06 April 2022, The Tablet

Why it is time for the Church of England to own its liberal state

Liberal Christians believe in a tension, or dialectic, between the secular shared public ideology of liberalism and Christianity.

Why it is time for the Church of England to own its liberal state

Phillip Blond, left, and Adrian Pabst have argued for a post-liberal politics


A theologian argues that the Church of England should come off the fence and champion liberal democracy

We have taken the liberal state for granted. The tragedy in Ukraine has awakened many commentators to a renewed appreciation and admiration for the miracle of liberal democracy – flawed, tottering but still standing. They salute the courage and resilience of the people of Ukraine, and marvel at the extraordinary price they are willing to pay to belong to the “free world”. They note that liberal democracy has a new icon in the form of Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Then their gaze turns to their own flabby, cosseted culture. They declare, let this be our wake-up call. Their oration might cite Auden: we have colluded in “a low, dishonest decade”.

On one level, these writers, journalists and broadcasters have no trouble articulating the features of liberal democracy. It is a form of politics based on individual rights, tolerance of opinions we don’t much like, free elections, free speech, free press, equality under the law and so on. But something is missing. Such defences feel rather little, rather dry, rather dated, even rather beleaguered. Francis Fukuyama’s famous “end of history” thesis, first set out (with more nuance and qualification than Fukuyama is usually given credit for) in 1992, that the evolution of forms of government has reached its highest form with the creation of liberal democracy, has been scoffed at from critical theorists on the Left and the angry anti-wokery Right almost from the day it appeared. (Fukuyama himself has recently published a sequel recommending his own strategy for keeping the flame alive.)


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User Comments (1)

Comment by: Clifford Longley
Posted: 11/04/2022 01:40:11
The Church of England's basic instinct is not to defend democracy as such, but Establishment, which makes it the national church by law. One can see why it needs to – without establishment there is little to hold its warring parts together. But establishment inflicts an ideology on the Church, which can be damaging and can also be benign. Without William Temple's idea of "Christian order" it is doubtful whether the Welfare State – a name he invented – would have been created. It is damaging because it stops people asking fundamental questions. Liberal democracy is a system for making decisions, but it does not tell you what the outcome of that decision-making ought to be. It needs a set of values and beliefs from somewhere outside itself. For Temple that was the Gospel. But what happens when society loses its memory of Christianity and becomes totally secular? Then nothing is sacred. What then are its values?