n Stellenbosch Theological Journal - Karl Barth’s Christology and Jan Christian Smuts’ human rights rhetoric

Volume 5 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0028-2006
  • E-ISSN: 2226-2385



South African statesman Jan Christian Smuts’ (1870–1950) domestic and international politics diverge greatly; his domestic policy has been eschewed as a precursor to apartheid (1948–1994), but his international policy heralded for advancing human rights rhetoric because he authored the charters for both the League of Nations (1920) and United Nations (1945). Scholars struggle to reconcile these seemingly conflicting legacies. WEB du Bois, Peder Anker, and Saul Dubow suggest that Smuts embodies capitalist greed, bad science, and redefined political terms. I argue that Karl Barth’s theology adroitly illuminates the problem of empire for Smuts and present day appeals to human rights rhetoric. Barth’s theology poses a three-fold challenge to Smuts. First, Barth articulates a critique of natural theology found embedded within Smuts’ philosophy of holism; second, Barth critiques liberal politics that Smuts typifies; and, third, Barth’s refusal to side with Eastern or Western empires runs counter to Smuts’ imperial sensibilities. Ultimately, I argue that Barth’s Christology offers a constructive alternative vision for sociality.

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