions of the good life, memory of injustice, or the emergence of new movements that challenge our very notion of publicity and reason). This trend within political theory resembles developments in religious studies and theology. Recent discussions between Stanley Hauerwas, Jeff Stout, and Cornel West revolve around liberalism’s tendency to depoliticize religious commitments by relegating them to the private sphere. For these authors, this inclination overlooks the deep connections between democratic struggle and religious practice within American history. These authors remind us that democracy and faith are bedfellows (and not necessarily strange ones).

Jonathan Kahn and Vincent Lloyd, in recent blog posts here, attempt to move these discussions further and potentially in new directions…

With the elections in Spain two weeks ago, the first modern government to explicitly model itself on the work of an academic political philosopher was voted out of office. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had become a devotee of the Princeton political philosopher Philip Pettit in 2000, when Zapatero was leader of the opposition searching for how to envision left-liberal politics distinct from the Clinton-Blair “third way.” As a Zapatero associate put it, “Philip Pettit provided us with the appropriate grammar to furnish our political intuitions, to express the kind of proposals and dreams we had in mind for Spain. Pettit’s republicanism has been our north star.” Does the political philosophy that Zapatero found so compelling, civic republicanism, leave a role for faith?

By Nicole L. Johnson

In response to changing political and cultural realities over the past several decades, the United Methodist Church has come to embrace various positions on the subject of war and peace. The denomination’s Book of Discipline makes evident a certain doctrinal pluralism on these topics and their related issues and questions. Textual analysis of the Discipline in order to discover the evolution of current teachings on war and peace (which one would likely never do unless, like me, one undertook such a project as part of one’s doctoral dissertation) reveals a doctrinal tradition that has come to include, for example, a Social Principles statement on “War and Peace” in which war is defined as “incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ” and is therefore to be “reject[ed] as an instrument of national foreign policy” while simultaneously recognizing in the statement on “Military Service” the “many Christians” who believe that war is acceptable in some situations and offering respect and support for those “who conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces.”

By Jonathon Kahn, Vassar College

Who are the fools among us who continue to have faith in democracy and in American democracy in particular? After a desultory three-year period of community organizing in the corner of Harlem that I call home, I find myself preoccupied with this question. My community was unable to bridge the gap between what came to be called the “old” and “new” Harlem. To be sure, there were moments that Bonnie Honig might call “democratic ruptures,” when my community tried to rework its own sense of “we-ness.” But these moments were fleeting. “Ordinary life,” as Honig says, “reasserts itself, with a bit of a vengeance.”[i] Democratic energies dissipate. Democratic energies fail.

And yet I find myself wanting to argue that democratic faith is possible and needed. Though I have no theistic beliefs of my own, I can find no way to move forward with democratic life except as a person of faith. What, then, do I mean by faith and why does democracy need it?

This kid is a nobody from nowhere. Yet it will be this forgettable, easily dismissed kid whom God will raise up to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the greatest of all who ever lived and ruled, but nothing like any who have gone before him in those roles.

The editors of Political Theology are pleased to announce that the latest issue is now available on the web. Issue 12.6 (December 2011) carries a special section devoted to issues of migration and asylum, and features a guest editorial on ‘Migration as a Challenge for Theological Ethics’ by David Hollenbach, SJ, who holds the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College. This is followed by three related articles by Elena Namli, from Uppsala University, Sweden; Mark W. Potter, who is the Provincial Assistant for Social Ministries of the California Province of the Society of Jesus; and Anna F. Rowlands from the Margaret Beaufort Institute, University of Cambridge. The editorial and review open access. The full table of contents appears below: