The biography and biology of liberty: Abraham Kuyper and the American experiment


In part because of Johan van der Vyver’s pioneering work, Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, educator, journalist, and politician, is well-known in South Africa. This article examines the lesser-known relationship between Kuyper's political theology and American law and politics. Kuyper praised American constructions of religious liberty and pluralism, separation of church and state, and free association and political pluralism. In Kuyper’s view, these were the political fruits of an historical Calvinism that needed to be restored to political respectability if the American experiment was to live up to its promise. While taking much of Kuyper’s point, this article argues that Kuyper both overstated the Calvinist contributions to the American experiment, and failed to appreciate the unique covenantal theology that informed the Puritan Calvinist legal and political contributions that were made. Two illustrations of this influence are offered: (I) how the Puritans' emerging theology o f liberty of covenant contributed to American views of religious liberty; and (2) how the Puritans’ emerging sociology of covenants o f liberty contributed uniquely to American views of social and political pluralism.