Thoughts on the French/Ahmari debate (or, why the struggle for conservatism will endure)

Did y’all watch the David French vs. Sohrab Ahmari debate last Thursday? I finally got around to watching the replay (above) over the weekend and boy howdy was it fun.*

(*Fun is a relative term. Do you find political/religious pundits trying not to punch each other in front of a tense crowd, fun? If so, you’ll love this!)

There have already been many think pieces written about this debate, so I’ll just say this.

I believe that French and Ahmari were talking past each other during this particular debate because of 1.) the hype surrounding the event and 2.) their fundamentally differing theological beliefs. I would have loved to hear more of an in-depth explanation from each of them about their Christian philosophy towards government– as Jonathan Leeman writes here, you have to have the first conversation about Biblical convictions/principals before you can have the second conversation about implementation in the public square.

From what I could glean, French comes from a Reformed (Kuyperian or Transformationist) view while Ahmari follows a Catholic Social Doctrine (Synthetic) view. They both agree on much, even if moderator Douthat struggles to define what that is, but the points of agreement get obscured by petty shots and wounded pride. I get it, this was “for TV!” (and granted, the debate was anything but boring)– but they miss a real opportunity for engaging the why behind the question of “how.”

Ahmari rightly knows that without a common moral foundation, our culture will forever be speaking two different languages and fighting two different battles. French understands that in a pluralistic society, the rule of law is literally the only thing keeping us from devolving into chaos. Both men want a cultural renewal that pursues the Highest Good (God himself)– but Ahmari paints a broad (and very vague) target while French calls for personal spiritual revival. Both men are striving to lead the way toward shalom for our society, even though they are coming from very different perspectives. Again, there is much to agree on here.

Kuyper himself reminds us that, as Christians, our pursuit for a flourishing and just society isn’t actually the end-goal. He writes,

“Even if we pursue this path of justice to its very end, the goal that God has in view will never be reached by means of legal measures designed to improve social conditions. Rules alone will not cure our sick society.”ª

Ultimately, our goal is far more broad, far more transcendent. Eternity is what is hidden deep in our hearts, a longing to be in a more perfect kingdom and at the feet of Christ, the perfect King. Until then, we remain faithful to the work of today.

What do you think? Did you watch the debate? What was your takeaway from each perspective?


a. Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty, 72-73.

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