We have written before about the unusual friendship between West and George. Plough magazine recently talked to these prominent public intellectuals about religion and politics. Here is a taste of the interview:
Plough: The mission of Plough is to “apply Christianity publicly,” to quote from our founding document written in 1920. One hundred years on, we’re still committed to tackling the questions both of you have spent careers addressing as distinguished Christian political philosophers. Cornel, you’re known as a leftist: What is your fundamental critique of the left? And Robby, what is your fundamental critique of the right?
Cornel West: For a lot of people, left means liberal. They think of MSNBC, CNN, and the Democratic Party. That’s not what I mean by the left: I’m talking about the tradition, both secular and religious, that pushes back against the logic of the market, that pushes back against corporate power. There ought to be much more of a focus on the primacy of the moral and the spiritual than what I see on much of today’s left.
Robert P. George: The form of American conservatism that I am attracted to is old-fashioned liberalism in the tradition of James Madison and Alexis de Tocqueville. A tradition that views freedom as important, not as an end in itself, but as a means to other ends. It focuses not simply on the individual, but on the institutions of civil society, which help transmit to new generations the basic values and virtues that they need to have successful lives.
Where the contemporary conservative movement goes wrong is when it becomes too individualistic, so focused on freedom that it begins to see freedom as the end itself. Take the market, for example. We conservatives ask more of the market than it can give when we imagine that any result produced by a market is by definition just. That’s simply not true. There are independent moral standards by which we must judge our political and economic institutions.
West: There’s a common strand of critique between Brother Robby and myself, which is a profound rejection of idolatry. Market, state, race, gender: all of these can become idols. An idol is anything that is deified and fetishized rather than placed under the cross. That idolatry leads to spiritual poverty.
Read the entire interview here.