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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anabaptists and a Libertarian Foreign Policy

en Rikjdom

Ron Paul
    Jacob Sullum’s 21 December article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ron Paul knows violence is seldom best way to go, is a compelling piece potentially unifying the values and political perspectives of traditional Anabaptists on both sides of the political spectrum with conservative U.S. libertarian Ron Paul’s radical political idealism.  Ron Paul is a controversial Republican presidential candidate in the United States.
    Sullum is both a nationally syndicated columnist based with Reason Magazine and a columnist for the Sun-Times.  A key quote indicates his support for Ron Paul’s unique Republican perspective, “The implicit assumption that violence is the only way to interact with the world reflects the oddly circumscribed nature of foreign policy debates in mainstream American politics,” (see below).
    According to Sullum, Paul supports “international trade, travel, migration, diplomacy and cultural exchange… He supports military action when it is necessary for national defense,” (ibid).  Sullum quotes Paul’s observation that “We have an empire, … We can’t afford it,” (ibid).  Sullum seems to indicate his own perspective that for the most part (reflecting on recent United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) war simply does not work and might just be making things worse.
    Anabaptists have most commonly been perceived as religious-cultural isolationists – unwilling to take part in the violence of warfare and willing to bear the cost of non-participation (non-resistance).  Non-resistance might be linked to doctrines of submission to God’s will – a willingness to accept both blessings and tribulations sent to us by God for our spiritual edification or as a witness to the non-Anabaptist world (gelassenheit)
    Today, Mennonites and Amish in North America have tended to take a more direct interest in foreign affairs.  On the left, Mennonites have taken a strong interest in world development and relief work through agencies such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), or through various Evangelical mission efforts in building and maintaining schools, libraries, hospitals and treatment centers throughout the world. 
    On the right, Fundamentalist Mennonites have often exchanged their traditional principles of non-resistant pacifism for a sort of Just War Theory such as is more common to Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.  These Anabaptists might tend to see war and the military as a means of defending Christian homes against aggression by enemies of Christian values, a means of restoring peace and order to troubled spots around the world, a means of relieving the suffering of persecuted populaces or nation-states under the domination of tyrants or even a means of hastening the coming Kingdom of Heaven through military support of the nation of Israel or other prophetic peoples (though the latter is often deemed difficult to justify ethically).
    Importantly, both Evangelical and Traditionalist Anabaptists often factor the so-called American Empire or Pax Americana, the modern successor of the former Pax Britannica, into their complicated perspectives on foreign policy.  Whether one supports a Christian vision of global development and relief service or one of old-fashioned Evangelical ministry, the historic world-wide efforts of the American, European and Anabaptist relief efforts and missionary forces have both depended on and helped to maintain the global hegemonic cultural and military positioning of the Anglo-American empires.  In other words, one could hardly effectively reach the Amazon or the Congo for Christ or to successfully build schools and hospitals in the jungles without the hegemonic global peace maintained by the force of arms and threat of military intervention by the traditional Western imperial powers. 
    Anabaptist aid workers and Anabaptist missionaries may or may not support the military hegemonies, but the base truth is that these hegemonies often made it possible and relatively much safer for both secular service workers and Christian evangelical workers to pursue their goals.
    Ron Paul’s vision for future foreign policy might indicate that there is a way to bring all of these distinct visions and goals together into a re-unified Anabaptist vision for foreign policy. 
    First off, Ron Paul seems to call for a more realistic expenditure on military spending and a withdrawal back towards a more cultural or value-oriented foreign policy such as that of many European nations (contrasted against the Empire building goals of domination ascribed to George W. Bush’s neo-Cons).  Paul’s vision seems to include both a refocusing on diplomacy and cultural exchanges – cooperation rather than domination, with the ability reserved to intervene militarily when and where absolutely necessary to maintain the peace.  Though supporters of the largely discredited neo-Cons might similarly state that this is exactly what their far more comprehensive and far-reaching program of empire building was designed to accomplish, Ron Paul is serving such thinking a reality check – it is beyond our reach financially – we simply cannot afford it.
    Secondly, such a foreign policy shift could provide more resources to various missionary and development endeavors – though American Anabaptists would remain wary of the maintenance of the separation of church and state and Canadian Mennonites would recall recent controversies over allowing federal aid funds to go towards development projects in global hot spots such as Gaza (the 2011 Kairos controversy). 
    Most importantly, Paul, who enjoys wide-spread support amongst more politically conservative and Fundamentalist elements in the United States, could help re-align conservative priorities from Bush’s neo-Cons to a stance more consistent with historic Anabaptism and more compatible with liberal Anabaptist preferences – a clear commitment to a foreign policy based on trade, cooperation and development rather than on massive military spending and continued global military domination. 
     Sullum is correct that Paul’s perspective is a necessary component to Republican ideological debate (ibid), and one that is also needed in the congregations and conferences of a politically divided Anabaptist diaspora.

  • Sullum, Jacob, "Ron Paul knows violence is seldom best way to go," Chicago Sun-Times, 21 Dec 2011, p 31.

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