How we understand the “centralization” of political power in relationship to the health of a “civil society” is one of the most historically significant topics that a citizen could consider in his or her society. There is some fruitful philosophical work to be done on the nature of civic society, power, centralization, and the importance of a social order that is humanly suited for flourishing.
In my Acton University faculty interview with Professor John Bolt, he helps us understand some of the more salient issues in this discussion and how Christians have and can continue to contribute to this important area. The social vision of Abraham Kuyper and Alexis de Tocqueville are also discussed.
They are perfectly mutual and symbionic in a pathological way. Education and cultural critic Neil Postman uses an ecological metaphor to describe this. Responding to Dewey’s dictum that “the teacher always is the true prophet of God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God,” Postman points to problems created for social ecology when the school takes over the functions of the family, the church and synagogue, etc. He puts it this way: “The more one social institution encroaches upon the functions of the other, the more it weakens it. “ When the state feels an obligation to feed children as well as teach them the multiplication tables in its schools, signs them up for the latest social, environmental, or political cause as part of their homework, the state usurps the function and authority of the home and religious community.
In the course of working on that book I truly “discovered” Alexis de Tocqueville. What I discovered is that Abraham Kuyper in one of his very first political addresses quoted Tocqueville more than anyone else. The two men (along with Lord Acton) shared an anxiety about tyranny, about the tendency of the state to aggrandize power unto itself. And both realized that the real antidote to state tyranny is a healthy civil society. Kuyper put it in terms of “spheres of society” that have their own integrity, do not derive their authority from the state but directly from God, and are ultimately responsible to God. Parents have a right to say “no” when the state usurps their religious authority as parents.