The social question is a question still with us today. That query began in earnest in 1789, with the French Revolution, but it did not stay in France, nor did it confine itself to the eighteenth century. Pope Leo XIII addressed it, Karl Marx antagonized it, and Charles Dickens dramatized it. But Abraham Kuyper solved it.
Kuyper’s answer of both/and, or one and many, reflecting his Trinitarian thinking, marked out a middle path to his answer. Kuyper declared the only viable solution, and the Christian one at that, of the “organic” both/and of the one and many. This unity in multiplicity is seen in four ways: a collectivist and individualist tension, a form and freedom tension, a freedom and equality tension, and a progression and preservation tension.
Kuyper built on the foundations laid before his time, his thought tracing a line through great protestant thinkers like Groen van Prinsterer and Burke. Upon this foundation, he built.
The Individual and the Collective
Individualism and collectivism are two different approaches to how the individual interacts with the collective, and the collective, with the individual. But they are not irremediably antithetical. In addressing the question of poverty relief, Kuyper provides a nuanced position that seeks to include the collective and the individual, the state and society. A balance is struck between the collective and individual when the individual freely keeps in mind his obligations to the broader community, for it is in this “context of the organic association of mankind, and thus also in the context of the organic association of its possessions” that man lives. Furthermore, this can only be done if we understand authority comes from God. At the heart of the French Revolution was the question of authority, since it had removed God from society.
Kuyper offered instead the theistic foundation of God’s sovereignty. This presupposition determines how poverty is addressed.
Rejecting both state and popular sovereignty, Kuyper thus maintained that both the state and the people have a role; the state over the people, but not in the people’s sphere. Therefore, the way this is accomplished by the state is to provide better laws, not redistributing money.
The Dynamic of Law and Liberty
Here lies the solution to the tension of form and freedom. Here is the solution to the dynamic of law and liberty.
Abraham Kuyper’s Trinitarian foundation laid the framework for a theological critique of solutions to the social question, while enabling him to give his own answer. In balancing form and freedom, the individual and the collective, equality and liberty, Kuyper stressed neither the one nor the many to the point of breaking the bond between the two.
- Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty, 60.
- Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty, 58.
For Further Discussion:
Abraham Kuyper on Poverty’s Relationship to Christianity
The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.