As I see it, Quakers at their best have been about the work of the former for many years. And postmodernity offers a complementary philosophical and theological lens to Quaker faith and practice, even as it challenges our tradition to the extent that it makes universal claims, builds up its own dominant structures and narratives, and engages in oppression of others in the name of a greater good. I think the same could be said of Christians and libertarians more broadly.
To the extent that we yield to the dominant culture’s focus on the modern structure of the state as the means by which we seek to exert moral influence upon that culture we cheapen our witness and regress from challenging the existing power structures to implicitly and explicitly endorsing and strengthening its prominence and veneration. In so doing we grant the state a salvific power that is corrosive to a core faith and belief which sees that power both beyond us and acting through us in our voluntary response to God’s invitation.
Part of the shift to a politics of weakness comes in making a deliberative choice in how one as a Christian reads Scripture and how we understand the message of Jesus. By no means a libertarian, John Dominic Crossan does offer consistent challenge to the dominance of Empire and suggests the helpful concept of reading all of Scripture through the lens of the nonviolent Jesus. This is a choice. As a recent discussion on the Christian Anarchists page demonstrates, the idea of a Jesus that rejects the sword is far from universally accepted. But once you adopt this position, it is necessary to acknowledge that all laws are backed by the power of the sword. To the extent that we make use of that power we step away from the witness to peace and nonviolence.
This is not to say that one cannot make a utilitarian argument that such tradeoffs are necessary and practical accommodations to the human condition and political realism. In so doing, however, one must by necessity yield claims to pacifism and enter into a political power struggle with all of the other competing interests that seek to control and make use of the authority and power of the state for their ends.
In contrast, a politics of weakness ought instead be one that seeks opportunities to reduce the scope of violence and coercion through political control. To, for instance, challenge the ways in which our government engages in death and destruction at home and abroad on the one hand and to resist the temptation to rely on legislation rather than moral persuasion on the other. To seek ways to enliven and ennoble two-sided political debates by offering a counter narrative to the endless struggle for political dominance and the imposition of one side’s view upon the other’s. It is to recognize that if we truly seek peace, we cannot do so by the sword. This is a political strategy onto which I can sign as a Quaker Libertarian, but it is not one that is part of the dominant political narrative – even among Quaker organizations.
This is the opportunity before us – to work toward creating space whereby new conversations and new voices (even if they have been present for many years) can be injected more fully into the larger political conversation. To be genuine peacemakers engaged in genuine peacebuilding using peaceful means. To be honest about who we are, where we come from, what it is we are about, and where we fail and fall short of the ideals we claim to uphold. I cannot imagine a more worthwhile endeavor.