Can you be a Christian and a politician? I'm not talking about a fundamentalist who would seek to apply Biblical precepts across all of society. I'm talking about a "moderate" Christian, one who knows how to distinguish between the moral principles that rule his life and the secular values that rule the life of the wider community.
I'm talking about a Christian who knows the Gospel wisdom: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God" — a crucial distinction for the emergence of liberalism, and one that happens not to exist in Islam. Is there room for such a creature to reconcile private faith and public service?
Machiavelli's response to this question was brutal: No, there isn't. And to cite Isaiah Berlin's interpretation of Machiavelli: Christianity is an estimable religion, admirable even. But works only for private matters.
In the public sphere, certain virtues are demanded of the prince, and these virtues are inevitably bound to collide with the Bible's message. Let's call these "pagan" virtues, even though I've always doubted this part of Berlin's conclusion. Reading Machiavelli, the only way to view the "pagan virtues' of his treatises as being shared by Cicero is in jest. Machiavelli's "virtues' mark a new chapter in the history of politics and are not classical nostalgia. But I diverge.
We're all sinners.
Or rather, I do not. Because the initial question came up recently with the resignation of Tim Farron as leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats. Everything has already been said about the British general election: the collapse of the Conservatives, the spectacular resurrection of the Labour party. But what about Farron's fate?
An evangelical Christian, Farron has conservative views on certain social matters. Like homosexuality, like abortion. Let's start with the first one. Is homosexuality a sin? The question was first put to Farron in 2015 and he answered: "We're all sinners." Such a show of humility wasn't enough. During the recent campaign, the question returned to haunt him and Farron tried to put the controversy to rest. No, homosexuality isn't a sin, he said.
That wasn't enough either. If homosexuality wasn't a sin, why did it take so long for him to acknowledge it?
Not to mention abortion. The Guardian found an interview in which Farron said that "abortion is wrong." This astonishing statement, unprecedented in the history of humankind, provoked a similar storm.
So, are Farron's opinions right or wrong?
This is the question of a fanatic. But it does not make sense as far as politics go. The real question is whether, in Tim Farron's mind, his religious values prevail over the democratically established consensus in the United Kingdom. And Farron himself was clear about that: He said reinstating a ban on abortion would be unfeasible and that banning "gay marriage" was not on the agenda.
Such a quantity of creatures devoid of any interior life.
It did him no good. As Sohrab Ahmari wrote in The Wall Street Journal, it was not enough for abortion or gay marriage to be liberalized. Tim Farron had to applaud both pieces of legislation and do away with his most intimate beliefs. It was the end of a career.
Here you have the supreme perversion of modern liberalism. There have been times when liberalism sought to separate politics and religion. It is not up to the government to legislate on the souls of man, John Locke once wrote. When it comes to conscience, the individual prevails. Similarly, it is not for human souls to determine the destiny of the polis.
Today, Tim Farron's case demonstrates just how modern liberalism has turned into a form of religion. A form of inquisition too: Whoever doesn't sing from the same hymn sheet is a heretic who deserves to burn in the flames of progressive vanity. Politics is not a place for consensus between distinct views of the common good. It is a courthouse where sinners have to confess their crimes (on their knees) and embrace the Truth (with a capital T).
The problem with this medieval view of things does not lie just in the "intolerance" it reveals. It lies also in the quantity of "empty men" it promotes: creatures devoid of any interior life who defer, like robots, to whatever is in vogue.
Those who destroy individual conscience in the name of the "common good" are destroying the last barrier against arbitrary power. A barrier they might one day need if the pendulum of fanaticism changes direction.