To Change the World: Transformationalists are Nietzschean?

imagesCA9E6431In To Change the World  sociologist James Davison Hunter describes an increasing politicization of our culture and the relationship of that development to the quest for power.  In a quote that could describe some transformationalists who have misplaced and/or exaggerated the antithesis, Hunter explains:

When politicization is oriented toward furthering the specific interests of a group without an appeal to the common weal, when its means of mobilizing the uncommitted is through fear, and when the pursuit of agendas depends more on the vilification of opponents than on the affirmation of higher ideals…Even democratic justifications are not more than a veneer over a will to power. (p. 106)

Anyone who has seen the Christian right – including transformationalists – enact the first sentence, raise your hand.  It does indeed appear that Christians are not being successful in transforming the world through politics but, instead, have become captive to the psychology and tactics of politics.

On a different note, a two kingdom advocate reading this section can point to broader and more varied avenues of cooperation with others to advance the common weal than his detractors can.

Hunter continues by applying Nietzsche’s idea of “ressentiment” which includes our idea of resentment but also includes “anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge as the motive of political action.” It is, he says, “a form of political psychology.” (p.107)  Key to ressentiment is a narrative of injury; “[c]ultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action.” (p. 108)

A casual reading of Christian Right news sources will tend to verify use of the narrative of injury. If there seems to be injury to something that is or can be stretched into a Christian cause – be it denial of prayer at certain events, zoning conflicts, or other restrictions on arguably Christian behavior – it becomes a story that does indeed become a source of antipathy toward the perceived oppressor and a rallying point for “us.”

To wrap it up:

in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and corruption of the world around them, many Christians – and Christian conservatives most significantly – unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist. (p. 175)


Filed under Culture Wars, evangelical politics, To Change the World

7 responses to “To Change the World: Transformationalists are Nietzschean?

  1. MM,

    I am really enjoying this review series. The ties that Hunter makes between idealism and run-of-the-mill transformationalism are right on, and the comparison to functional Neitzscheanism should give the transformationally minded some pause…even if it probably won’t. But, to me, what is more troublesome is amongst the conscientious, well-informed Kuyperians, and for that matter Reconstructionists, is their seeming blindness to their own anachronistic modes of discourse. I am not sure how much Hunter deals with the academic and institutional expressions of transformationalism in his writing, since I haven’t read him. However, I think we need to introduce a new dating system in the Tranformationalist/2k debates, using the designation A.K. (After Kuyper – not referring to the assault rifle), because the heady transformationalists seem loathe to grant that there was such a thing as Reformed orthodoxy, or well developed social and political theories from Calvinist intellectuals before the advent of Abraham Kuyper. Nor are many of them very up front with just how idealistic (in zee German sense) the main tenets of their system is.

    I suppose we could propose a similar dating system for our debates with Reformed pietists – A.E. (after Edwards), but it amazes me, as someone who is relatively new to Reformed churches – just a shade under 5 years attending, and around 3 years as a member – how little of our Reformed intellectual or theological heritage enters into these discussions, with the exception of the obligatory Calvin quotation (whether it fits, or represents Calvin fairly or not) to establish historical bona fides. I have been saddened to see how little run Clark’s RRC has sustained, even after receiving pretty high praise from many Reformed circles (outside of Frame sympathizers) but, he seemed to chart a good way forward from the vantage point of what happens in the church. Maybe someone will come along and write a similar corollary with respect to recovering a Reformed understanding of life outside the church in relation to the world, to give some historical context to show how far we are from our Reformed forebearers on some of these matters.

    • The poster boy, Erik. Ironic that a man who thinks he has the Christianest Worldview of All Times ends up being an actor in a drama written by an nihilist.

      • Richard

        I’ve never heard of this guy–is he an Iowa thing?

      • He came from Grand Rapids, of course(shout out to Zrim), and was really into the Iowa State Cylones, of course (shout out to EC)then came to Iowa radio, intially as a sports guy who would throw in some Christan Right stuff while doing sports. I thought he was actually quite good at that. Then he switched to a political format. I’ve done some posts related to his website, including one in which a Polk County District Court judge was unfairly lambasted, another post on a piece about how the purpose of the church is to serve the culture war, and another about that preacher in Chicago who took his megaphone into a Catholic festival. He’s trying to be a national figure but I haven’t followed how successful that transition has been.

  2. Richard

    BIngo, bingo, bingo. Functional Nietzscheans! And a “will to power”! Man, if that doesn’t nail a large element of the Christian Right. And Hunter’s analysis of the political machinations and its problematic morality which the “Christian” Right has bought into is pretty devastating.

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