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Hunter on the Power of Politics

July 27th, 2010 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

While rereading To Change the World, I came across this passage, where Hunter almost anticipates my remarks:

Some argue that what we need is a redefinition of politics, one that is more capacious and capable of absorbing actions, ideas, and initiatives that are independent of the State.  The idea here is to reclaim or restore a "proper" understanding of the political.  Such efforts would, in principle, accomplish the same end I am describing here.  This position is certainly worthy of serious debate but as a sociologist who is attentive to the power of institutions, I am inclined to think that all such efforts will be swallowed up by the current ways in which politics is thought of and used. It is why I continue to think that it is important to separate the public from the political and to think of new ways of thinking and speaking and acting in public that are not merely political." (emphasis mine)

Yes, there is a danger that attempts at reform might lead to the perpetuation of the standard way of doing things.

But then, there's a danger that any presence might cease to be faithful and be co-opted by the power structures of the institutions in which it exists.

If anything, Hunter's reply seems to unfairly single out politics as particularly resistant to reform.  What if the institution in question were, say, the academy with its (ostensibly) liberal bias?  We might want to rethink the academy, but any attempts to institutionalize those reforms from within the system would be just as susceptible to co-option by "current ways in which [academia] is thought of and used."  Yet is not doing so simply one way of being "faithfully present" as an academic administrator?  Why, then, can't politicians play as well?

Which is to say, bad ideas and ways of doing thing have a way of wanting to stick around, regardless of which institution they exist in.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.