Toward an Adventist Political Thought

Fast-moving political events have altered the script for President Obama’s nationally televised speech about Syria. He is now in a position of having to argue for both war and diplomacy in the same address. This speech on international Politics becomes this way an additional event in an unpredictable process that has shifted repeatedly over the past two weeks. No one appears in control of anything in an embrangled political situation. But while the U.S.A. administration and the main European and international countries are discussing the Syria case and the controversial political and humanitarian modalities of an eventual intervention, Adventism seems to be absent or distracted with its own internal affairs. Adventism can not pretend to intervene politically only when its members’ freedom and safety are at stake surrendering thereby to a unilateral and sometimes paranoiac reading of some biblical prophecies. We need a new generation of Adventists who, while remaining faithful to their religious and spiritual convictions, were also able to enlarge their vision and sensibility to see and to consider the world’s political and social affairs as their own. Nowadays we don’t have as Adventist church, any political, social or cultural observatory that through a serious description, analysis and interpretation of today’s main historical trends builds up a particular vision and hermeneutics of today’s situation. This could help, if done, on one side to reduce the naïve, schematic and even superstitious reading of the actuality that very often circulates among our members with the compliance and even the encouragement of some of our leaders and institutions, and on the other side it could allow us also to frame better the various and generous philanthropic initiatives and the interesting biblical intuitions about today’s historical trends we have cultivated in our noble Adventist heritage.  

But to build up today a political thought is not easy for anybody because Politics itself has gone into a deep crisis. This is visible in the crisis of the agent that modern and contemporary Politics has chosen to found itself: the Nation-State. Let’s list briefly three paradoxes of today Politics related to this issue. First, within the various contemporary societies, the State has grown up really hypertrophic. This heaviness and slowness doesn’t allow the State any more to be or to become a facilitator for renewal and change but rather the opposite. The sentence “too big to change”, applied to our current States, summons up dramatically this difficulty. And, beyond Robert Nozick’s advocacy for the “minimal state” as a kind of formal and magical solution, this general trend to increase the institutional apparatus doesn’t involve only the big and important States in the world but touches “de facto” every State, also the anonymous and little ones. But what is still worst in this deforming process is that this unbounded growth of the State is generally made to the detriment and disadvantage of the creative and generous forces of the civil society. Second, this bulimic desire of the State of exhaustively organizing and controlling persons, events and groups within the system, paradoxically cohabits with the parallel abdication of its leadership in a larger context. The sentence “to small to change”, describes this weakness and this incapacity of current States to resist the charm and to put limits to the greed and voracity of today global phenomena on an international scale. To these belong particularly the self-referential and arrogant monetary and financial initiatives of some powerful trans-national organizations and institutions that seem to act without any true restriction after the law of the survival of the fittest. Third, the essence of this crisis is the incapacity to motivate people which today’s Politics has already incurred for some time. After having deliberately chosen to put aside ethical and religious considerations as not relevant in the political debate and after having chosen a procedural profile in the management of society affairs, contemporary Politics now faces the coming back, in the political arena, of all those topics that once belonged only to the private sphere, as today’s bioethical debate for instance clearly shows. In this unexpected new situation, Politics doesn’t know any more if it’s better to remain faithful to its initial ideological neutrality or to correct and balance society’s excessive materialism and utilitarianism by promoting the birth of an “Ethical State”. Whether it goes one way or the other, Politics urgently needs to recover the capacity of motivating people and giving them historical perspective by becoming re-enchanted without becoming ideological.

To these three paradoxes of today’s Politics are added the specific biases of the implicit Adventist political orientation. Let’s mention three of them. First, Adventist de facto political orientation tends to be opportunistic, pragmatic and self-referential. It means that when we enter in a political debate or participate in a political initiative, we usually do so for themes that are typically ours and that concern only our own interests. Seldom, if ever, are we really concerned for situations and motives that belong to the general Common Good and that don’t bring us directly any benefit. This selective interest in Politics pushes us to miss the complexity of the socio-political debate and reinforces our initial “utilitarian pragmatism” by transforming it into an “ideological pragmatism” i.e. an ideological iron cage we hardly can escape from. Second, Adventist political mind-setting is almost exclusively apocalyptic and Other-worldly. It nurtures a constant suspicion towards any socio-political initiative, improperly assuming that all that is not complete or definitive, is necessarily false. But such a massive, undiversified and un-nuanced look at historical events paradoxically ends up by criticizing only the more explicit and visible events leaving un-criticized those less visible and less evident that, generally speaking, are the more determinant in any political process. Third, Adventist political involvement privileges an individualistic and atomizing participation. The “coherence criterion”, at the center of our ethical thought, reinforces that individualism by privileging the subject internal relationship between believing and behaving overlooking the equally important “correspondence criterion” that underlines instead the necessity of putting in relationship the individual’s action and beliefs with the external political world. But the atomizing orientation of Adventist ethics is not present only in this sociological individualism but emerges also politically when unilaterally we only defend the typical modern obsession of division of powers in the structure of modern states. Without giving up this conquest of modern times we should also be able to see its limits and critically foster an interaction between all these socio-political dimensions. Our boasted holism can’t remain only anthropological. It should become also cultural, political and cosmological.

In being aware of this double difficulty, of Adventism and of Politics itself, to read and to face today’s main socio-historical challenges, Adventism could be tempted to assume and to pick up some classical political tools of analysis and of intervention. But it would be a mistake, because the main problem of Adventism, despite all we have said until now concerning the necessity of a major Adventist political involvement, is not to get involved in the political debate if we start doing it within the classic and old political paradigm. The true challenge is to dare to think politics differently and in a new way, together with other subjects and initiatives that have perceived the limits and aporias of the classical paradigm. We conclude our reflection with the reference to three recent political contributions that could inspire and enrich the urgent need of the birth of an Adventist socio-political observatory.

This month Martha Nussbaum offers the international public her new book, “Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice”. Her interest in emotions as a political thinker is not new. In “Upheavals of Thought” she had already called attention on some parallel humans dimensions to rationality in which thought and action are irreversibly rooted. Emotions not only accompany political actions in the sense that they expand and enlarge their impact and effect on society but somehow they are present since the very beginning by making them possible, by giving them birth. This is the reason why Politics can not become a cold, impersonal and procedural, strategy. This month also the English edition of the book by the Italian political philosopher Elena Pulcini,  “Care of the World: Fear, Responsibility and Justice in the Global Age” is offered to the international public. When professor Pulcini presented her book in our Italian Adventist Theological Seminary in Florence, she noted two important things to consider in political and cultural analysis. First, the analysis of the history and development of western societies is mainly done privileging the registers in which these societies sing and boast their own virtues and achievements: rationality and action. In her books she has followed the opposite strategy. Her goal is to study contemporary societies, starting from the dimensions these societies purposely or unconsciously overlook, forget or displace. In this specific case her research highlights the anomalies, the short-circuits, the paradoxes, the contradictions, the ambivalence and the pathology of today’s feelings and emotions understood as socio-political events. At this level the history of western societies look different; certainly less heroic and more dramatic. Second, the “Care” category has had a biased application in today’s societies by restricting them to the family and private sphere. Christian communities, through their pastors and priests (“pastoral care”), beyond an apparent extension to its applicability to the larger context of the church, have ended, just in the same way, by reinforcing the same anomaly. Time has come to start using “Care” as a political category in the public sphere, in order to balance the excessive unilateral procedural approach of today’s Politics but also to come nearer to the real civil society’s concerns and expectations. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Judith Butler’s book,  “Who sings the Nation-State?: Language, Politics, Belonging”, on the crisis of the Nation-State, reminds us that it will be difficult to try to build a new Politics if we remain bound to the classical political paradigm of an  autonomous, sovereign and self-referential State that is the extension and the perfect mirror of the Cartesian anthropological model of an autonomous, sovereign and self-referential subject. In other words, before initiating a constructivist political project we must necessarily go first through a de-constructivist, critical reading of the old political certainties.

But an Adventist political thought is necessary today not only for these exposed external reasons. There also exist strong internal, theological reasons that compel us to go in that direction. This could be the topic of a future reflection.

 

Hanz Gutierrez, “Villa Aurora”

Florence-Italy





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Sat, 10/25/2014 | Los Angeles Adventist Forum
October Adventist Forum
Ronald E. Osborn, Ph.D., A 2014-2016 Mellon Postdoctoral Fell ow in the Peace and Justice Program at Wellesley College (Boston), and a 2 015 Fullbright Scholar to Burma/Myanmar, Formerly an Adjunct Faculty Membe r in the Dept. of International Relations at USC, and in the Honors Progra m at UCLA. Topic: "Death Before the Fall?: A Conversation with Ronald Osbor n."

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