The Revival of Enlightened and Transformative Politics

by Bob Schwartz

Talking about the revival of enlightened and transformative politics is bound to be imprecise.

That concept has never actually been dead. Looking at Christianity, a recent post about Jim Wallis and Sojourners highlights just one instance. A bigger and much more famous current example is Pope Francis. And it is nothing new. The Social Gospel movement, which is still represented (though not always appreciated), aimed to see the realization of the highest Christian principles in everyday practical society.

Keeping with the Christian theme, this is not about what Jesus would say about abortion or gay marriage or prayer in schools or any of these specific arguments—though all have a certain significance. It is about politics as a tool of overall transformation, beyond sectarian concerns.

This is not limited to Christianity. Every one of the traditions has a core of enlightenment and large scale transformation. But each of those traditions has found a way to occasionally devolve that mission into movements and policies and tactics that diverge and even contradict the higher principles and aspirations. It isn’t necessary to point out the wrong turns that, for example, Judaism and Islam have taken along the way to supposedly establish heaven on earth.

In the era of what was affectionately, or for some derisively, known as the New Age movement, this concept of politics as a transformative tool was central. There was the idea that if we kept our eyes on the prize—not just a country but a world elevated above our baser selves—we could together create something better. Politics was one of the tools that would serve that end, instead of enabling smaller personal ambitions and selfish, possibly pernicious, goals.

So here we are. Enlightened and transformative politics is not dead. But it may be missing in action. Each political choice we make—each donation, each tweet, each vote and, yes, each post—might help us find it. Or kill it. It’s up to us.