7 Rules for Reformers
Political Dualism - Dualism Is Bad JuJu
Written by Douglas Wilson
Monday, 24 September 2012
A generation ago "community organizer" Saul Alinsky famously penned his Rules for Radicals,
and it is my conviction that those interested in reformation should
match his craft and self-awareness without trying to compete with the
speed and depth of his revolutionary destructo-vision.
Some revolutionaries are patient and some are not. Gramsci argued for
the "long march through the institutions" and Lenin wanted the massive
meltdown all at once. Most revolutionaries have what Billingsly
described as a "fire in the minds of men," but some are willing to go
for the slow burn. So more than just simple patience is required to
distinguish a revolutionary from a reformer.
So what are the basic rules for reformers?
1. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
Reformation of culture is either a species of salvation or
sanctification, and you can't have either one without Jesus. Secular
conservatism will sometimes buy you time, but that is about all it can
do -- that and lure you into the complacent notion that it can do more
than this. Secular conservatism is like trying to use your pocket
handkerchief to slow you down after the main chute has failed. The
person and work of Jesus is not optional.
2. Always remember the distinction between principles and methods.
Say that the principle is to win the war against the enemy -- the
methods would be navy, artillery, air force, ground troops, etc. Someone
enamored of method would think that the war can be won by their branch
of the service alone, without any help from the others. Those who latch
on to the methods being employed, without any awareness of the
principles being served, are either simple-minded or partisans. The
simple need leadership; they can make great foot soldiers, but don't
ever make them generals. The partisans need a peculiar kind of
leadership, but you have to be careful -- they are the ones who are
already a tad too gung ho about your leadership. And they think you are
as gummed up about particular methods as they are.
3. Reformers are conservatives, which means they must prefer the
concrete to the abstract. The past is concrete, just like the future is
going to be. The goal is to preserve and defend everything the Spirit
has done in history in such a way as to carry it forward into what the
Spirit is going to do. Given our time-bound nature, we must conserve
some things, and we must progress toward certain things. But what do we
conserve, and what do we seek to build? Our duties are always in the
present, but we must read the past, as well as the future (albeit more
dimly), and we must do so by the performance of concrete duties. Love
your neighbor, not mankind. Build an actual school for your children,
and do not love the notion of educational great concepts in some
4. Reformers must cultivate a high sense of humor. Reformation
involves conflict, as we shall see in a moment, but how you fight makes
all the difference. Should you fight like a cavalier, with swift sword
play and witticisms, or like a thug with a club and a wart on your nose?
The besetting sin of ostensible reformers is the sin of shrillness and
officious forms of uplift. We need reformers, not another round of
bossy-pantses. We also need someone who knows how to form the plural of
5. Reformers must be combative. There is no way to do any of this
without involving yourself in the rough stuff. This means that courage
is required. The adversary fights back, and they know how to fight back.
Not only that, but because this is a battle between good and evil, and
you are fighting for the good (right?), the other side gets to cheat,
and you don't get to. You have to fight, and you have to fight clean,
and you have to fight fair. When you enlist in the army, you cannot
feign surprise when you find yourself in battles.
6. Reformers must play the long game. We are not laboring for a
convenience store reformation, where you buy and consume your "item"
before you pull out into traffic, depending on how troublesome the
shrink wrap is. If we have Christ, we have all things future, and so we
can leave the outcome of our present labors to Him. We don't have to see
the larger end to perform our part in that larger end. And our part is
7. Reformers must remember always that religion shapes culture, and
culture trumps politics. The plug-in ought not to go straight from
reformation in the church to legislation. Legislative battles are
important in the meantime, but mostly as a defensive measure. The
offense won't happen until we make the connection between our faith and
culture -- the kind of culture that forms apart from laws. Just as you
can't fight a naval war without ships, or tank warfare without tanks, you can't fight a culture war without a culture.
The reformation of the church must occur so that there is a reformation
of our subculture, and then our subculture will affect the larger polis. Expecting our faith to affect the larger polis when
it has not yet changed the average shelf at the local Christian book
store is expecting something that is not going to happen. With the weird
exception of baseball, where the ball is handled entirely by the
defense, you can't score points until you have the ball. And reformers
will not have the ball until they have a culture.
That'll do for the present.