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1 Introduction this book introduces a distinctive christian philosophical approach to the question of the relationship between the polity and the plural institutions of “civil society.” This approach was­ developed by the twentieth-century Dutch Protestant thinker Herman Dooyeweerd (1894–1977), a remarkable and original philosopher and the most influential intellectual successor to the nineteenth-century Cal­ vinist theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920). Recent years have witnessed stirrings of a revival of Kuyper’s thought in North America, in particular, among social and political theorists investigating potential religious resources for a renewed appreciation of civil society.1 The central principle of Kuyper’s social thought is the “sphere sovereignty ” of many distinct social institutions, each expressing a certain facet of a dynamic order of divinely created possibilities and each fitted to make a unique contribution to the realization of justice and the public good. This principle is capturing attention as an illuminating way both to designate the distinctive identities of the institutions of civil society and to frame a conception of the role of the state capable of doing justice to those identities and their interrelationships.2 Whereas the Kuyperian origin of this principle is becoming better known today, the sophisticated elaboration of the principle in the writings of Dooyeweerd remains insufficiently appreciated. The principal aim of this book is to remedy that situation by critically expounding Dooyeweerd’s social and political thought and by exhibiting its pertinence to contemporary civil society debates. I seek to show how his work 2 Introduction amounts to a striking and characteristically Protestant philosophy of social pluralism and civil society, comparable in range and depth to contributions emerging from twentieth-century Catholic social thinkers such as Jacques Maritain and Heinrich Rommen and no less capable of speaking beyond the religious community from which it arose. Dooyeweerd’s work remains largely unknown in English-speaking social and political theory, even among those interested in its Christian currents. There are several reasons for this state of affairs, but two stand out. Probably the most important is that Dooyeweerd is not only a very complex thinker but also a difficult and often obscure writer. He uses several concepts forged out of early-twentieth-century Continental philosophy , many of which are alien to those schooled in English-language social theory, but he also coins numerous novel terms bearing distinctive and sometimes quite idiosyncratic meanings. A second reason is that, by comparison to Catholic thinkers like Maritain or Rommen, he adopts a markedly “antithetical” stance toward his interlocutors (including his coreligionists). While his strategic goal—as I explain in chapter 3—is­ ultimately to promote dialogue across perspectival divides, his method is to penetrate to and expose the deepest differences between his own thought and that of his opponents rather than to search out existing or potential points of convergence with a view to maximizing consensus. He is a demanding interrogator of his putative dialogue partners. If this book does no more than make Dooyeweerd’s thought intelligible to English-language social and political theorists it will have been worth the effort. Yet it also seeks to introduce this readership to a neglected Protestant contribution to the field. There are, of course, many towering twentieth-century Protestant theologians who have written extensively on social and political theory: Reinhold Niebuhr, John Luther Adams, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Emil Brunner, for example. Yet there seem remarkably few Protestant philosophers who have offered much of lasting value in this area. Dooyeweerd, I will show, is among the foremost. He left behind him an impressive canon of philosophical works (many of which are now translated)3 and generated a small but energetic scholarly community that has over several generations extended, critiqued , and applied his thought in many academic fields. His work spawned the establishment in the 1930s of a philosophical association and a philosophical journal based in the Netherlands, both still active, Introduction 3 and, later, centers of sympathetic scholarly activity in several locations around the world.4 Much of this work has been done in the areas of­ social, political, and legal theory. Before beginning a detailed exposition of Dooyeewerd’s writings I seek to contextualize his thought, first in relation to contemporary civil society debates (chapter 1) and then in relation to the Kuyperian movement out of which it grew (chapter 2). Chapter 1 surveys and analyzes contemporary streams of theorizing about civil society, records the recent interest in identifying the connections between Christianity and civil society, and...


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