European Dream

The Political Theology of George W. Bush's Faith-Based Initiative

in Theoria
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George W. Bush's controversial effort to direct government funds to religious social-service groups—his so-called 'faith-based initiative'—was influenced by confessional ideas about political order that are little understood in U.S. politics. Two key ideas from the Christian Democratic tradition in Europe played a formative role: the Dutch Calvinist theory of 'sphere sovereignty,' and the Catholic principle of 'subsidiarity'. This article describes what Bush set out to do with his faith-based initiative and investigates the confessional influences on this policy agenda in their European context. Viewed in this comparative light, Bush's vision of faith-based welfare is shown to be deficient in its understanding of the religious ideas on which it draws.


A Journal of Social and Political Theory