Politics is about service, to God and our fellow man
An early memory of party politics dates to July 8th 1974 as my dad drove our car on the crude track out of the rustic setting of jack pine-covered sand dunes near Grande Prairie, Alberta, at the conclusion of a week of church camp. I recall my dismay at the radio news that Pierre Elliott Trudeau had won a second majority mandate after narrowly achieving a minority outcome in 1972. On a platform of wage and price controls to address runaway inflation at 12 per cent, the federal Progressive Conservative Party Leader Robert Stanfield had run to the left of Trudeau.
Elections and party politics are usually more about chasing public opinion or addressing the crisis of the day than leading. Party politics are not unimportant. What is crucial, however, is the ethos – the guiding principles – we live by, transmitting this ethos to the next generation by education, and engaging entrepreneurially to advance this ethos in the marketplace. This ethos, this effort to educate and to engage entrepreneurially, is what movement conservatism is or should be about.
Where does the ethos of movement conservatism come from? It may be bred in the bone by families, inculcated in churches or encouraged by our communities. But at its root, the ethos – the guiding principles – of movement conservatism finds its source in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. It is informed chiefly by the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbour – in that order. This ethos is the filter movement conservatives should apply to all public policy issues and our responses to human events in private and public.
Civilization is only ever one or – at most – two generations deep. The challenge for each generation is to pass on its ethos to the next generation. Sadly, the ethos of western Christian civilization has waned as the explicit ethos of public policy. But it is ever present, as recently observed by the English philosopher Tom Holland who abandoned Christian faith as a teenager:
(B)y the time Anselm died in 1109, Latin Christendom had been set upon a course so distinctive that today what we term ‘the West’ is less its heir than its continuation. Certainly, to dream of a world transformed by a reformation, or an enlightenment, or a revolution is nothing exclusively modern. Rather, it is a dream as medieval visionaries dreamed: to dream in the manner of a Christian (Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. London: Little, Brown, 2019, xxiv-xxv).
After writing extensively about the ancient Persians, Athenians, and Romans, Holland found himself repulsed by their worlds and the ethos that informed each. Holland realized how much his ethos was that taught him when he was a child in Sunday school:
Assumptions that I had grown up with – about how a society should properly be organized, and the principles it should uphold – were not bred of classical antiquity, still less of ‘human nature’, but very distinctively of that civilisation’s Christian past. So profound has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilisation that it has come to be hidden from view. It is the incomplete revolutions which are remembered; the fate of those which triumph is to be taken for granted (Ibid., xxix).
The challenges for churches and other communities who want to preserve this ethos in the public square is to educate the current and emerging generations in its source, and how both loving and obeying God is at least as important as loving our neighbour. For how can we be relied on to love our neighbour if we do not love – and obey – the Almighty?
But it is not enough to hold this ethos, nor sufficient to educate this generation and the next about it. We are called to engage entrepreneurially in its promotion and to embody it in the marketplace. Once upon a time, those engaged in business enterprises were informed by this ethos. The ethos informed those who built schools and universities, clinics and hospitals, orphanages and old folks’ homes. The ethos even impelled people to organize political parties, recruit and organize on behalf of candidates for public office and, yes, leave the comforts and security of home to stand for election.
These were not merely means of earning a living, fulfilling a social need nor pushing a party to electoral victory. It was about giving glory to God, fulfilling the greatest commandment. It was about serving others and human flourishing, in fulfillment of the second commandment.
For movement conservatives, the ultimate outcome is already known. Ultimately, that outcome is not in our hands. What is in our hands is bringing this ethos to bear on ourselves, our families, our churches, and in the marketplace, including in politics and public policy.
The ground will not crumble beneath our feet because we fail to make this ethos more than a private matter or an intellectual assent. But we then have only ourselves to blame when what goes on outside our homes is hostile to that ethos and favours, instead, the ever-shifting sands of relativism. We should not be surprised at the consequences when we fail to speak up for or live up to – publicly – the ethos we say we are committed to.
The rain will continue to fall on the just and unjust irrespective of whether or not we transmit this ethos to those we rub shoulders with, as well as to our children. But we should not be surprised if the next generation questions its relevancy and value for them, and rains down criticism and doubt upon it.
The sky will not fall because of who is or is not elected. But who is elected to office will shape law and could lead people in public policy directions antithetical to this ethos, which do not just fail to bring human flourishing, but real harm to people. If those who hold the ethos refuse to campaign on it, at least incrementally, and default to electability, they will have won what, exactly, should they finish first? What is the saying? What you win them with is what you win them to!
Across the world, architecture, institutions, and cultural achievements point to this ethos. All around us are artifacts of dreams born of this ethos. Bring it out of hiding. As movement conservatives, let us dream as past visionaries dreamed. Dream in the manner of those who love God and love their neighbour.
A life-long churchgoer, Russell (“Russ”) E. Kuykendall was Bible-college educated, seminary-trained in theology and philosophy, and pursued advanced studies in political theory. Since 1991, he has volunteered, “staffed,” and organized on behalf of political parties, candidates, MPs, MPPs, MLAs, party leaders, and ministers of the Crown. He has also supported movement conservative organizations, formally and informally, and in the churches and charities he has attended and served.