Must Liberalism Be Violent? A Reflection on the Work of Stanley Hauerwas, 75 Law & Contemporary Problems 201 (2012)
My subject is the work of the theologian Stanley Hauerwas on violence and
coercion. I shall argue that his views on the violence of war and his views on the
violence of the liberal state are inextricably linked, and that the critique of
liberalism that emerges from his thought actually does have—contrary to his
own view—important implications for public policy.
In order to appreciate his thinking on these matters, one must appreciate his
starting point, which is not the starting point of the standard academic
analysis—that is, he does not begin with liberalism. He begins (and he would
say, ends) with Christianity. Not Christianity in the sense of Christendom but
Christianity in the sense of church—the place to which Christians are called and
through which their lives are constituted. And although Hauerwas certainly has
some interest in what commands bind believers in general and Christians in
particular (a point to which I will presently come), his larger concern is the
creation and nurturing of people who believe that commands bind them—that
people are in the first instance bundles not of rights and preferences (as
liberalism would have it) but of duties. These duties, moreover, are not owed to
each other, or to ideology or party, or to government or future generations or
Mother Earth; they are owed to God.
The notion that we are created by God, and owe duties first to God, is
crucial to the conceptions of church and of society that motivate his work.
Following close behind is his conception of American culture—legal, political,
and economic—as determined, through every available method of temptation
and coercion, to conceal these duties, to cloud them, to draw us away from
them, recreating us instead as creatures sufficiently arrogant to believe in our
own freedom to choose our own ends—in short, to suit us for capitalism.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Carter, Stephen L., "Must Liberalism Be Violent? A Reflection on the Work of Stanley Hauerwas" (2012). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 4804.