Book Review: Republocrat

“Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative” by Carl Trueman

If you’re looking for a book that will re-affirm what you already believe about politics, this book will be a disappointment. Carl Trueman knows that, and he doesn’t care. “I am simply delighted that I will disappoint so many different groups of people in such a comprehensive manner,” he writes in the introduction.

And he’s right. Nearly every group of people will find some complaint with Trueman’s arguments. The Liberal Left hates his stance on hot button issues like abortion and gay marriage. The Religious Right frowns on his refusal to walk the Republican party line. Libertarians reject his insistence that nationalized health care and welfare programs are not incompatible with liberty and the free market.

Perhaps those most off-put by this book will be the politically apathetic, who cry “can’t we all just get along?” while steering clear of argument and conviction. If there is one thing Trueman makes crystal clear, it is that if we care about the world and the people around us — and as Christians, this is non-negotiable — we must care about politics.

Few, if any, will find wholesale agreement with Trueman’s political views. He is prone to overstate his case (which he himself admits in the book), and is intentionally provocative. He sets up strawmen and rips them apart. Surprisingly, all of these factors work together to hammer home the central theses of the book, “that conservative Christianity does not require conservative politics or conservative cultural agendas” and that Christians need a much more nuanced understanding of politics and political issues than is typical in today’s America, when aesthetics (the character and rhetoric of politicians and pundits) have replaced discourse and debate is framed as a Manichean struggle of good versus evil in which candidates and parties must be either totally right or totally wrong.

The intensely logical Carl Trueman knows exactly what he’s doing when he resorts to the use of logical fallacies. He wants readers to disagree with him. He wants to roil American Christians out of our comfort with the system of “politics-as-usual” that we’ve grown up with  (Trueman immigrated to the United States from England about ten years ago). This is a good thing. We need to be roiled, and his status as an outsider (not to mention his lack of hesitancy to engage in confrontation) gives Trueman a unique position to do it.

Besides a general encouragement to pick up this book and read it (which will only take an hour or two, as the entire thing is only 110 pages), I have just a few comments on the actual content of the book. While Trueman’s trenchant critique of American politics begins with the Left — and he is brutal in his condemnation of the modern Liberal agenda — much of the book is aimed directly at the political heart of conservative Christians who identify themselves with the Republican party. This is not necessarily because he aligns himself more with today’s Democrats, but because his intended audience is conservative Christians, and the reality is that most of these also consider themselves politically conservative. Thus, he spends the bulk of his time addressing the particular weaknesses of this audience.

What most interested me was his description of the plight of the “Old Liberal”, which is how he describes himself. Old liberals used to be those who concerned themselves most with improving the condition of the poor, something that was close to his own heart as a Christian. Over time, however, with the utter failure of Marxism as an all-encompassing political system based on the welfare of the economically oppressed, Liberals began to mesh their ideas about poverty and oppression with Freud’s psychoanalysis, leading to a redefinition of oppression. Now, instead of being primarily concerned with aiding the poor, the “New Left” exists to promote the agenda of those who define their own victimhood (women who believe abortion is a right, homosexuals who want to marry, etc). Democrats still promote themselves as the party of the working class, but these social issues are of little concern to those who struggle to provide for their families, and often clash with the values of the average poor person.

While I personally believe that conservative fiscal policies and free markets can be most beneficial to the poor, Dr. Trueman’s question is a valid one for discussion. Who is now the advocate for the economically oppressed? Where do those whose primary political concern is the condition of the poor turn?

On the negative side, Trueman is at his overstated best (or worst) in devoting an entire chapter to Fox News. While you’d be hard pressed to find a conservative who thinks less of Fox News and pundits like Glenn Beck than I do, even I think this assault on Fox is a bit over-the-top. Yes, conservative Christians tend to have a very unhealthy attachment to Hannity, O’Reilly, and company. Yes, the belief that Fox is in any way “the unbiased news channel” is absolutely ridiculous (and deserves to be ridiculed). Yes, Rupert Murdoch is a sleazy and unscrupulous businessman who knows pandering to the Religious Right makes him a lot of easy dollars. But Trueman could easily have made these points in much less than the twenty pages he devotes to them. He accuses the Left of having “lost all sense of proportion with regard to what is and is not of most pressing importance,” but surely the same can be said of an author who devotes 2o% of his book to the faults of a single news organization.

It can be maddening to read at times, but this book will make you think. It is not likely to cause anyone to totally change his mind about any important issues, or to radically change her political philosophy. But hopefully it will help to start a discussion we’ve needed for a long time. As he writes, “politics is an art, not a science“. Like any art, politics deserves careful consideration, interaction, and debate. And, just as people will have different preferences and appreciations for art, there is no reason to believe that all Christians must hold exactly the same position on every political issue. It is okay for Christians to disagree about the best way to further God’s Kingdom (just ask Paul and Barnabas) and to live as citizens in  a fallen world. In the end, God will be glorified. In the meantime, healthy debate and civil discourse make us all better.

Read this book. You’ll be glad you did. Buy it here.

Here is a trailer for the book, followed by Dr. Trueman’s own summary of it:

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