Leftist parties as a balance between church-state relations?

In my last article, I pointed out the positive effects which religion can have on politics. In this article, I want to point to the disadvantages and the limits. At first, “it is dangerous for the trust of a society if a religion tries to get benefits within the state” [Timo Schmitz: The role of revelation and reason in finding εὐδαιμονία. In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022a] which means that a denomination which has a personal benefit from engaging in politics or even if it holds political offices or has a direct say from which it benefits is highly problematic. Schelchkova explains the case of Russia as an example for a direct interrelation between state and church: “After 1917 atheism began playing the dominant role in the country – in fact, it became the new Soviet religion. Nowadays, when Russia has begun to return to its origins, against this background, the Orthodox Church yielded to temptation of power. This is a very strong thirst, which is extremely difficult to resist, because the main political figures of the country are trying to popularize Orthodoxy, and the leading television channels show their visits to church services” [Natalia Aleksandrovna Schelchkova: The participation of Russian Orthodox Church in public and social life of the Russian Federation. Journal of Ethnophilosophical Questions and Global Ethics 1 (2), 2017, p. 5.]. The church backs the policies and the politicians use their belief as a means of public relations, giving the denomination an advantage of profiling itself in the society and as such an advantageous position. I personally think that the state should be religiously neutral, but that religious groups might petition to the government to take their views into consideration, so that the state itself is not bound to a religion, but that the religious feelings of the people are respected. We find this for example especially in the religious heterogeneous landscape of the US, where religion is often a subject for political decisions, but the state itself favors no denomination.

Going to religion itself, every religion has to be critical towards itself to avoid radicalization and extremism, and most importantly not to forget its roots: “[R]eligion always has to continue its discourse to critically question its laws and search for a modern appliance, so that the teaching can unveil its core teaching, because from time to time, we get caught in our beliefs and do not question anymore, whether they are right or wrong. So religion always has to shape and reshape its values” [Schmitz, 2022a]. Religious organisations are campaigning for social justice and defend minorities, but conservative parties whether aligned to a religious spirit or not (such as the Christian Democratic Union in Germany) are rather supporting a social market capitalism and tend to support capitalist positions in general, sometimes even proposing a completely free market. I personally would go so far to say that economic interests even often play a larger role than social aspects in conservative parties, but this is my subjective interpretation. So how to avoid both, religious extremism and capitalist exploitation? Here, the Leftist parties have a balancing function, both Social democratic and Socialist parties. The advantage with Social democratic parties is their left conservatism. They are supporting a free market, but with a high sociability and focus on workers’ rights. Social democrats often want to conserve the traditionally established societal order and reject revolutions, but propose progressive elements from the common people which are usually advocated in Leftist circles. Thus, they are the bridge between Leftism (and here especially Socialism) and conservatism and can be found in many countries either as centre-left force or centralist political force. They often put themselves in the left spectrum.

 An example for left-wing conservatism among Social Democrats can be found in Sweden: “Within the Swedish Social Democratic Party, there have always been advocates of a form of social conservatism, with at least one former Member of Parliament describing himself as a ‘left-wing conservative’” [Karl-Gustel Wärnberg: Left Wing Conservatism. The European Conservative, 18 January 2022]. In the UK, there are Social Democrats who also advocate ideas of the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. In Germany, the term “left conservatism” is known at least since 1988 from an article by Helmut Wiesenthal in which he discusses whether the Green Party is rather radically left or competing for the centre [Helmut Wiesenthal: Die GRÜNEN im Bewegungsherbst. Linksradikale Bekenntnispartei oder Konkurrent um die Mitte? GMH 5/88, 1988, 289-299]. However, it is dangerous when the term is used to describe a front among ultra-leftists and ultra-rightists against a moderate main stream, because this gives the movement a painting of a social democratic or social conservative image, in short centrist and moderate, but being neither of it. The problem with Marxist parties on the contrary is their rejection of religion and anti-religious stances which are a form of extremism towards the religious believer. To say that one has to give up religion to be free and to make people insist on it is just another dogma.

Therefore, the social democratic and left conservative streams are important in a society to avoid extreme political views, including religious fundamentalism in politics. This is actually the secret of success after China’s major reforms of the 1990s. It established a left conservative policy which shifts now more to conservatism and especially social conservatism as such. China always emphasized its traditional values in post-Cultural Revolution times and in recent years, we can see a revival of Confucian values. As a conservative element, it never applied the Western values but stayed loyal to its historical path, on the other hand it adopted Marxist-Leninist structures, especially in the last years within the party structure, as Maoism de facto was replaced decades ago.

In contrast to that, the DPRK tried to unite the extreme left and far right factions from the beginning of its founding in establishing a nationalistic form of Communism, in which the economy was modelled after the Soviet example, while the societal understanding was transformed quite early to its old Confucian values, finally establishing a dynastic rule with a drop-out of Leftism in its practise, creating an ultra-conservative protectionist/ isolationist state depending on self-reliance as official ideology. The result is a religious oppression on a large-scale. Anyways, appealing to human rights and freedom of religion cannot be successful through international pressure, since the country does everything not to rely on foreign countries and its high grade of economic independence due to long-term sanctions makes any diplomatic intervention quite difficult [cp. Timo Schmitz: Wie sieht sich Nordkorea selbst in der Welt und was bedeutet dies für den Westen? (26 May 2021). In: Timo Schmitz: Politische und Philosophische Analysen. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022b]. Therefore, the best way to negotiation is working with the government to convince them of a change as working against it only makes it more difficult to reach the people in the country if the country isolates even more [cp. Timo Schmitz (티모 스미즈): 남북대화의 종교문제와 종교교류 6가지 점. Draft, 2022c].

To put it in a nutshell, we can see Leftist streams as a good way to limit conservatism and extreme religious positions defended by conservative parties, but if Leftism becomes a major force in a country it can lead to a suppression of religion if the politicians are advocating Marx’ religious critique too fundamentally. Nonetheless, there are also centre-left, moderate left and religious left parties which can be a good balance and overcome the division of society.

Timo Schmitz, 24 March 2023


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