Dordt College News

McCarthy book gets a new life in China

March 14, 2014

When the book he co-authored, Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society, was published in 1992, Emeritus Professor of History and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rockne McCarthy knew it would not be a bestseller, but he hoped it would have some influence on the way Christians around the world think about politics. While it is impossible to gauge the concrete impact the book has had, it is still available for purchase on Amazon 23 years later in its seventh edition. This past summer, the book was translated into Chinese, giving it the potential to influence Chinese Christians.

Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society emerged from research and writing sponsored by the Dordt College Studies Institute and was dedicated to former president John B. Hulst.  McCarthy co-authored the book with former professor of political science Dr. James Skillen, who served for many years as the executive director of the Center for Public Justice.

The Chinese translation was published in Hong Kong through the China Academic Consortium, a group of Protestant institutions who publish Christian resources that are relevant to modern Chinese society. The consortium works with Chinese universities and research institutions, promoting goodwill and understanding through educational services and cultural and academic exchanges. They have published several books they believe will help Chinese Christians reflect on their society and possibilities for its future.

“China is changing,” says McCarthy. “Even while reemphasizing the centralizing authority of the communist party/state, the political leadership is allowing more room for experimentation in non-political areas.” He points to reforms designed to open the economy further to market forces and recent news about relaxing the one-child policy.  Christians in the academic community in China can help think about good policies for their country, McCarthy believes.

Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society grows out of McCarthy’s and Skillen’s understanding that the state has an important but limited role to play in society. Principled pluralism sees the role of the state as providing an environment of fairness and equality for individuals and the many nonpolitical institutions of civil society.

“In the U.S., libertarianism rather than pluralism seems to be on the rise,” says McCarthy, pointing to the Hunger Games phenomenon as an example of a negative view of the state. The bad people are those in political authority and need to be done away with. Christians can get caught up in libertarianism, but that perspective is really only the flip side of a “liberal” tradition that swings between centralized and decentralized state authority, McCarthy says. Principled pluralism offers an alternative view of the role of the state in modern society.

In today’s polarized political world, McCarthy believes that the pluralist political model described in Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society in 1992 still offers a way to address some of the conflicts the world faces today.


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