Political theology needs deeper, more socialist, and thus more democratic roots. The dominant presumption that a German Nazi legal theorist sets the terms for political theology frustrates our political theological imaginations, most especially when confronted with problems of economic, racial, and climate catastrophe. On top of this, most accounts of Christian socialism in Britain and Germany regurgitate the lone hero myth—readers may be familiar with F. D. Maurice but are unaware of the movements that produced Maurice or other important leaders like G. D. H. Cole or William Temple; they may be familiar with Karl Barth and Paul Tillich’s early and crucially influential experiences with socialism, but they are ignorant of the role that Hermann Kutter or Leonhard Ragaz played in making such influence possible. This creates a problematic: political theologians shape their positions nearly always in response to the Schmittian position. Those who reject Schmitt’s analysis open the possibility of a reverse-Schmittian position: all theology is political. Is political theology merely stuck with the Schmittian and reverse-Schmittian positions?
Gary Dorrien’s Social Democracy in the Making: Political and Religious Roots of European Socialism is a breath of fresh air of alternative genealogies and thus potential futures. As Dorrien replies to Catherine Keller in the forum below, Dorrien doesn’t “slam the door” on the reverse-Schmittian position. Dorrien’s point is that democratic socialism and Social Democracy did not come from nowhere, and telling this history expands our political theological imaginations. Dorrien’s work is richly historical, keenly insightful in its explication of Marxian political philosophy, and deeply theological. Those familiar with Dorrien’s work will find an author who, to my eyes and ears, is closer to his subject and so more courageous in stepping out from behind the history to point a way forward. The table-setting first chapter quickly moves to three chapters that delve into the story of democratic socialism and Social Democracy in Britain (chapter 2) and Germany, giving ample pages to teasing out Marxian theory (chapter 3), and dedicating essentially a whole chapter to Barth and Tillich (chapter 4). His final two chapters return to Britain and the guild and Fabian movements, before leaving his readers with the potentially ambiguous legacy of democratic socialism as pluralistic social democracy.
This forum brings together an interdisciplinary, intergenerational group of thinkers who are equally as passionate about this subject as Dorrien. Scholars like Joerg Rieger and Catherine Keller are well known for expertly teasing out the theo-political threads of our contemporary crisis. Rieger pushes Dorrien to consider the fundamental role of production and workers in democratic socialism. For her part, Keller points out that the best position for Christian democratic socialism is one that honestly accounts for its roots in theological liberalism that too easily acquiesced to disgusting and evil fascism. No easy separation between the political and religious traditions can be made: the point is to tell the history honestly and let the cleavages and alliances show themselves in order to help us make judgments for the best democratic socialist future. Filipe Maia offers an important contribution to the reverse-Schmittian line of political theology grounded in the liberationist theological critique of capitalism. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda questions what Dorrien’s book can offer our urgent economic and climate crisis, while suggesting that Dorrien sides with parties of Social Democracy rather than democratic socialism. Geoffrey Kurtz offers a helpful ideal-type analysis of the different theological roots of British and German strands of democratic socialism, while also suggesting four crucial aspects of Christian socialist thought.
Because they tower over nearly all forms of contemporary theology, Barth and Tillich are constant examples in these contributions. Dorrien has a bone to pick in getting Barth and Tillich’s relation to socialism right. Neither hold a light to the legacy of Ragaz (or in the United States, to Walter Rauschenbusch), but that is primarily because both loved Germany too much. For those readers hungry for a similar account of democratic socialism in the United States: patience is a virtue. Dorrien’s forthcoming second volume tells the US side of the story. Social Democracy in the Making stops in the mid-1960s with G. D. H. Cole, a Fabian atheist. The legacy is ambiguous yet promising because we have yet to see what political theologians will do with this impressive and urgently needed genealogy. This forum is a suggestion that this breath of fresh air can enliven, inspire, and challenge political theology in new directions.