Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Election time...

Came across this timely little gem in a used book discarded from the Vancouver School of Theology, the first English printing of a little book called Last Testimonies, by Karl Barth.  The quote below is from an interview and the discussion topic is liberalism in the classical sense, not the political sense.  After appropriate distinctions are made, including Barth's warning to always beware of anything that becomes an "ism", the interviewer asks about political liberalism and Barth's involvement in politics.  Barth describes himself as pragmatically, though not ideologically, socialist.  Then this exchange comes, which may or may not provide small comfort to my American friends. 
Interviewer:  Socialism and liberalism are presented as opposites, at least in Switzerland and just before elections.  I think this antithesis has become historical, to put it guardedly.
Barth:  Yes, at election time and when party leaders speak.  So there are in fact no longer any genuine or clear alternatives.  No great and basic ideas seem to be in conflict any more.  I am always at a loss as to which party to vote for, if any. *
Interviewer:  Would you say that being liberal has nothing or not very much to do with political liberalism but that it is more a human attitude which cuts across all parties?
Barth:  Yes, I could accept that if we are to use the term.  But I do not set much store by the word.  If it is to be used at all I would prefer that it be used, as in our discussion, for basic style, a human posture.  What is called and calls itself liberal today, as here in Basel, could just as well...
          Interviewer:  ...be called conservative?

          Barth:  I am glad you said it and not I.  We know whom we have in mind and
          what paper, don't we?  ...But let them go their way in peace.

 * Emphasis mine

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.