The Need for Counter-Majoritarian Makeweights
Religion & Liberty Online

The Need for Counter-Majoritarian Makeweights

Drawing on some themes I explore about the role of the church in providing material assistance in Get Your Hands Dirty, today at Political Theology Today I look at the first parliamentary speech of the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

In “The Dutch King’s Speech,” I argue that the largely ceremonial and even constitutionally-limited monarchy has something to offer modern democratic polities, in that it provides a forum for public leadership that is not directly dependent on popular electoral support. In the Dutch case, the king broached the largely unpopular subject of fundamentally reforming the social democratic welfare state.

This is in rather sharp contrast to the social witness of the mainline of Dutch church leaders, at least over the last few decades. But the churches, too, have a role in acting as makeweights against democratic majoritarian tyranny.

There is no perfect civil polity this side of eternity, which must be acknowledged consists of a divine monarchy. So each system has its faults. This is one reason that so many classical and Christian theorists have often favored a mixed polity of sorts, intended to ameliorate the faults of any single system. Thus, writes Calvin in his Institutes (4.20.8), “I will not deny that aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy, far excels all others.”

In the United States, where we don’t have the benefit of even a ceremonial monarchy, the original system included significant counter-majoritarian makeweights, notably including the electoral college and the indirect election of US senators. Many of these constitutional strictures have either been eliminated or continue to come under democratic populist critique. As Lord Acton once observed, “It is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy…were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.” Indeed, he says, “Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

As the Dutch king’s speech, the social witness of Christian churches, and the counter-majoritarian aspects of the US Constitution make clear, there is a need for checks on the will of the majority in a democratic order.

Long live the king!

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.