Politics isn’t as Important as You Think

In a 2021 article on the January 6th insurrection, I made some observations about “the political illusion,” that I’d like to share again here. The “political illusion” is the idea that all of life’s problems have political solutions.

Jacques Ellul

The French Philosopher, Jacques Ellul, spoke of “the political illusion” to describe the idea that all cultural problems ultimately reduce to political problems. We know from history that politics, while important, is not the primary driver of cultural change. In his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, sociologist James Davison Hunter showed that institutions are actually more important than politics as a driver of cultural change, a perspective that has been echoed recently by Rod Dreher in his book Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. There are additional factors that may be more important than politics, such as media and advertising, education, parenting, technology, religion, economics, even geography (last year I read a fascinating book claiming that geography is the primary driver of world events), etc.

In his campaign for President, Donald Trump embodied the political illusion by incessantly claiming that his election could fix America’s problems. Only someone with a naïve over-appreciation of the role of politics in driving change, coupled with an under-appreciation for the role of institutions and other factors in influencing national events, could make such outlandish claims.

The political illusion leads to political idolatry, which is a perverse fusion of religion and politics. When you believe that all problems are ultimately political problems, then it is tempting both to attach a quasi-religious importance to politics as well as to politicize religion…

See Also

A less obvious–though equally devastating–problem with the conflation of religion and politics is that when the political system turns bad, you lose hope and despair. Outside of politics, you have no Plan B. Significantly, however, at this crucial point in American history, there are many non-political avenues for moving forward to advance Christian culture and fight back against the soft totalitarianism of the Left, including the Benedict Option, Christian education, faithful parenting, building up our institutions, strengthening Christian communities of worship–even cultivating personal virtue. Yet as Christians look only to politics for the answers, they end up neglecting these more fruitful avenues of action.

Since the 80’s, some American Christians have been tempted to react to the conflation of religion and politics by positing a total bifurcation between religion and politics, or to assume that politics can be a zone of religious neutrality. But that is a mistake. Religious neutrality is not a coherent concept for reasons that are explained here and here. More fundamentally, however, we must never forget that the Lordship of Christ has implications in our thought and practice for all areas of human life, including politics. The problem with “the political illusion,” is not that it applies Christ’s Lordship to politics, but precisely that it does not.

Scroll To Top