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The dawn of yet another political season can no longer be denied. When you hear Nancy Pelosi boast that she’s already decided on the people she expects to appoint as the new leaders of Congress next January, you know we’re back in the political thicket again.
So as you restart the process of sizing up, evaluating, and then backing candidates for office—whether local, regional, or national—let me suggest an admittedly oversimplistic grid. Keep in mind that virtually everyone running for office fits somewhere on this spectrum, which I first proposed in this column 25 years ago:
1) Mostly wrong about issues—and not very nice about it.
2) Mostly wrong about issues—but nice about it.
3) Ambivalent toward right and wrong.
4) Mostly right about issues—and nice about it.
5) Mostly right about issues—but not very nice about it.
To be sure, you might well find yourself shuffling the candidates around on the grid as the campaign season progresses. That’s just fine. It means you’re studying them carefully, getting to know them better along the way, and appropriately accounting for the nuances of statecraft.
Civil order and personal freedom don’t happen in vacuums.
In my experience, those candidates scoring somewhere between 4 and 5 deserve special attention and support. It means they’re headed in the right direction and are sufficiently winsome to win some important political battles.
When enough of those victories are won along the way, something else of significance occurs. Whole nations begin to demonstrate those same characteristics. Take a few minutes, for example, and apply the grid suggested above to the countries of the world:
There’s (1) order rooted in error, and intolerant of anything but that error. Think of evil totalitarianism, of which history has been full. Try Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.
But there’s also (2) order rooted in error—yet tolerant of other points of view. Modern Japan may be a good example, with a government whose leaders are committed Shintoists, but where there is significant freedom for many other points of view.
In the middle, there’s (3) order rooted in so-called pluralism. Whether such a structure—providing equal allowance for every point of view—is durable through the centuries remains to be seen.
How about (4) order rooted in truth—but tolerating significant error? The great American experiment, from its earliest days, generally fits this description. The commitment to truth hasn’t always been faithful, and the toleration of error not always clear or consistent. But the approach has usually been sincere, and perhaps more long-lasting than anyone might reasonably have expected.
Examples of nations (5) ordered in truth while intolerant of error probably exist more in people’s minds than in actual history. We all know individuals like this. But nations? Calvin’s Geneva is often pictured that way, along with perhaps New England under the Puritans. But such pictures are caricatures, not faithful photos.
There’s a huge difference, to be sure, between individuals who live their lives in such a manner and nations that order themselves in similar fashion. The individuals may just be nuisances. Nations might drastically affect how we live our lives. Think of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor sitting right now in a Turkish jail, whose very life is in the hands of a nation that can be placed only in Category 1 above.
Many folks will argue, of course, that this is a pointless exercise. It all depends, they say, on who’s doing the talking. One person’s “truth” is simply another person’s “error.” Such is the dogma of our century. The only thing this era considers important to believe is that all beliefs are equal. That is why Category 3 is so popular. But why, then, have Muslims, at least in modern history, tended to fare so much better in Christian societies than the other way around? Such examples can be multiplied.
Civil order and personal freedom don’t happen in vacuums. Take a map of the world and, using the grid above, categorize all the nations you see. Then grab a history book and do the same with all the nations and civilizations that no longer exist.