Subscribe to Christianity Today
Commentary (Part 1)
Why is it that commentators can't resist drawing parallels between British and American politics? That habit is deeply rooted in our common heritage, surely, but in our time it can be traced to the advent of the "special relationship" between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. That theme once established, journalists purported to hear like calling to like in the ineptitudes of John Major and George Bush, and are now remarking on the transatlantic symmetries of the Clinton-Blair era.
It is true that there are certain parallels between President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair. Both are young and charismatic, both have sought to move their parties to the center of their respective constituencies, and both have done so by appropriating the economic agenda of their opponents. But an emphasis on these similarities obscures important differences between the two leaders--differences that evangelical Christians would be wise to heed.
Tony Blair, unlike Bill Clinton, has succeeded in unifying and moving his party into the mainstream. Blair, unlike President Clinton in either term, has received a mandate from the British electorate, with a margin of more than 250 seats over the Conservatives in the 659-seat Parliament. Most important, Blair's governing philosophy is theologically grounded in a tradition that views civil society, instead of the state or the economy, as the foundation of public order. This is precisely why Blair has taken great pains to emphasize to the left wing of his party that "a strong society should not be confused with a strong state," while at the same time he disparages the Right for a narrow self-interest "that fails to look beyond to the community."
During his years as a student at Oxford University, Blair was exposed to the writings of a twentieth-century Christian philosopher from Scotland by the name of John Macmurray. Blair has cited two of Macmurray's works, Persons in Relation and Self as Agent, as seminal ...