Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Eschaton and Civil Government.

I don't really discuss politics on this blog, but I have lately a little bit in relation to theological topics.  

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian, makes an interesting observation that I came across.  He notes that the Christian notion of the kingdom of God and the eschaton are helpful to the exercise of civil virtue.  If at the end of time, God will sweep away all the kingdoms of humanity, then any form of government or social order is merely provisional.  One cannot make an idol out of any political order.

This is a helpful insight, especially for those within our society on either the left or the right who want to temporalize the eschaton.  I also think this goes well with the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms, which as Peter Berger observes, is radically anti-Utopian.  Any civil order is simply the law's coercive measure to hold things together until they finally fall apart in the great apocalyptic break.


  1. It was Eric Voegelin whose thought led others to coin the slogan (and T-shirt) "Do not immanentize the eschaton":

    "The problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized. Such an immanentist hypostasis of the eschaton, however, is a theoretical fallacy."

  2. Phil- You're correct, I was consciously using Voegelin.

    I think it's important to remember that America suffers from the residual effects of the popularity of post-millennialism. Also, in the academic community, there is a tendency to accept the alternative secular narrative of redemption that one finds in post-French revolution European political thought. It's all a bunch of false hope in the goodness of humanity.

    BTW, where do you get the T-Shirt?

  3. Oh, I don't have the T-shirt (if I did, I would wear it every day). I read a lot of Russell Kirk, and he mentioned the shirt. I'd read Voegelin himself, but so far his terminology seems obscure, and he seems to have bought into a little too much historical-critical theology for me to make him a top priority.

  4. I actually googled it and there is a T-shirt. A bit expensive. Anyways, I enjoy Russell Kirk. I listened to the book-on-tap of "The Conservative Mind" a while back and enjoyed it.

  5. Kirk is generally quite good, especially in the historical and political fields. It was just disappointing to find that he'd bought into the twentieth century theologians as much as he had. Still, he's absolutely excellent on the evils of ideology, the value of tradition and culture, and society's need for the Church.

  6. There is a Voegelin button as well, which I obtained from Don Lipsett back in the mid 70s, when we were both on the staff at Hillsdale College. It says: "Don't let THEM immanentize the Eschaton." I wore it proudly to a Liberty Fund symposium in Prague in 1994, where we discussed the writing of Voegelin, Solzhenitsyn, and Vaclav Havel,in light of the peaceful revolution that ended communism.

    By the way, Augustine's writing on the city of God and the city of man is probably the first anti-utopian work, preceding Lutheran doctrine.