By Editorial Staff
Published March 1, 1988
By Peter J. Leithart
All over the world, governments are busily engaged in various kinds and degrees of reform. South Africa has repealed many of the “petty apartheid” laws that once restricted black advancement and maintained white supremacy. Mikhail Gorbachev’s criticism of past Soviet abuses and his (thus far) meager reforms have made glasnost common parlance in Western countries.
Some Eastern European countries have begun to follow the Soviet lead. In China, land has been redistributed into small, quasi-private farms, with resulting increases in agricultural production.
South Africa has been accused of making only cosmetic changes, reforms that change the surface appearance of South African society but leave the fundamental structures of oppression and injustice in place. the same accusation has not been raised as readily against China and the Soviet Union, but such an argument could easily be made.
For example, writing in Commentary about the state of Soviet letters, Walter Laqueur commented recently that the USSR needs, above all, a “cultural revolution,” something that the current regime shows no sign of permitting. Moreover, Christians are still in Soviet jails. In fact, without a thorough abandonment of communism, any “reform” in the USSR is, in the last analysis, sheer propaganda. (It is interesting in this connection that the basic meaning of glasnost is not, as the American media claims,“openness,” but “publicity.”)
Similar criticisms can be leveled against the Chinese agricultural reforms. It must be admitted that Chinese agriculture has made remarkable progress since the reforms were begun in the late 1970s. Yet the State continues to fix prices for many goods. Prices for staples in cities are suppressed, keeping the urban middle class warm and well-fed, but effectively stifling the incentive of farmers.
Technically, Chinese farmers can sell crops either on the free market or to the government, but in reality it is often difficult to shift to more profitable goods because the government arranges coercive “contracts” for staples. Without these“contracts,” no sane farmer would sell his produce at the artificially low government prices. The State also continues to be the de jure owner of all the farmland.
In short, the fundamental realities of Chinese agriculture – in particular, price-fixing and State ownership of land – have not changed.
In the Philippines, the “people’s revolution” has had discernible effects on attitudes, politics, and the press. Yet, James Fallows reports in The Atlantic that Filipino society is “the only non-communist society in East Asia in which the average living standard is going down.” This is not, he argues, due entirely to the corruption of the Marcos regime. Instead, just as Japan and Korea demonstrate that culture can make a country rich even if it is poor in resources, the Philippines illustrates that “culture can make a naturally rich country poor.”
All this raises the question: What is fundamental reform? In South Africa, democracy – one man, one vote, or, as Kendall and Louw have proposed in After Apartheid, “one man, many votes” – would be widely hailed as a fundamental reform. In the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China, privatization of land and abandonment of socialist planning would be recognized as fundamental reforms.
But do such reforms really touch the heart of social problems? Do even these kinds of reforms go deep enough?
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, American conservatives rejoiced. This was the beginning of fundamental reform. As time went on, however, many within and without the administration discovered that fundamental reform was easier to talk about then to implement. David Stockman saw his budget plans trashed to make political hay. Interior Secretary James Watts’ attempts to bring sanity to ecological issues were dashed to pieces on the reefs of media hype and distortion.
Spending increased, and the bureaucracy got bigger. Reagan is now reluctantly, hesitantly, and evasively talking about tax increases. We still have a Federal Department of Education. Few observers today would deny that whatever the Reagan revolution might have accomplished falls under the category of “cosmetic reform.”
In the face of widespread failure, many conservative activists have lost heart. They have concluded that fundamental reform is impossible. Their idealism has been shattered and they have become cynical, because they have learned “how the world really works.” As a result, they have become less activist.
The problem with such conservatives is that they were engaged in the wrong kind of activism to begin with. They were seeking to achieve fundamental social changes through political means. Their program was fundamentally statist, and thus conceded the presuppositions of the opposition. They were seeking to rebuild the walls of the city with sledge hammers.
Christian activism operates in an entirely different atmosphere than humanist activism, whether conservative or liberal. Christian reform is not basically political, though it has a political dimension. In fact, Christian reform is the only reform that is not cosmetic, because only the Christian gospel gets to the heart of social ills by getting to the sinful hearts of the men who make up the society.
Christians alone can avoid cynicism about the long-term chances of reform, because only the Christian can be sure that his work will be established if he faints not.
Reprinted with permission of Chalcedon Report, P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, CA 95251.
Forerunner - Home » The Forerunner Newspaper » Reformation
Your comments are welcome!
“Give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.
The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Welcome to the Second American Revolution!
This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.
The dramatic classic film of Martin Luther’s life was released in theaters worldwide in the 1950s and was nominated for two Oscars. A magnificent depiction of Luther and the forces at work in the surrounding society that resulted in his historic reform efforts, this film traces Luther’s life from a guilt-burdened monk to his eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Running time: 105 minutes
Special offer: Order 5 or more for $5 each.
Watch a clip from Martin Luther.
$9.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981
Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House.
The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.
“… a high technology “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.” – Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Time Magazine
Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese
Running Time: 28 minutes
$17.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 219 pages
Foundations in Biblical Orthodoxy
Driving down a country road sometime, you might see a church with a sign proudly proclaiming: “No book but the Bible — No creed but Christ.” The problem with this statement is that the word creed (from the Latin: credo) simply means “belief.” All Christians have beliefs, regardless of whether they are written.
Yet a single book containing the actual texts of the most important creeds of the early Church will not often be found. Out of the multitude of works on the evangelical Christian book market today, those dealing with the creeds of the Church are scarce.
Why Creeds and Confessions? provides a foundation of biblical orthodoxy as a defense against the false and truly heretical doctrines advanced by the spirit of this age.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Download the Free Study Guide!
God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.
Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!
Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:
1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?
Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.
Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!
Running Time: 240 minutes
Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)