Two questions stand out: Why was Michael Brown killed and why are police units increasingly militarized so that they resemble soldiers in a war zone more than cops on a beat? The answers to these questions do indeed lead back to government–not simply to “big government,” but to a bureaucracy directed to wage war on a class of its citizens, driven by a political culture that ironically champions law and order.
The “postmodern condition,” as Jean-François Lyotard designated it in 1979, is an “incredulity toward metanarratives.” That definition has been recited interminably by those grasping for a familiar sound-byte to encapsulate the significance of postmodernity. In the last few decades it has acquired overtones of a playful cultural experimentalism that has somehow outgrown the need for authoritative accounts of the meaning and purpose of human history.
David Brat’s upset of Eric Cantor in Virginia’s District Seven congressional race last week generated waves of buzz, with no small stir churning in the Christian blogosphere. Although political upstarts, especially those that identify as conservative Christians, always tend to create a storm of media buzz, the close attention to Brat is perhaps more justified than most. As I hope will become clear in this brief profile of Brat’s scholarship and political theology, Brat’s somewhat bewildering and seemingly idiosyncratic synthesis of theology and economics illustrates the tensions endemic to the increasingly-libertarian sectors of the Christian Right.
In a recent article defending a “nudge” approach to public policy, where behavioral economics is employed to provide mild modifications of individual preferences and behaviors in ways that serve said individuals’ good, Charles Mathewes and Christina McRorie take Richard Williams to task for his “libertarian” criticisms of the nudge approach. I’m rather sure that the libertarianism they attribute to Williams is neither necessary for his argument or a remotely accurate portrayal of libertarianism as a political philosophy.
We would like to begin with agreement on something fundamental. The team of Mathewes and McRorie are surely correct about the persistence of nudging in our lives. We are nudged by the cereal company that pays to have its product on the top shelf. The little tables at the end of aisles in Barnes and Noble are miniature subdivisions with real estate sold to publishers. Those tiny neighborhoods of books are nudges.