Calvinism and politics

Sometime in my second-last year of I high school I began to believe in Calvinism. Along with it, I picked up several political opinions that I thought were the consistent outworkings of Calvin’s doctrine of salvation. But now I’m a little skeptical.

Often thinkers have appealed to Calvin’s pessimistic view of human nature as a justification for conservative politics, in the sense of politics which try not to rock the boat too much, try to have many checks and balances, etc.

Now, there are good arguments for those things, but I’m not sure it follows necessarily from Calvin’s view of human nature. For starters, among all the post-Reformation denominations, Calvinism was certainly one of the most radical (alongside non-pacifistic anabaptism). The American revolution was known early on as the “Presbyterian Revolt”, for example. At least for some people, Calvinism meant not conservatism, but radicalism.

Further, the strong postmillennial strain (of which I consider myself a part) of Calvinism would push in the opposite direction: as many historians have suggested, the Enlightenment myth of progress was in many ways a secularized version of the postmillennial hope of the Puritans.

And apart from these things, there is also the much-discussed doctrine of “common grace”, the basic idea being God’s continual work in history outside of the church to restrain human beings from being as evil as they could be.

I think it would be fair to say, then, that Calvinism does not really require a conservative politics in the most literal sense of that term. Though Calvinism does say that, in itself, human nature after the fall is depraved and alienated from God, God’s activity in history, both inside and outside the church, makes it virtually impossible to deduce a political theory from that fact. No prediction can be made, like in Hobbes’ system, because unlike Hobbes’ system, Calvinism is all about God and what he is doing in this world. It can allow for broader thinking than a heel-dragging conservatism, and historically it has.