David Schrock: Stephen, welcome to the Christ Over All podcast.
Stephen Wolfe: Hi, thank you for having me.
David Schrock: Now I think I saw that at the time of this recording you’re going to be in Kentucky at the Creation Museum doing a discussion about Christian Nationalism, which is what we’ll be talking about today. I’d love to hear how did that come about and how did it work out that you guys are going to the Creation Museum?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I was just invited by the Fight, Laugh, Feast Across Politics crew to speak. So they’re having a three-day conference and I think that I’m on a panel—at this point it might turn to a debate between Doug Wilson and I. And Joel Webbon’s going be there as well, who’s also a proponent of his own version of Christian Nationalism. So that’ll be at the end of the conference. They’ll be at the Ark Encounter.
David Schrock: Cool. By the time this comes out, that will probably be another thing to look at, to listen to.
And certainly that’s one of the things we’re thinking about this month is the different versions of Christian Nationalism that are out there and how that has been articulated and to think through that. And to help us think through that from Christ Over All, we also have Brad Green coming to us.
Brad, where are you from today?
Brad Green: I’m traveling, so I’m in the Minneapolis airport sipping my diet soda and waiting for a flight that’s another six hours away or something. So, good to be here with y’all.
David Schrock: Yeah, you didn’t want to miss us, and we didn’t want to miss you, so thanks for being here with us.
To introduce you guys again: both of you are church historians looking at Augustine, Protestant tradition, and a number of different things like that. So that will provide a good background to think through some of the things you put forward in your book, Stephen, and we look forward to talking to you about that.
To help us to begin, tell us a little bit more about yourself, where you are, what you’re doing, the church you’re involved with—help us get to know you.
Stephen Wolfe: I grew up in California and moved away to go to college, so it feels like a long time ago. And I went to college at West Point, graduated there, and I was commissioned in the army and spent five years active duty. And then after five years active duty, I lived in several places from Hawaii to Missouri and in all seasons of all those places. So once I got out of active duty, I went to Louisiana State University for my master’s and PhD, and then after I completed that in 2020, I had a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton for a year.
And now I’m going to finally settle. So after years of my wife and I and kids moving around the country, instead of bouncing from postdoc to postdoc, I said, we’re going to move to the woods in central North Carolina and make it work. So, here we are. Central North Carolina, that’s where we are now.
And I do some teaching, writing, and that sort of thing. Some podcasting when I’m not lazy. I’m married, have four kids, five goats, 35 chickens, a dog, and cat.
Brad Green: Oh, wow. Sounds fun.
Stephen Wolfe: If you hear a rooster outside that’s what that is. It is indeed a rooster.
David Schrock: Stephen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your book. And certainly I think that’s what has been the leading edge of conversation since that came out last year.
And probably one of the things we want to start with is just defining this idea of Christian Nationalism. You do that in your book: that Christian Nationalism is “a totality of national action consisting of civil laws and social customs conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ.”
So that’s your definition. How does that compare to other versions of Christian Nationalism right now? What makes that distinct and what are you trying to argue with that definition of Christian Nationalism?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah. So that’s my very technical definition that I then describe in sections. I think when people hear that, they’re like, “What the heck is he talking about?” I can summarize it by saying that Christian Nationalism is a nation that recognizes itself as a Christian people and then wants to act in light of that. That is, they’re going to arrange themselves through their laws and their customs in light of their self-conscious understanding of themselves as Christian to—I use the word procure, or—to secure their good, and that good is both earthly and heavenly. So it’s not purely eternal life. It’s also temporal things as well. So the complete package of what’s good. That’s what it is.
A nation, a Christian nation as considering itself as such, as a Christian people acting for its good. So that’s my definition. I think that definition as I just described it is probably is fairly well received. It’s other aspects ought to be different.
So, someone like Joel Webbon is a theonomist. And I’m not a theonomist. I’ve been called a theonomist by everyone, but I’m not. I’m just classical Protestant in my understanding of civil law. So he and I haven’t talked a lot about this, but I think we’d probably have a different understanding of how the civil law comes about and how you change it over time.
You don’t just universally change it. You adjust it over time; it has to fit the characteristics of the people. So I think that would be one of the differences between us. And then there’s Doug Wilson’s version, which I think is probably more along the lines of the sort of conservatism you’d see in the eighties and maybe nineties.
I think there’s influences from that, so he doesn’t like the idea of having blasphemy laws or having a stronger curtailment of unrestrained speech. So he wants to maintain those. So anyway, I think there’s a variety of differences.
I could go on and on but I should say it’s early in the movement. Since the post-war period, we’ve had conservatism for a long time, but now if you ask anyone, “What’s your definition of conservatism?” that definition would differ across the board.
Do you follow Roger Scruton? Do you follow National Review or Bulwark? Do you follow Reagan? There’s all sorts of different definitions and what that means. But we are only about a year into this, so there’s going to be differences and that’s how it is.
Brad Green: Stephen, I’m so glad you’re here.
I’m just curious—LSU has a wonderful tradition. There’s an agrarian strand. Eric Voegelin was there in his day. Ellis Sandoz just passed away. I’m just curious who your mentors were or what you wrote on? I’m guessing LSU was important to your formation as a scholar and as an intellectual.
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, so when I was applying to places, LSU was a place that has a tradition of being conservative in the political science department. So, that’s what attracted me to it. I wasn’t in that world very much. So I didn’t actually know many people before I did know a little bit about Voegelin.
But then when I got there, among the graduate students there were actually many religious conservatives there. Many actually reformed people, some Roman Catholic, but all very conservative and committed to their faith.
So, that was actually a very great environment in that regard. And yeah, I studied under Jim Stoner and my dissertation was on comparing the Puritans and the founding. So, actually chapter ten of this book is actually, in part, taken from two chapters from the dissertation.
David Schrock: What was your thesis for that?
Stephen Wolfe: So the thesis was that there was essentially more continuity between the two periods. So, a lot of people want to make a break between New England Puritanism and the founding. And my argument was that actually there was more continuity between them. And actually the difference was more a matter of the unfolding of Protestant principles through the experience with fellow Protestants. So religious liberty went from persecuting—they wouldn’t want to call it persecuting, but whatever happened in the 17th century—to the founding period where everyone supported religious liberty.
And I wanted to argue that there’s actually continuity there. It’s just a matter of experience. So that was the argument. There’s more to it, of course. I got 200 long, boring pages. You can’t read that.
David Schrock: So in that, I would assume that when you’re defining nations as self-consciously Christian, would you argue that America had that kind of founding?
Certainly, I would imagine that there would be other nations as well. Britain would be one at certain times. As you’re thinking about your proposal, one of the things that you do is argue that there’s not one way that it has to be worked out in a given nation because of the place and the culture and the rest.
But just thinking, how would you understand America’s founding?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I think it’s a good question as to the actual constituting documents—in what sense could you say they’re distinctly Christian? I think like with the Declaration, you can see elements of Protestantism within that.
So I think that’s an interesting question, but I think it’s obvious before and well afterwards, that the people themselves understood themselves to be a Christian people, that they are a Christian nation if conceived before the federal government. Prior to that, as just a people, it’s very clear that they consider themselves that.
And you can just see that consideration is actually very institutionalized in the state constitutions as well. People want to emphasize the federal constitution when the state constitutions themselves included establishments, there were religious tests for office, and some of them even mentioned Protestantism. All this stuff is detailed by the way, in Mark David Hall’s excellent book on this question. If you guys or anyone else wants it.
David Schrock:. We actually interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.
Stephen Wolfe: I respect him a lot. I think absolutely the people understood themselves as Christians.
And I think more importantly for my project, they understood that they were a Protestant people as well. And, moving forward, this informed even how they reacted to non-Protestant immigration. This is true going well into the 20th century where there was a fear that the unique inheritance of Protestants—not only Protestant principles, but also the Anglo-Protestant inheritance—was essential to the American political life, the sense of liberty, and sense of freedom. That was all wrapped up into this Anglo-Protestant self-understanding. And that’s why even Benjamin Franklin would want the Germans to Anglicize. He had some organization that was trying to get the Germans to essentially become Anglicized, and this of course was a preoccupation throughout the nineteenth century.
So I guess the bottom line for that long-winded answer was that they absolutely thought of themselves as Christian people. And I think that didn’t change until after World War II. Even in the Progressive Era, you had what we would consider left wing or progressive ministers like the social gospel folks saying things like, “We are a Christian nation. Why don’t we act like it?” So in fact, the very basis for them for their political action was this assumption that we’re a Christian nation and we ought to live up to it. So, it was a very common notion. I would say ubiquitous until probably in the last few decades.
Brad Green: I think somewhere I’ve read—or maybe Wilson was saying this—“Make sure you read his book before you criticize it.” So I did read every single word. So I’ve invested a lot of my life to work through it. I’ve tended over the years to be drawn to Augustine concerning the question of whether civil government would exist before the fall and apart from sin. I’ve tended to have more sympathy with Augustine who says that before the fall, people would have had self control and governed themselves, so you wouldn’t have really needed other governing bodies.
What kind of clicked in your head, or what’s the logic of an organized civil government apart from sin? Because clearly, central or important to your argument is not Augustine’s position, but Thomas’s position, or others’ position.
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, so that’s one of the positions I don’t—as I assume some positions in the book and I work from them—that’s one of the positions I do not assume, and that’s because I know people like Augustine and Luther and others don’t affirm that. Someone like Aquinas of course does and I’ve even seen Puritans affirm that there would be civil government prior to the fall.
But what I mean by that is that there just needs to be a decision that there is some set of rules that order people in their collective life. So this doesn’t have to mean that there’s a king who’s constantly enacting laws. It could be something like a council coming together and saying, “We’re going to do things like this.” And that becomes a kind of governing rule of the people from going on. And maybe they don’t meet for their two or three or five years.
I don’t know, but it would just be that there’d be some kind of collective rule as a whole that would then order them to solve collective action problems. You just think of like we drive on one side of the road, the right side of the road and the left side there.
The operating assumption I have is that we wouldn’t have some kind of higher faculty where we know the thoughts of other people or know the intentions of other people. Part of the argument of Thomas Aquinas is that we each pursue our own good and we can all pursue those individual things in our lives with perfect intentions, but since other people are serving or seeking other ends at the same time, they actually might conflict or we might actually cause friction such that we become inefficient.
So there’s no sin involved. It’s just the fact of the matter that if you’re moving in one direction and you bump into one another, that could have been resolved with some sort of rule. So, that’s why I think that there would have been enough complexity in society pre-fall such that there would need to be rules that would then order the whole according to certain rules or laws (you can call them laws, it doesn’t really matter). So that’s my argument.
David Schrock: I want to pick that up in just a minute, but there’s something that Brad said that I think is important because I think there has been a lot of electricity, Stephen, around some of the things that you have written and seen some things that have come online.
And Brad made the point that he’d read every word of your book. And certainly I think that is always due for an argument that is being made. So I’m curious, what do you think the reason is that there’s been some controversy that has come from the book that you’ve written? Is it that people have misread some things? That they haven’t read it all? That they’ve taken assumptions that are there? As you’ve engaged with different people, what are some of the things of just the controversy that’s been there?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, there’s all sorts of things. I think, one, it’s the term, and then people might be left-leaning and they see a screenshot of the book and it confirms everything they thought it would be without reading the whole book and knowing what I’m saying. So, that’s one thing.
I think along those lines, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. People think that this book is 400 pages of a blueprint for America. And they might think that in part because you got America with the cross on the front. But if you read it, you’ll find out that I don’t mention the United States much at all until the tenth chapter. I do in the epilogue a little bit, and the tenth chapter is about the United States. The rest of it is really just a Christian political theory that’s broad and that’s a general theory. And as I emphasize several times in the book, the idea is to lay out what the principles are and the framework so that Christian people groups or people can do politics for their own good. And that’s going to look different in different places and different times.
So one big controversial thing I try to argue is that it’s permissible in principle to execute arch-heretics. So I’m basically defending the old practice that everyone affirmed in the middle ages and also the early modern period and later. But I argue very specifically “Okay, you can do that, but that often can be counterproductive.”
And then when I talk about the American context, I say that we don’t do that. And also our inheritance as a Protestant country is to not do that and we can actually get along without executing heretics. Nevertheless, I did try to justify why that would be permissible in principle as a general political theory. But people take that screenshot and say “Wolfe wants to round up all the universalists and throw them in the brig and burn them” or something, instead of reading the whole context of what I’m up to. Actually the most frustrating thing is I can then point out to someone and say, “Look, I’m talking about what’s permissible in principle, not necessarily what’s prudent in every situation. I say in America we don’t do that sort of thing. And this is a general political theory; not every page is talking about my blueprint for America.” What’s frustrating is that even when I describe that to people, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll just continue making the claims over and over.
So that just shuts down the discussion. No matter how I would clarify or point out the difference between principle and prudence or permissibility and prudence or suitability, it doesn’t matter. They’ll just continue making the claim against me. So that’s one of them. There’s several others.
I think also that America’s very race sensitive. And when I start saying things that would oppose a sort of propositional nationhood like having a generational connection to a place is actually good and there’s something to protect in that and there’s something good that you would be with others who also have a generational connection to that place. Like all of us can probably, I’m assuming, tell a story about a loved one who was in World War II. I could talk about my grandfathers—I don’t know, but I’m just assuming you guys as well—we could all have a whole podcast where we talk about my grandfather being a bandsman in Honolulu for GIs. And you could do the same thing. That kind of links us together into the national story. But when I start, people say, “Oh, that’s blood and soil!” And then images of fascism and Nazism starts creeping up in the mind, and people can’t get over that. And I knew this would happen, but I just chose to just state things as directly as I could and make a few denials.
David Schrock: Yeah, it’s interesting. And I know Brad has some questions about this. I want to let Brad ask, but it’s interesting to me what you just said there, because the book cover has a picture of America on it. I’ve seen lots of t-shirts with that cover on it as well that people picked up from the merchandise from Moscow, Idaho.
But what you’re saying there is you’re working a political theory for nine chapters before making application. But it seems as though it’s hard to be able to disconnect that theory from the history of America that is there. I know that you make it explicit that you are not arguing for a white Christian Nationalism.
Of course, that’s where some of the language of Christian Nationalism has entered the public discourse going back to January 6th. But you’ve made some points against that. But as you’re working those things out, it seems that you are working with the political theory more than something where you’re making a case for some kind of blood and soil nationalism.
Is that fair to say?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, the whole “blood and soil” thing is frustrating because I almost want to show that in two places where it’s capitalized Blood and capitalized Soil as if it’s appealing to Nazism. But I just think it’s the World War II thing.
I don’t know, if your grandfather worked on a certain piece of land and you inherited it, and you love that piece of land because of it—is that blood and soil love? I don’t like the fact that we can take an idea that seems so natural, and then we conjure up these visions of fascism and Nazis and all this stuff. So, I wouldn’t say that it’s a blood-and-soil nationalism because that would create all sorts of dumb confusion. To your point though, I’m not saying that a nation is nothing but a bunch of blood cousins as if you are in if I can take a DNA test and you match me in some sense.
So, I’m not saying that. What I am saying though is that you can have people of different ancestry. So, take someone who’s Hispanic, but lived in California for several generations. You can have a sort of connection to people in place with people of different ancestry. So, this is not a matter of race as physical characteristics or like a DNA test that you’re in and out of because of this—“You sent away your blood or whatever and you’re in and out.” No, it’s a matter of: do you have the connections going back generations that bind you together? But again, that freaks people out because it should be you affirm a set of propositions.
Brad Green: It seems like the dominant culture is hyper-universalistic or egalitarian or homogenizing or something. So any reference to particularity can get you into trouble. But I’m thinking you, given your LSU background, there’s probably some Walker Percy on your shelves somewhere, I’m guessing.
Percy has a fun way of—I want to say it’s Percy who tells the story of a white guy who goes up to New York City and he bumps into a black guy who is from his home state—he’s also from Mississippi—and they have this deep bond because of a common history. And they know there’s some odd, sad aspects of that history, but there’s a commonness.
It’s not race, but it’s because of a common culture. Is that kind of what you’re talking about at some level?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, that’s precisely what I’m talking about. I call my approach a phenomenological approach to ethnicity. It’s really vulgar phenomenology, so phenomenologists would despise what I do, but it’s a matter of experience. So growing up, I just know that I had several friends who were Hispanic and I’m thinking back like you talked like a white nationalist and they would insist that how could you form a people with that sort of people?
And I’d be like we were like best friends. How, what are you talking about? Like, how could somehow I be best friends with someone who’s Hispanic and yet I can’t form a nation with him at the same time? So this is the sort of thing where I think the absolute kind of racialist positions break down just in practical experience.
But at the same time, I don’t think that means everyone’s going to be your people just because they’re human. I do okay in the South, but sometimes if I go to New York City, I’m lost and bewildered. And it’s just not my place. That’s not my people.
Brad Green: Yeah. I was fascinated reading the book. So I want to agree at points and I’ll just push you for a second. So I teach biblical theology and this may be some of our Baptist and Presbyterian differences. Maybe, I don’t know. But, would it be fair to say—I’m going to use a good Presbyterian here, like Richard Gaffin, the whole history of redemption. Vos and Gaffin and history of redemption.
Could one say that as you move from Old to New Testament, that there is a kind of ethnicity of some sense to the people of God? They come from Abraham and people can be brought into that through becoming a soldier in the land, or captured in war, or whatever. They can come into the people of God, but we might say a bit more to do with being a Jew and ethnicity.
Whereas you get into the New Covenant, and it does become a much more intentionally radically pan-ethnic people. So in Ephesians 2, there’s one new man. And I wonder if someone might read you and say, “I wish there was a little more Ephesians 2, one new man, one people, pan-ethnic.” I’m from Alaska, and I like my Alaskans. And if you’re from Anchorage—that’s the best city in the world. We all know it. You’re jealous. But at the end of the day, my real loyalties do have this pan-ethnic, one new man, Ephesians 2 reality.
What do you think about that?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I can understand that way of thinking. And you get hints of that in the tradition. In the book, I do say that there is a kind of new humanity. You can think of a sort of new humanity in Christ. But that’s in a sense of restored humanity. It’s not new.
So, when I say that ethnicity is important and similarity is important in peoplehood and connection or people in place, I don’t mean this as an absolute bare command like you ought to love only what is similar, but that it’s actually kind of a condition for us to live well—we can interact with each other on the most cultural levels with mutual understanding, with trust. We all know what to do, and we have similar notions of political order and similar understandings of cultural institutions and customs and having all those things is those things that we can pass down to others and then they can participate and enact those without with one people. I just think that’s all actually good for you.
So I think in that sense if all those things are good for you as human beings, if that’s the sort of thing you need to live well, then grace is not actually going to eliminate it. And this means that a new humanity in Christ is still going to have a diversity of peoples, the diversity of nations.
Like grace does not supply, for example, a new language or one single language that we all want to speak. This divides us every Sunday in a multi-ethnic place because some people are speaking Korean, Chinese, you have Hispanic churches, you have English churches. And those are dividing people. And I don’t see anything in principle wrong with that fact.
And a lot of people, even if they speak English, would prefer to go to the Chinese church or the Korean church simply because they’re around similar people. And when they have problems, a lot of times problems are solved in a uniquely ethnic way, and they can communicate their needs to people who would understand how to help them in their needs, or they have similar situations. So I understand the impulse. I just think that it will remain the case that you that you’ll have separate distinctly Christian ethnicities or nations. And that’s actually fun.
David Schrock: Yeah. I feel like you’re reading my email today, Stephen, because I got an email from some pastors thinking about this very thing. They’re considering some of the challenges of an English-speaking congregation and they have some Chinese—I’m not sure what their background is—who’ve tried to assimilate into the church. And the email came through saying, “What do I do because it’s not working.” And they still want to speak in the Chinese native language and to retain their culture and all the rest. And I do think there is a way at times there can be an overemphasis of multiculturalism. There’s been some weaknesses of that I think that we’ve seen taking place.
But I want to go back to the very beginning because I think one of your first principles that you have in the book would be a place that I would disagree at an exegetical level. I would agree that in the tradition, there’s an allowance for seeing, perhaps, nations that would be in a pre-fallen state. I think even yesterday you were pointing to James Jordan. I’ve read James Jordan’s book, Christendom and The Nations, and that would be a place, exegetically, I would disagree with him.
But I think that would be one place that would be worth talking about because, if there’s a sense in which before the fall there could be a multiplicity of nations—which is one of the points that you bring out in the book—and since grace restores nature and doesn’t undo nature, then there would be the sense in which that the gospel comes, grace comes, to be able to restore a multiplicity of nations.
But I think one of the things that Brad is bringing out is the fact that it seems that in the New Testament, the new covenant actually takes people from all nations and brings them into one. So there’s an already and not yet, right? So the different languages, as you’re saying, certainly maintain that there are local churches that are divided, but there’s coming a day in the future where there will be a gathering around the throne of God of Revelation 5, Revelation 7.
And, you’re not doing biblical theology, you’re doing political theory, but I’d be curious to know, how do you envision that gathering around the throne? Because you go to creation, fall, restoration, or redemption, but not looking to that new creation. But I think the new creation is really important for understanding what the local church is today. How would you see Revelation 5 or Revelation 7 developing or affirming some of the things that you’re saying or contradicting some of the you’re saying?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, so I think first you got to start with the idea of two kingdom theology, which would be that there is a nation in which we are all in as true believers in this eschatological nation. And it’s not something that’s visible on earth now. So I think that’s yet to be revealed. It’s manifested in local churches, or I should say as in the catholic church across the world. So, that manifests in the church, and the church actually principally serves that. That’s word and sacrament. That’s the things of the kingdom that feeds the spiritual kingdom of Christ. But the reality of that unity does not eliminate the natural need of man to have cultural similarities that make possible him living well in this world.
I think it’s something called the congregation of heaven in Revelation 7—is it 7:9, I believe? That’s like the eschatological church in all the nations, but it still represented difference. So it actually represents many differences. There’s not one mono-ethnic, mono-language group there. So, if postmillennialism is true, which I’m not really—I don’t know about postmillennialism—but if it were true, it would be a multiplicity of different distinct nation.
But when it comes to Tower of Babel, I think you mentioned that before, right? It seems to me that the fact that people came together as one, and God scattered them—the fact that they could, as one people, come together and achieve great things—great meaning they’re bad, but still that they could work together well— actually proves my point that similar people can work together to actually create and do things well and live well. Even though of course these people didn’t. But they had the potential behind that. But then the moment you actually have different languages, you have to scatter. You have to separate because you cannot communicate with one another. So it actually proves, I think, or it supports my view that actually similarity is necessary for you to live well.
But I would call that a sort of genetic fallacy to say that just because they were created by an act of God does not mean that human nature itself would not have led to it. So, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the Tower of Babel creation was what man would naturally have done from the beginning had he not fallen, that there would be some kind of mono-ethnic, mono-cultural group.
The way I think through it is, if you’re in a pre-fallen state, you go across the world, you’re multiplying you’re filling the earth, and you’re in, let’s say, what would be called America, and someone else is in China. Why would the person in America retain the same customs, the same dialect, have the same dances, have the same music, have the same calendar, all these differences that we see in the world today, why do we assume that the guy in China, in a pre-fall state, would look and act exactly like this other person in America?
If that is true and they would, what faculty would make that happen. Like what about the constitution and the creation of man would ensure that all the practices of one group of people on one side of the world are exactly the same as every on the other side of the world? Or is it more likely that as we spread, there’d be different dialects, different customs, different all these things.
David Schrock: Yeah, I’ve got some exegetical ideas on that, but I’m going to let Brad ask the question.
Brad Green: Wow, there’s just so many fun things to discuss. Let me go in a different direction, Stephen. So my mentor, Chip Conders, was a big Althusius fan, and he introduced him to me 30 plus years ago or something.
So for our listeners, Althusius—you may have his years to mind, Stephen—but mid to late 1500s, he may have died in the early 1600s. So I think he bridges the centuries, I think. And he’s one of the great reformed social theorists. And central to Althusius is different authorities overlapping, and that authority bubbles up from below, and you can always draw the authority back. And I tend to contrast Althusius with Thomas Hobbes, where it tends to be generally a one way giving of authority to a Leviathan or to a centralized power.
I was intrigued because when I read Althusius, it seems to me that if I were to have an Althusian program—and you actually get here in the final pages of the book—is would there be an inclination to the U.S. devolving and having much smaller political entities? So rather than Christian Nationalism, let’s call it Christian Althusian Republicanism. You know where I’m going here. Or Christian Decentralized Jeffersonian Republicanism, but with the Christian commitment. I don’t know. But that doesn’t sound nearly as cool as Christian Nationalism.
So does Althusius help us think about decentralized and smaller units, etc.?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I think one of the criticisms I respect the most of my book comes from the more paleoconservative side, which has for a longtime been very distrusting of the word nationalism. In fact, Thomas Fleming, the famous paleoconservative kind of criticized me to my face over this because he called me a Yankee and all sorts of things. But a good guy otherwise. No, I think that’s it’s very legitimate. As a quick aside, I think the idea of national divorce with the United States is a sort of pipedream. And mainly because if you look at who controls the urban centers and where all transportation goes through, I don’t see how it would work.
Brad Green: Now time out, Stephen. You were calling this this grand project—I’m just having fun here, but you’re a visionary, and you’re going to cut short the hope of maybe a decentralized—anyway, you go ahead and finish, sorry,
Stephen Wolfe: No, this is the thing. Practically speaking, I’m not a great movement leader, I’m an academic. People think when they meet me I’m going to be a firebrand who’s going to say outrageous things because I do sometimes, but in person, I’m an academic. I realize there’s challenges to seeing this happen.
But yeah, my point is I understand the idea of Christian localism of regionalism. But one of the reasons I wanted to push nationalism is, for the Americas overall with our system, the only way to secure the local, to secure the state, is actually for national policy. So I think that we conservatives are not very good at considering the need for national policy.
I think we see it definitely with immigration. The fact that immigration right now is a federal matter, and Texas is getting hundreds of thousands across the border and they can’t as I understand it legally do anything to say no because it’s federal policy and it’s a federal issue. And that affects the local communities.
I was just in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, of all places a few months ago. And it’s just a small town. Everyone’s probably heard of the name. Within the last couple decades, they’ve had an influx of just huge numbers of Hispanics and, for a community where people don’t go in and out, they don’t leave and come to Nebraska, they’ve been there for a long time, all of a sudden within less than a generation you have a massive influx. And what are you supposed to do with that?
You have generational continuity in place and now you have massive ethnic disruption in a place. So anyway, that’s why I wanted to emphasize nationalism. But I do understand the localist critique or the localist influence. So this is why I think there should be a focus from top to bottom. And each person in the way they can influence should influence that. So, if you can influence local or state or federal.
But yeah, I acknowledge the challenges. I acknowledge the terminological limitations. I understand that one of the critiques of nationalism is that it’s a French Revolution concept where it’s homogenization. it’s nineteenth century, destroy local attachments under a nationalistic-type, national-statism that obliterates distinction. So, I get that critique as well. I don’t want that to happen.
So part of part of the reasons why my definition of ethnicity and nation is fluid is that I’m not talking about the nation-state. I’m talking about maybe a regional identity, maybe like a local identity. You can have different levels of identities.
One would be very local in your town, then regional, and then national. That’s why when I was in the army, I could be side by side with a Texan who was dead set that on the sovereign state of Texas; that it’s the best country that’s ever existed; best state; every other state’s horrible. And yet we still both have the American flag patch on our shoulder and he’s going to go fight in a foreign country on behalf of his country. So that represented to me always this diversity and unity. There’s a lot to talk about and think about and I could ramble on.
David Schrock: Stephen, your project has done a lot with thinking about some of these political realities and whether it’s at a regional, local, national level that is there. Where does the church fit into all of this? How do you understand the role of the church?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. This is probably where people like me and Doug Wilson disagree. So, I think that people in authority can do a lot before there is a sort of sweeping revival. He and like James White would say you need like this massive revival before anything happens. I think actually you can work a lot with a heritage of faith amongst the people or a sort of cultural Christianity. But that being said, I the church is essential to preaching the gospel and to serving the things of the kingdom of God for God’s people.
At the same time, I want to deemphasize the role of the pastor as the movement leader because I think that’s not his principal job. He shouldn’t think of himself as a social leader or a social movement leader. I like to compare him to like a chaplain. So in the army, chaplains are the special staff of commanders. So a battalion, brigade, division, core commanders all have their chaplains, and they’re special staff. As such, they’re not in the chain of command. So they usually have a side office next to the commander. They can advise him on this and that, but they’re not in the chain of command, and they’re not in command. So that’s how I see a chaplain in relation to civil authority first, but also Christian Nationalism in general, as a movement.
David Schrock: When you say chaplain, chaplain for an area, chaplain for a town, chaplain for a church?
Stephen Wolfe: I just use that as an analogy. Just meaning that the role of the church is in providing a sort of guidance for a movement, but it’s not to lead it. So I wouldn’t want the Christian Nationalist Social Movement Office in the church, me or whatever next to the pastor, or the pastor leading this thing because they should focus upon the souls of their flock. Whereas I think politics should be a calling for people other than ministers. And that’s why—the American founding, you did have some ministers like Witherspoon involved in the founding—but in general, they weren’t ministers. They were just statesmen. They were non-ordained sort of state statesmen. And that’s what I think is probably for the best going forward. It’s a division of roles. People don’t always agree with that. I don’t think Doug Wilson agrees with that.
David Schrock: I mean, we talked to Doug a couple of days ago and we’ve probably seen the need for revival, seen the need for the gospel to go forward. I know you’ve written in response a little bit to Together for the Gospel, TGC, kind of fracturing and just the impact of moving from neutral world to negative world.
So, moving from theoretician to more practically, do you think it’s possible? Is there sufficient cultural heritage, Christian heritage to be able to bring that about at a public level? Or is there the necessity of requiring even just what the gospel is in culture to impact enough people to actually make political changes?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I think it depends on where you’re at. What was it, that town in, is it Minnesota? The all-Muslim council is basically saying no pride flags, no this or that. Without hesitation, unashamedly they said no more of it. And I’m guessing there are towns throughout this country that could fill a council full of Christians who could do something like that. And if that happens, it could become contagious and hit the state level as well in certain places. If you think of a place like Idaho, where probably the vast majority of the state legislature are people who would raise their hand if they asked if they were Christian.
So, I think it’s a matter of, do you have the confidence to see these things through? I think there are also political, philosophical hang-ups with conservatism. Conservatives very much want to be a kind of live and let live. I just want to grill. Just let me grill, bro. I’m going to go grill and watch a game. Instead of thinking, I need to get active and seek to reverse things. There’s just that sense of just leave me alone. There’s that phrase on the internet among the new right, something in the effect of: “The people who just want to be left alone will always be destroyed by the people who care.” I butchered that. It’s, “The people who care more will always triumph over the people who just want to be left alone.” And I think we’re seeing that especially in a negative world that might have gotten by in the neutral world, but not in the negative world. It’s going to just get worse.
But I do think it’s possible in just different areas. It’s a matter of, do you have the will to do it? Are you willing to face the backlash of people attacking you and calling you names and this and that? Are you just going to do what you can do and what’s right?
David Schrock: But to make sure that someone doesn’t mishear you, you’re not saying to use force in order to do that, but the political structures that are in place to do that.
Because I’m thinking, if there is a place to bring penal codes or the penal laws against those who have committed heresy or something like that, is there a place for force to move into that position of power or simply working through the election process? Is that what you’re saying?
Stephen Wolfe: I’m not talking about heresy, that sort of thing. I would be okay with like atheists being I guess suppressed in a way. But I just mean just the willingness to say, “We’re not going to allow degeneracy. There’s not going to be the drag queen thing. No, you’re not going to have a pride parade because of this and that. You’re not going to be able to wave the flag on government buildings.” Things like that.
Just the will to do that sort of thing and say, “No, we’re not going to endorse degeneracy.” I know they’ll say it’s freedom of speech and all that. You can go to court and fight it out. But just at least having the will to say no. And the thing is again, like the United States is a place with a sense of liberty, but it always recognized that there were certain constraints. That there’s left and right limits on what you could or could not do.
And those limits were broad, but they weren’t absolute. And it wasn’t just shout fire in a crowd of theater. There’s older jurisprudence that would permit kind of the suppression of degeneracy and other things.
Brad Green: David, I know we’re short on time. Any time for one more question?
David Schrock: You get the last question.
Brad Green: So again, I’m glad I took the time to read the book. So, you can guess my leanings from my questions and all this. But I was surprised; it seemed to me the bar for revolution was a tad low. And as you work through our current situation, I couldn’t help but think, “Stephen’s kind of going for it here. I think he’s just said, if it’s tyranny, there needs to be, there could be, it’d be morally permissible for there to be revolution.” And then you were quite explicit that we are essentially living apart from the rule of law or in a type of tyranny. So are you ginning up the gang for a revolution?
I’m not trying to embarrass, but it seemed like you were pretty much there. Help me out. Am I misreading you?
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah, I think that we are under right now a type of liberal totalitarianism. The reason why people don’t recognize that is that when they think of tyranny, they think you’re being thrown on the gulag, people are in North Korea cutting down doors. Like it’s very physical, upfront.
But I think there is a type of liberal tyranny that’s very psychological, it’s procedural, it’s institutionalized, and it’s a deep normalization of moral degeneracy.
Brad Green: A serious perversion.
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah. And I think we live in that. It’s not hard to point out that we live in very degenerate times. It’s hard to convince people that yes, there is a type of coercion that’s deeply psychological in our time. That’s trying to get you and your children to essentially ban the faith both as with regards to faith and morals. And it’s a type of tyranny.
So I do think we live under tyrannical conditions, but the problem is under liberal tyranny, there isn’t one guy, there isn’t the king, there isn’t even just a government. There’s media, there’s academics, there’s journalists. It’s what people in the new right call the regime.
The regime is not simply a law or judges or civil magistrates. It’s the full apparatus of people in power who wield a sort of power over us. So, how do you overthrow that? The problem is revolution can’t do that unless it’s like the nastiest, bloodiest thing you can imagine. I do say in the book that when it comes to revolution, it has to be feasible, suitable, acceptable. And most likely we’re not in that sort of situation now.
I have said before that if I had to remove some pages from the book because it’s too long, I would take that chapter out of there. Not because I’m like displeased with it, but because it’s not essential to the overall project. It’s a miscellaneous chapter. But I do think we should have as Americans a certain will to act in the spirit of our revolution where people did actually go to arms, they did actually fight to secure their liberty. But also not be stupid about it and get everyone killed and make it worse. Because a lot of times revolutions can actually end up being worse than what it was before.
So I know this answer is rambling. Yeah, I wanted to justify it. And also just to stir in the hearts people kind of like a spirit that would that would say, “No, this is ours and we’re not going to take any more and we’re going to go fight for it.” Like something about sometime in the 1770s, they had that spirit and it was over like mild taxes.
It’s more than that, of course. But it seems to be very different compared to what we live in today. We tend to live in something far worse. But yeah, if the feds are listening, I’m not openly calling for a revolution. I’m not calling for the overthrow of the United States.
But on another note, like related to that, people think when we talk about overthrowing the regime, they think we mean burning the constitution, burning down the White House, let’s just start over. But like when the new right says we want to have a regime change and replace the regime, we’re talking about all these people in these different institutions of power would have to be replaced in order to have a true regime change. You can’t vote this out.
Brad Green: Yeah, you mentioned maybe a disagreement of some sort with Doug Wilson. Groen van Prinsterer’s book, Revolution or Reformation, which is probably on your shelf, I’m guessing, as well—but is it the case that there’s two options for Christians generally in social change, and the healthier and less bloody option, the more biblical option, is a true reformation and revival which puts the sinner to death and they are raised up in Christ? And now this is a slower thing, I know, but I wonder if that’s maybe where you and Wilson are maybe a little bit on a different page? Is he’s pushing—I think I’d probably push a slow reformation and revival. Not neglecting political action, but maybe a primacy of the heart? Anyway, we need to come to a close, David, so I don’t want to start rambling.
David Schrock: Yeah, I think that’s another indication of the conversations that need to be had, right? And I think that is a point that we would want to be praying for these things and praying for our country and trusting that the gospel does change hearts.
And as it changes hearts, it changed families. As it changes families, it changes communities. As it changes communities, it certainly should be found in the local church. And so those are things that we’re committed to. And Stephen, we appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk with us about this.
Brad Green: Yeah, thank you so much.
David Schrock: Even as you said earlier, there’s a sense of which this is a conversation that’s a year old. Certainly political theory is not a year old. It’s a centuries old project. You’ve brought numbers of things for us to think about in this and, Lord willing, we’ll be able to talk more about this and in ways that will be fruitful and helpful in days to come.
So Stephen, thanks for joining us.
Stephen Wolfe: Yeah. Thanks for having me on and thanks for reading my book, Brad. I appreciate you suffering through that.
Brad Green: I bought it. I bought it. I didn’t just get it for free. I bought it and read it. Yeah. Thank you. Great to have time with you, Stephen. Thank you, sir.
David Schrock: Likewise. And Brad, thanks for joining us from the Minneapolis airport. It’s been a joy to have you on here and look forward to next time.