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In “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,” David Gelernter, a Yale computer-science professor and a versatile and prolific public intellectual, makes a provocative claim: Such professions of faith express “belief in . . . a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.” Indeed, he contends that America “is a biblical republic and Americanism a biblical religion.”

This does not in any way detract, Gelernter is quick to clarify, from America’s commitment to religious freedom: Liberty, democracy and equality constitute the American Creed [bold mine-DL]. And Americanism entails a duty to not only realize these universal ideas at home, but to spread them around the world. ~Peter Berkowitz

It’s simply appalling in so many ways that I am at first overwhelmed.  In the first place, the title is a little baffling (why the fourth?), until you realise that he must mean to include Islam as the third great “Western” religion, at which point we can already take it as a given that words mean nothing to the author.  Then there is this bit from his book’s description

Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.

It is hard to say which is the worse part.  You have this business about “secular Zionism” that is at once religious and not religious  side by side with misrepresentations about ” faith-based ideals of…democratic governance” when referring to 17th century Calvinists along with a New England-centric spin on the whole of American identity, as if the Randolphs, Jeffersons, Morrises, Washingtons, Madisons and Pinckneys of the early republican era were guided by the zeal of New England Puritanism.  Whether or not I dislike many things in the Enlightenment heritage of many of the Whig ideas at the core of the political philosophy of many of the Founders (and I do), I cannot pretend that it played second fiddle to some mythical Zionism.  To the extent that this did exist at all and influenced American political life, the phenomenon he describes has very little to do with the establishment of the Republic and much more to do with the “refounding” or rather destruction of the same in the War.  If this Americanism has as three of its patrons Lincoln, TR and Wilson, the question is not whether it is dangerous (since it clearly is), but whether it has so entered into the mainstream of American politics that it cannot now be expelled. 

If “liberty, democracy and equality” constitute “the American Creed,” I am glad to say that many of the more esteemed Americans in our early history were only two-thirds or even one-third believers in it. 

Then there is another item from the book description:

If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.

I don’t know what to call this except insane.  There was another global godless political religion that sought to spread all over creation.  Perhaps Gelernter has heard of it.  As its fate reminds us, the Lord does not suffer such blasphemies to long endure.  You cannot serve both God and Americanism. 

This claim about the other peoples of the world is also shockingly presumptuous, even for someone of Gelernter’s policy views.  It is as close to someone saying publicly that “inside everyone there is an American trying to get you” as I have ever seen in real life.  This idea is often implied in what many democratists say, and it can be inferred from many of Mr. Bush’s major speeches, but most have the good sense not to say such things quite so bluntly.  Quite obviously, the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions “believed” in Greece and Hungary, if we must use this language of “believing in” countries.  (The physical places exist whether or not anyone believes in them, and the cultural distinctiveness of Greek and Hungarian would exist whether or not any political revolutionary ever “believed” in a national cause.)  The latter made the mistake of trusting the shaky promises of foolish American ”rollback” advocates, but the heroes of 1956 did not “believe in America” or in Americanism.  If they believed in an -ism, it might have been Hungarianism or something like it.  Give Gelernter credit for a certain bizarre consistency: if all it takes to be an American is to buy into a few tired political slogans, anyone who embraces those slogans really must effectively be an American or at least an Americanist.

Then there is this last bit, which is just too funny:

Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.

Or it might have something to do with prudential objections to policies that are perceived as dangerous and misguided.  However, as we can all see, that’s obviously far too outlandish of an interpretation, so the “religion of appeasement” explanation will have to do.  Does that mean that anti-Americans in Latin America and the Near East also belong to the broad church of appeasement?  Hugo Chavez, pacifist–you heard it from Gelernter first!  No wonder the description calls the argument “startlingly original.”  I am startled that it even got published. 

Happy Independence Day!  231 years ago today the Declaration of Independence (which had already been signed on July 2) was proclaimed in each of the new states, and the political bonds between the colonies and the Mother Country were severed. 

As I am short on time this year, I will direct you to last year’s Independence Day musings on the Declaration and what it means and does not mean to be American.

Ross points us to this interesting Benjamin Nugent article, which asks the question, Why Don’t Republicans Write Fiction?  Of course, as phrased, the question already misses something important, and this is that party men qua party men almost never create anything worth remembering (not even parties).  If I were to write the Great Paleo Novel, for example, it would not be credited to the lists of Republican fiction-writing, since the Great Paleo Novel might very well throw down the idols of Red Republicanism from the high places and, like Phineas, drive a javelin through the bodies of adulterous ideologues.  The real question ought to be why conservatives generally don’t write fiction. 

The answer is actually much more straightforward: the sorts of grand conservative thinkers who were scholars of literature (Weaver, Bradford) and writers of ghost stories (Kirk) are sadly no longer with us, they have not found worthy replacements and the importance of imagination is much, much less in the thinking of most self-styled conservatives than it was in theirs. 

Part of the problem is indeed an excess of optimism, and optimism on the American right is one part Yankee, one part capitalist and one part Reagan.  Whatever else you want to say about these three, they are not generally regarded as the fathers of great writing.  Optimistic people typically are not the best artists, and I don’t just say this because I prefer the pessimists among us.  Their frame of mind does not allow for real tragedy or real failure.  For the optimist failure is not only unlikely, it does not ultimately, truly exist.  The best days are always yet to come!  But without a sense of nostalgia for a lost age or a lament for your people or even a full appreciation for the petty indignities of life combined with reverence for sacred mysteries (and sometimes, if a writer is really wise, he knows how to find the mystery in the petty indignity–see Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn), I think it is very difficult to write really captivating, good fiction.  Just consider how little of the best poetry is an expression of contentment and joy in love compared to dissatisfaction, betrayal, loss and yearning.  Optimistic people can’t even tell the story of that most depressing sci-fi novel, Solarisproperly.  For optimistic people there is always a silver lining, when sometimes there are no silver linings, life is filled with suffering and all that man can do is endure.  This sounds grim, and Americans generally do not like to sound grim and they do not like grim-sounding things.  This is why Americans usually ignore the more serious thinkers who tell them hard truths and embrace the charlatans who fill them with vain hopes. 

Understanding the role of suffering in life and taking it seriously, perhaps almost too seriously, are vital to great literature.  Good literature can probably get by with fine phrases and a nicely-structured story, but the great works capture something more elemental.  This is why the Russians have produced the finest literature on earth, because they have not simply endured suffering (every people in the world has, at some level, endured it), but the best of them have actively embraced it as essential to their cultural worldview.  I do not write off the great accomplishments of other literary cultures, but, in my admittedly limited experience, I am convinced that the Russian achievement is far superior.  Americans either recoil at the sight of this Russian view, or they simply find it depressing, which may again explain why even the figures Nugent cites among Old Right writers come from England and not from here.  The English, Scots and Irish are also all capable of perceiving something about life and the old ways of life that have vanished, as can most any people with a collective memory that extends more than a few centuries, but this was something that we, as Americans, have either not fully inherited or have pretty thoroughly purged from our system–and we tend to be proud of this.  The nation that produces phrases such as “We can do it!” and “We shall overcome” is not a nation that will understand the overwhelming bulk of human history and all of the examples through the ages in which there was failure, defeat and no overcoming anywhere to be seen.  Even American railings against various injustices assume that injustice can be to some large extent ”fixed” and is not built in to the structures of our existence and unavoidable here below.  “We will never forget” and “history is bunk” are mutually exclusive views, and most Americans functionally embrace the latter most of the time (while watching the travesty that is the History Channel and considering themselves amateur historians).  This is also why, I suspect, the greatest efflourescence of worthwhile American literature comes from the South, the only region that has fully known and incorporated the sense of the tragic into its sensibility (a sensibility that the New South has attempted to throw to one side, not entirely successfully, with its internal improvements and progressivism), and why most of the last, greatest right-leaning writers in the English-speaking world come from the pre-WWII period.  The therapeutic has driven out most of whatever remained of the tragic.  The spirit of Atlee has spread like a poisonous cloud over the green fields of Logres, and the purpose-driven life has driven us into Babylon rather than leaving us to remember Jerusalem at the edge of her waters.

It goes without saying that this argument can and should be, I think, at least partially contested on every point: it is not necessarily obvious either exactly how America’s culture and society fits into Western civilization’s historical Christian identity or how affirming that identity will strengthen us; a presidential election is far from a plebiscitary affirmation (and would Daniel even want it to be?); and the Mormon teachings on “the apostasy” are a good deal more nuanced and in flux then might at first appear, anyway. ~Prof. Fox

Prof. Fox is a long-time reader of and friend to Eunomia, and I appreciate his thoughtful engagement with my post on anti-Mormonism, especially when that post may have been more than a little irritating to him and any other LDS readers I may have.  First, an explanation about that post.  The article I was responding to seemed to say: ”You either object to Mormon candidates out of the democratic identitarian belief that your candidate should be like you in most or all respects, or you are a bigot.”  This implies that, unless you take the “Christian majoritarian” or identitarian approach, you oppose a Mormon candidate because you actually hate Mormons.  I believe this to be profoundly untrue for the vast majority of Christians who are averse to voting for a Mormon candidate, since I find it difficult to believe that many people could work themselves up into a hatred for Mormons (who are, as a general rule, the most unhateable people you are ever likely to meet), and so I wanted to explain just what it is about a Mormon candidate that concerns me rather than my usual shtick of explaining others’ reservations.  Perhaps few will find my reasons convincing, but it seemed important to insist that there were a number of other arguments, some of them that I think are fairly reasonable, that went beyond the two options, “I prefer Christians” or “I despise Mormons.” 

We live in a mass democracy.  This is the unfortunate reality.  I wish that it were not so, and that we had something much more like the Old Republic in which the mixed constitution of our ancestors provided slightly greater balance and sanity.  A country this large should not be selecting its government this way, or rather there should be no central government for an entire country this large; it is doubtful that any polity can be this long without sinking into demagogic despotism (and some of us would say that it already has).  But for the present, a working alternative is not on offer. 

In this mass democracy, we make the election of Presidents into plebiscitary endorsements of what a certain candidate represents or at least what he claims to represent.  The Electoral College, while still legally binding, slavishly follows the mass of voters in each state.  Our debased, televised political culture makes the selection of a President absolutely into a plebiscite on the two charged symbols of the major candidates.  Part of the flaw of mass democracy in a large nation-state of semi-literate, largely historically ignorant people with no interest in civic duties is that most voters will respond to candidates viscerally and emotionally, which inevitably makes the candidates into symbols to which voters ascribe meaning.  I am, if you like, acknowledging this sorry state of affairs, of which I don’t really approve, and then arguing over what kind of symbols we should be endorsing given that our political system is a hulking mess.    

Our method of choosing chief executives undoubtedly invests presidential candidates with far too much importance (just watch as all of us, myself included, get terribly involved in tracking the peregrinations of a dozen mediocrities you would not entrust with the most basic responsibilities of the neighbourhood watch or street cleaning to get a sense of how inappropriate our fixation on these candidates is).  That does not change the reality that Americans will continue to invest such candidates with this excessive importance and will continue to attribute meaning to the victory of one or the other.  Since this is the reality, and since we should strive to work in the real world, much as we may find many of its traits obnoxious and distressing, we ought to make the best of it. 

In this case, it is something of a moot point whether or not I think the election of a Mormon President represents a vote of “no confidence” in Christian civilisation or, if you prefer, a vote that endorses the practical irrelevance of Christianity in this country, since no such President will be elected in the foreseeable future, but it seems to me to be an objection worth raising.  I will continue.

Obviously, this kind of symbolic plebiscite is an inexact and often error-riddled process in which evangelicals could confidently rally behind a man like Mr. Bush, who could talk a good game about his faith and had a life story familiar to many who have had dramatic conversion experiences, even though the man was culturally, politically and socially alien to their world and worldview.  Even though he had virtually no intention of doing anything for the causes to which they were devoted, these voters have loyally stuck by the man in no small part because he is “one of them,” which has helped Mr. Bush get away with all sorts of un-Christian mischief.  (Most of this mischief overseas, I would note, is something Gov. Romney endorses and wants to see more of, so this is hardly helping his claims to be a defender of moral “values.”)  So voting on the basis of such questions of identity is often not the smartest kind of voting with respect to getting the policies that this or that group of voters claims to want, but then it is precisely because of the secondary importance of policy in making these decisions that we wind up with identitarian voting in the first place.  Thus, Christian voters can be satisfied with extremely superficial similarities and overlook the deeper divergences of belief and even “values” that lie beneath the surface; they can empower bad representatives and base their selection on a candidate’s claims to share their faith and values.  However, this appears to be an inevitable characteristic of our mass democracy so long as a significant number of Americans remains fairly religious. 

It is worth noting that this superficiality problem is also precisely the problem with Romney and his appeal to “shared values.”  In the same breath he tells us, “My faith teaches me my values, but let’s not get hung up on any of the details of what that faith is, because my particular religion is actually irrelevant to the question.”  Frankly, if Romney were truly confident that his religion was really fundamentally in agreement with Christianity on the essentials of these “values,” he would not have to engage in this double game.  Like many a “values” dodge, be it the “Judeo-Christian” or “family” variety, the appeal to “shared values” presupposes that, for instance, people coming from a significantly different religious cultures and backgrounds will actually be able to acquire the same “values” that are nonetheless tied into and linked to a specifically religious source.  This makes them eminently flexible and changeable while also retaining the sheen of immutable truth–but this is also obviously nonsense.  It is first of all this assumption that differences of religious culture are irrelevant to the shaping of political and cultural “values” that seems quite questionable.  If your religious culture and my religious culture appear to wind up producing the same generic “values,” the odds are that we haven’t come to agreement about these “values” because our religions are terribly similar (except in Romney’s lowest common denominator way) but because we have come to these “values” by another route and have convinced ourselves that our respective religions endorse these probably thoroughly secular “values.” 

This usually involves a lot of backtracing of basically secular political ideas back to some putative or real religious source, which can somehow be done by people of any number of religious backgrounds, or it involves the attempt to pare back doctrine and worship to get to the bare bones of “values,” usually meaning morality.  Yet you would be hard-pressed to find conservative-minded moral theologians who actually think that you can somehow abstract moral reasoning from within a religious tradition to get the “value” nuggets that you can then present to people from outside that tradition as generic and obviously desirable “values” on which everyone can agree.  Even the claim that there is a natural law accessible to the reasoning of every person comes from within a religious tradition and hinges on any number of potentially contestable assumptions about the nature of reason and its relationship to revelation that remain unspoken or out of view.  This is not a scandal for people who recognise the tradition-boundedness of all things, particularly all religious things, but it makes it difficult to believe that people from what are basically radically distinct religious traditions even use the same language and references when they discuss moral or other questions.  In many cases, they do not.  That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try to discuss them and even seek those areas where they may be in agreement, but it does mean that you cannot take for granted that people of various religious traditions all mean the same things when they speak in terms of generic “values.” 

The “people of faith”/”person of faith” dodge signals to someone like me that the ”values” under discussion are so nebulous as to be almost indiscernible.  Take “marriage,” for instance.  All kinds of people are “for” it in the abstract, which is fine, but we would be kidding ourselves if we claimed that different religions all value and understand marriage in the same way–that would require us to believe as well that they all understood the roles of men and women, among other things, in essentially the same way.  It may be that some religions do have appreciably similar understandings of certain things, but that is a claim that has to be demonstrated.  The appeal to “shared values” takes it as a given that no demonstration is necessary.  In this view, what you mean by morality in your tradition is automatically what I mean by it in mine, but this isn’t true and, I would have to insist, can’t be true if either the teachings of your religion or mine have any significance and importance in the real world.  Whatever we think of the other fellow’s religion, we would have to acknowledge that the teachings of our religion are meaningful and important for how we conduct ourselves–otherwise, what are we doing in this religion? 

Presumably it is precisely the conservatives in each religion who are most confident that their doctrines and forms of worship are not mere frippery or there for the sake of elaborate decoration, but rather they assume that these things are at the heart of their religion and form the basis of their understanding of everything else pertaining to the religion.  If, in the Orthodox context, for example, Orthodox doctrine and mystical theology pervade the liturgy, and liturgical action forms a key component of ethical action and if sacramental life and prayer are inextricable from the life of the virtues, it is impossible to conceive of talking about moral “values” as some sort of category that is anything but integrally linked to the teachings of the Church.  Put bluntly, when I speak of justice as an Orthodox Christian, I am also indirectly confessing the Holy Trinity as the model of perfect interrelationship of persons.  Someone’s doctrine of God is pertinent to how he, as a religious person, engages in moral reasoning and it is relevant to his understanding of reason itself, as Pope Benedict’s inclusion of Manuel II’s provocative quote in his Regensburg address suggested.  If you do not have the same doctrine of God, let’s say, or do not have the same understanding of the Word Incarnate and His relationship to the Godhead, that will affect what you have to say about other matters.  Conservatives have tended to shun theological reflection, which I regard as one of the great failures of modern conservatism, since this effectively cuts conservatives off from the living water that nurtures their entire intellectual and cultural history or its forces them to turn back to this source of cultural renewal only sparingly in the most sporadic and arbitrary ways.  Yet it seems to me that it is only through a thorough reacquaintance with that theological inheritance that conservatives can once again make coherent arguments about the nature of society, human nature and political life that are not utterly dependent on false liberal assumptions.  As a matter of cultural renewal, it also seems unlikely that any enduring Christian culture can be built up in the modern wasteland without drawing on the deep wells of patristic wisdom that we have at our disposal.  To the extent that Christian conservatives are willing to chase after a superficially appealing non-Christian candidate out of nothing more than a mix of desperation and media hype, when that candidate is cut off from those sources and the tradition they represent, they commit themselves and this country to a path that is ultimately fruitless if the building up of a Christian culture is actually what Christian conservatives desire.   

Going back again to Romney, he says that he is not a spokesman for his church, but as a public figure and someone trying to put on the mantle of religious conservative leader, that is exactly what he is trying to be, because he wants to get the credit for being a faithful member of his church without accepting any of the potential political ramifications of that membership.  He wants to say that his faith and values are integrally linked, but not so integrally linked that anyone needs to consider what his faith is.  Having wheeled his faith into view, he tells us we cannot look at it and that he is not speaking on behalf of his religion, when the core of his credibility, such as it is, as a man of good “values” is his religious faith.  He just wants to avoid the inevitable complications that bringing his religion into public discourse has, while reaping the benefits of being a “person of faith.”  Since a great many Christians take it for granted that Mormons are not Christians, how he links his faith and “values” becomes a pressing question that goes to heart of the entire matter.        

All of this ought to be troubling to Christian conservatives, especially when they take it for granted (or at least I think they do) that the origins and underpinnings of their civilisation and the roots of American order are closely bound up with our Christian inheritance and are inexplicable without constantly referring back to that inheritance.  This sometimes leads to pious absurdities where modern Christians bend over backwards to show that the fairly conventional religiosity of many of the Founding generation “proves” the Christian foundations of our polity, that is, the confederation of the United States, when this is a quite distinct and very different sort of claim from the claim of being a Christian people in culture, history and habits.  Related to this assumption, then, would be an unwillingness to speak of “Western civilization’s historical Christian identity” and a desire to speak of Christian civilisation instead. 

Prof. Fox is right to point to Mark Davis’ telling remark that “a candidate’s faith is of no consequence…unless it harbors the possibility of guiding his or her actions in a way I would disapprove of.”  Even though I read things like this all the time in articles on this topic, I confess that I cannot quite understand such a statement.  What can it mean to say that a candidate’s faith is “of no consequence”?  At some level, if a candidate’s faith compels him to worship a radically different deity, surely that is consequential.  How you understand and relate to God has a great deal to do with how you treat and relate to your fellow man; a distorted image of God will lead to flaws in your relationships with others.  Mr. Davis’ statement is so all-encompassing that one might reasonably think that his disapproval might extend to actions including the worship of a radically different deity, but we can tell from the context of his article that he has absolutely no interest in such things.  This statement is a roundabout way of saying, “I wouldn’t trust a potential jihadi, but a Mormon is pretty harmless.”  Nonetheless, it is a remarkable statement for the extremely low opinion of faith it expresses.  In this, I assume that Mr. Davis is highly unrepresentative of conservative voters. 

Given the enthusiasm of plenty of movement activists for Romney, we can already see that some of these folks prefer chasing after the superficially satisfying “values” candidate rather than looking for someone representative of the broad Christian tradition.  Whether or not many Christian conservative voters will be willing to make that same leap will tell us a great deal about just what it is these voters are interested in building.          

You know that Romney has relatively high unfavourable numbers (35% at last check), but how does Mormonism itself do?  Alerted to the problem by Friday’s HotlineTV,  I was intrigued to find that the numbers are just as staggeringly bad for Mormonism nationwide as the earlier Rasmussen poll results indicated.  According to the new Diageo/Hotline poll from this month (question 10b), Mormonism has an unfav rating of 39% (17% strongly unfav) compared to a fav rating of 27%.  The main good news for Mormons?  34% had either heard of Mormonism but couldn’t rate it either way, or hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know enough to say, and it receives a barely more favourable response from the general public than Islam (18/41).   

Nonetheless, among Republicans, Mormonism is viewed somewhat or ”strongly” unfavourably by 48% (strongly unfav is 24%).  Mormonism receives the best response from independents (31/26) and fairly negative numbers among Democrats (27/38).  The infamous Rasmussen poll from last year showed that only 19% of likely voters could identify Mitt Romney as the Mormon in the race–how much worse will his unfavourables get when more of these voters learn of his religious affiliation?

Other interesting religious items from the poll: 24% of Republicans have an unfavourable opinion of Catholicism (which is higher than Judaism’s unfav rating of 16% among the same people), which may help explain why there has still never been a Catholic Republican presidential nominee (and one reason why there probably will not be one for a while yet). 

Jim Antle is making sense in his latest at American Spectator:

In this case, Mormons have a long, bipartisan tradition of responsible secular governance: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (whose ascension doesn’t seem to have caused any concern), Democratic Congressmen Mo Udall and Dick Swett, longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Romney himself don’t appear to have taken all their cues from Salt Lake City. There is no evidence that any of them “view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.”

The evidence may not matter to some liberal secularists. They have proven they are not resistant to making faith-based political arguments themselves.

Prof. Bushman takes up the rhetorical cudgel again against Damon Linker:

I am asking you not to focus so narrowly on what you take to be the logical implications of revelation. That is what critics of fanaticism have been doing for centuries. Look at the historical record of the past century as Mormons have entered national politics. Is there evidence of manipulation? Consider the Church’s own renunciation of control over the consciences of Mormon politicians–a stand Catholics have not taken. Are you saying this is a false front? Keeping in mind the injunction in Mormon scripture to submit to lawful government, is there any real basis for concern?

Unfortunately, Prof. Bushman’s appeal may not go anywhere.  The secular critics of suppoedly dangerous religious folk seem to be saying: “We don’t watch what you say or what you do–we watch what we say you must inevitably do.”

Ramesh Ponnuru remarks on what Linker got right:

One thing I think Damon Linker got right is that the potential negative reaction to a candidate’s Mormonism is not limited to evangelical conservatives. Thinking about those voters alone, however, I wonder if Romney would be better off if the Mormon church did not present itself as Christian. The suspicion of heresy seems to be part of what riles people up; it wouldn’t be present if Mormonism were just another religion.

Well, yes and no.  It bothers Christians that Mormons claim to be Christians (with the probable implication that they are more or less just like all other Christians, only better Christians and not apostates) while holding what are clearly stunningly heterodox beliefs, but what bothers some Christians just as much are the beliefs themselves.  For Christian voters, for whom a candidate’s faith is an important element of why they choose to support or oppose him, someone who is an infidel is hardly to be preferred over a heretic, though there will probably be strong opposition to either one.  Were the LDS to say, somewhat improbably, “We’re not at all Christian the way everyone else is Christian and we’re proud of it,” it would not make LDS beliefs any more acceptable to those who already find them troubling.  Earlier today I was commenting on Prof. Nassif’s article that referred to “the Great Tradition.”  By any reasonable definition, that Great Tradition does not even encompass Assyrians and non-Chalcedonians, much less Mormons.  I think you could reasonably expect a number of conservative Christians, and not just evangelicals, to view with skepticism the candidacy of any self-styled Christian who does not belong to “the Great Tradition.”  Someone might object that this approach would also compel many religious conservatives to look askance on the candidacies of other non-Christian candidates, but I assume that is rather the whole point of this controversy.

Reading my complaint about the unavailability of the article, Prof. Arben Fox was kind enough to send me a copy of Damon Linker’s TNR article on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.  Prof. Fox has written a valuable, extensive response to Mr. Linker at his blog in which he offers a strong critique, and as a Mormon himself he is far better informed and much more capable of answering many of the specific charges that Mr. Linker makes.  Those things that Prof. Fox doesn’t cover are ably addressed by Prof. Bushman’s response to the article.  According to Prof. Fox, Linker’s questions deserve answers, which he tries to provide, in spite of the fact that Linker has framed the argument in such a way as to make it much harder to give answers that will be understood by the skeptical non-Mormon.  Indeed, in today’s salvo Mr. Linker shows that he has not quite understood Prof. Bushman’s answers on behalf of Mormons.  According to Prof. Bushman, the description of Mormons and Mormonism Linker gives would be entirely unrecognisable to actual Mormons.  However, this general statement about the entirety of the piece is not enough–Mr. Linker wants a list of his errors (as if one overarching statement that he got it wrong were not enough).  Prof. Bushman’s first response is not unlike the response Mr. Linker’s attack on “theocons” has elicited from religious conservatives, who do not begin to recognise themselves in what he writes about them.  

As with all polemicists (including myself), Mr. Linker is tremendously logical while having much less interest in what his target has to say for himself (except insofar as that can be used to strengthen the polemic).  As with any heresiologist (and, yes, there can be secular liberal heresiologists of a sort), for Mr. Linker what the target says that he believes is not nearly as important as the logical implications of his assumptions as the heresiologist understands them.  Historians do not approach their subjects this way.  In fact, they approach them in almost the exact opposite way: theirs is the task of describing and understanding, and there is usually a desire to describe, as much as is possible, a group of people in the past in the terms that would have been intelligible to them.  Above all, the historian tries to understand how they understood themselves.  This is why many historians, especially secular historians, boggle at heresiology and doctrinal controversy.  As people trained to seek to understand what people radically different from ourselves believed and why, historians find the habit of mind of, say, a late antique or Byzantine polemicist embarrassingly heavy-handed and tendentious.  Can’t these people see what their opponents are saying?  Why do they insist on imposing an entire architecture of error on their interlocutors with which the latter categorically deny any connection?  Because that is what polemicists do: what you say is important only as a window into what you must really mean when you say it.  Pay no attention to the fact that Mormons have not been taking political marching orders from  the elders in Salt Lake City–they must take those orders and follow through on them, according to the secular polemicist, because that is what any serious religious believer must do, especially in a church that stresses the importance of new prophecy as a source of revealed truth.  The polemicist knows this because it follows logically from how he understands religious authority.  That is, someone under religious authority is obliged to follow the dictates of that authority, and must therefore be the authority’s willing instrument in all things.  To put such a person in power thus threatens us all with being controlled by that person’s religious authority.  This is especially true for the polemicist if the religious believer is an avowed advocate of deriving certain of his political values from his religious tradition, however indirectly or vaguely.  Never mind that all of this is specifically rejected by the person and the religious authority in question.  The perfect logic of the polemic has no need of evidence. 

It would appear that most of the heavy lifting in this debate has already been done.  However, there are still a few things that Linker does say that I would like to discuss a little bit more.  As I read it, Mr. Linker says that pre-Vatican II Catholicism was frightening because it was foreign and too hostile to modernity, democracy, etc., and Mormonism is frightening because it is too American and too closely wedded to our political system.  Here is Linker:

A very different, though arguably more troubling, set of questions and concerns are posed by the prospect of the nation electing a president who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). In some ways, Catholicism and Mormonism present diametrically opposed political challenges to liberal democracy. With Kennedy’s faith, the concern was over the extent of his deference to a foreign ecclesiastical authority.  The genuine and profound loyalty of Mormons to the United States and its political system is, by contrast, undeniable [bold mine-Larison]. Indeed, LDS patriotism flows directly from Mormon theology. And that is precisely the problem.   

Talk about a tough audience!  Genuine and profound loyalty to the United States and its political system, which Mr. Linker does not even attempt to deny, is rooted in Mormon “theology” and is at the same time the source of Mormonism’s threat to “liberal democracy.”  I can only suppose from this that “liberal democracy” is not what Linker thinks the American political system is (technically, they aren’t the same at all, but in any conventional usage we would all agree that they are one and the same).  Further, it confirms that there is nothing that Mormons can do or say that will satisfy the defender of this “liberal democracy,” because their long-standing acceptance of the American constitutional order is not really in doubt and nonetheless Linker deems them a threat to that order. 

What troubles Mr. Linker, then, is not their threat to “liberal democracy,” which is non-existent, but their conviction that America plays a vital and ongoing role in sacred history to a much greater degree than any evangelical Protestant believes.  The whole “American Zion” idea, the Nephites and, well, the Book of Mormon make him nervous.  This stuff really bothers him.  This is not because it strikes him as one of those far-fetched, rather incredible aspects of Mormonism, or that, a la Weisberg, accepting such claims entails some unique gullibility that automatically disqualifies those who accept them from positions of responsibility in government.  The details of most of what Mormons believe do not trouble Mr. Linker as they trouble many a conservative Christian, myself included.  Instead, it is their belief that America has some providential role that worries him.  Why?  Well, he tells us in part here:

The centrality of the United States to Mormon theology extends beyond the past and present to encompass the end times as well. Like many of the religious groups to emerge from the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, Mormons are millennialists who believe themselves to be living in the years just prior to the second coming of Christ; hence the words “latter day” in the church’s official title.  Where the LDS differs from other communities gripped by eschatology, however, is in the vital role it envisions the United States playing in the end times. The Mormon “Articles of Faith” teach that, when Christ returns, he will reign “personally upon the earth” for 1,000 years, and LDS interpretations of a passage in Isaiah have led some to conclude that this rule will be directed from two locations— one in Jerusalem and the other in “Zion” (the United States). This belief has caused Mormons to view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.

Mr. Linker gets fairly sloppy here.  Both Christians and Mormons believe they are living in “the latter days.”  (Unlike the old Seventh-Day Adventists, none of us predicts the date of Christ’s return.)  To say that someone is a “millennialist” does not tell us very much about what he believes about Christ’s reign.  Everyone who believes that Christ will come again and rule is a millennialist of one sort or another.  Everyone who expected Christ’s return since at least St. Paul believed he was living in “the latter days” and there are frequent patristic references to Christ’s Incarnation taking place “in these latter days.”  What Mr. Linker succeeds in showing here is that, as far removed from orthodox Christianity as Mormonism is on many, many things, it is actually more conventional (at least for many Protestants) in its pre-millennialism than it is in many other points of theology.  As near as I can tell, the problem here is that Linker believes Mormons to be political millenarians as well: that is, he seems to be claiming that they believe that they can help usher in the end times through political action.  If that were true, it could be very worrisome.  Politically active chiliasts often unleash terrible evils upon the world.  But why is it that I have the hardest time imagining Mormons, who are personally much more on the milquetoast side than on the side of fanaticism, engaging in a power play to hasten the millennium?  Prof. Fox provides a possible explanation:

Mormon millenarianism is a fascinating topic, but it is also very much a background theme in the contemporary church [bold mine-DL], and while most Americans would probably instinctively think Mormon claims about these matters are nutty, they’d also have to acknowledge that they are mostly without specific political content, unless one chooses to seriously and unfairly strain one’s interpretations.

Very simply, Mormon beliefs about the United States and the end times come down to this: it is popularly (and to a degree doctrinally–more on that difference below) accepted in the Mormon church that the freedoms guaranteed in the United States, particularly through the absence of established churches, made the founding of our church possible, and that consequently we need to both see a divine purpose in the founding of this nation and feel a divine imperative to preserve the freedoms its founding guaranteed. (An imperative that I have felt more than a few Mormon legislators have failed to respect lately.) There is also a popular (though not so much doctrinal) belief within the church that Mormons in the U.S. will play an important role in the eventual fate of this country in the lead-up to the second coming of Christ. But–and this is the important thing for purposes of this argument–there is no clearly defined sense of what that role will be.       

In short, Mormons are moved by their religious commitment to…defend constitutional liberties, including the freedom of religion?  Now, that is scary!

What bothers Mr. Linker still more is the unsettled nature of Mormonism because of the potential role of prophecy in making significant changes to the religion and the authority accorded to prophecy.  As Prof. Bushman hinted and as Mr. Linker himself acknowledged, the few most recent occasions when prophecy was used to introduce new teachings that are formally binding on all Mormons have actually brought Mormonism more in line with contemporary social mores. Prophecy in Mormonism has historically had the very moderating effect on Mormonism that Mr. Linker says Mormonism lacks because of its reliance on prophecy.  (Leave aside for the moment the potentially more disturbing pattern of prophecy coming up with the “right” answer to solve a problem that Mormons were facing at the time–for instance, the official rejection of polygamy coming just in time to facilitate Utah statehood.)  

Were Montanists still kicking around somewhere, Mr. Linker would have the same fears of the claims of the New Prophecy.  Certainly, from an orthodox Christian perspective, Mormonism is as objectionable as Montanism was for the apparently changeable nature of its basic church teachings.  Then again, orthodox Christians would almost have to hope that there was some mechanism by which Mormons could effectively jettison their most absurd and theologically nonsensical beliefs (not that there is much chance of their doing this, mind you).  For some of the most die-hard critics of Mormonism, the possibility that Mormonism is “unstable” in this way and may become something doctrinally other than what it is is hardly something that makes Mormonism appear worse, much less threatening.  Indeed, one word that never comes to mind when I think of Mormonism today is the word threatening.  Except as a heresy (which is admittedly no small thing), it poses no threat whatever.     

It seems to me that it is quite one thing to note that Mormons are not Christians and for Christian voters to take that into account when judging a Mormon candidate.  It is quite another thing to conjure up rather far-reaching, implausible scenarios of Mormon domination when the historical record suggests that nothing could be further from the minds of the Mormons themselves.  But then far-reaching, implausible scenarios of domination by religious enthusiasts are Mr. Linker’s stock in trade these days, aren’t they? 

Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy. ~Richard Lyman Bushman

On behalf of the fanatics, I happily agree with that definition.

Query: why does TNR put up an online discussion of an article that can only be read by subscribers?  It isn’t going to make anyone subscribe.  The beauty of these little online debates is that they generate a lot of attention, which they won’t do if the main article is under veritable lock and key.  I would love to comment on what Linker has said about Romney and Mormonism, since I had plenty to say about Linker and Romney last year, but it aint worth the subscription price.

Worship teams. “Worship team” is one of the worst phrases ever invented. Much less Biblical than “prayer warrior,” yet more aggressively insane-sounding when dropped into casual conversation. “Yeah, after we rehearse for the Hearts on Fire Crusade 2007 in the public middle school gym this Saturday, I’m taking the worship team to Applebees.”
In my brief Evangelical interlude as a teenager (yes, as all these stories do, it started with some wonderful young woman), I saw plenty of worship teams: skits, matching t-shirts, and surprisingly competent musicianship. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.  It isn’t that I don’t understand the need for cooperation or sociability or community in church life.  That all makes perfect sense.  But what on earth is a “worship team” really?  I mean, I think I have even seen one in action once or twice, but I had no idea what I was looking at when I saw it.  To me it was a group of folks, undoubtedly terribly well-meaning, serious folks in their way, playing instruments and singing treacly songs about Someone Special whom I assumed must be God.  Was this worship?  I am sure that the people doing it believe this deeply. 

Perhaps where this sort of thing loses me is in all of the swaying to and fro.  In Russian churches, there is no swaying–none at all.  You typically don’t move much at all, except for making the Sign of the Cross or making prostrations.  Perhaps that seems bafflingly strange to our friends on the worship team, I don’t know, but I am fairly sure that it has rather more to do with worship than putting on a music show (even if the music is good, which this music typically is, well, not) and getting your spiritual groove on.   

To some degree, I feel like Irinaios trying to make sense of Valentinian Gnostics, and I don’t mean that at all as pejoratively as it sounds–it’s simply that this sort of thing is so extremely far removed from anything I know as worship that I am baffled by it.  As I look into the matter, I find that there are worship team guidelines and handbooks (as I suppose there would have to be) and an entire lexicon that has grown up around such “teamwork” (do you worship “frisbee style”?).  It is clear that they take all of this terribly seriously, and it is also clear that many people respond to this sort of thing.  But to what are they responding?  What exactly is going on here?  What, I ask you, is the point?  Would it make any difference if we called them not worship teams but worship bands?  If it wouldn’t, does it really make that much sense?

Normally I do not trouble to comment on the life and practices of other confessions, because I think it is generally not my place and not my business to do this, but this is one of those things where I am so astonished that I simply must intrude and ask: why?

An angry Mormon NRO Reader writes to Goldberg: 

As a Mormon, I am offended by the arrogance of Evangelicals like your reader from Kansas City. Why does he refuse to let me self-identify as a Christian, (he says to “compare [Mormonism] with Christianity”. Indeed I am a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ…” Each Sunday I take upon myself the name of Christ through a sacred ordinance we call the sacrament. I pray in the name of Christ. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. Again the list could go on.

Some Gnostic sects of the second century also claimed to be Christian and understood the Logos as one of a myriad Aeons who populated a complex and often baffling mythology of generations of Aeons and the hierarchy into which they were arranged.  Perhaps the Valentinians are in this respect comparable to Mormon “henotheism” with their pantheon of Jehovah, Elohim, etc. (who are, unless I am very much mistaken, considered to be distinct divinities, albeit perhaps “manifestations” of one supreme deity).  Some Vaishnavites (worshipers of Vishnu) believe that Christ was one of the latter-day incarnations of Vishnu, following the more well-known avatars Rama and Krishna, to name only two, but this obviously does not make them Christians. 

Perhaps more relevant is the example of the Arians.  Arians claimed to be Christians, indeed were coming from within the Church, but according to everything that virtually all Christians have believed for 1,600 years they were not really Christians.  That did not stop the Arians from considering themselves to be orthodox Christians, but their saying it did not, as far as anyone else was concerned, make it so.  It was also untrue, which is the rather crucial point here.  This ceases to be a contest over labels at some point and becomes very much one of clashing truth claims.  Put bluntly, many Mormon truth claims are absurd from the perspective of every Christian confession on the planet.  In short, either what they claim is true, and everyone else is a false Christian, or what the major confessions agree on (for example, that God is unoriginate, or that God is One in Trinity) shows their doctrines to be utter nonsense and proves them to be far outside the bounds not only of any one confession’s definition of orthodoxy but far outside the bounds of any recognisable Christianity.   

As Fr. Neuhaus said in his 2000 discussion of Mormonism, the most apt comparison may be with Islam.  That will sound particularly pejorative nowadays, but it is not intended to be.  It is not simply the abstemious Mormon avoidance of alcohol (and nicotine and coffee) that makes the comparison apt.  Their confident claim that the Jews and Christians (or, in their view, pseudo-Christians) distorted the “true” Scriptures is identical to the claim of the Qur’an about the Tanakh and the Gospels.  In the case of the Qur’an, this allows for Muhammad’s garbled, half-remembered stories derived from both sources to be taken as the true accounts against which the “corrupt” versions will be compared and found wanting.  I confess to not having read Joseph Smith’s “revised” Bible, so I cannot say just how much has been changed, but the presumption of changing it at all creates a significant problem for virtually all Christians.  The gentleman writes to encourage all to read the Book of Mormon “along with the Bible.”  But, of course, the question will come up: which Bible?  Theirs or ours?  Isn’t the reality of a significant difference between the two yet another example of the disconnect between their claim to be Christian and the reality that LDS are not?  The list of doctrinal errors could go on.   

No one can stop Mormons from self-identifying any way they please.  No one is trying all that hard to stop them.  But it is a bit tiresome to hear the complaints that Mormons are somehow being oppressed because the rest of us will not indulge what appears to us to be a false claim.  The hard-line Mormon view, as I understand it, is that the rest of us are not Christians, which must make it especially galling to them to have us, the pretenders, tell them that they are not really Christians.  But it shouldn’t be galling; it should be something they expect.  If Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, non-Chalcedonians, etc. and all our predecessors going back to the first century are frauds, as they hold we must be if their church is the “re-established” Church of Jesus Christ, why would it matter what we call them or whether we, the frauds, credit them with the name of Christian?  It is as if they wish to be included at our table as part of a kind of Christian big tent, when in fact they (or at least their church authorities) have no interest in any such thing.  They would like us to acknowledge their claims to being the true church, but if they believe they are right about us they must know that we, frauds that we are, will never acknowledge anything of the sort.  There is a certain integrity to this view that they are the true church, and it is one that I can understand (the Orthodox Church makes the same claim about Herself), but if you want to insist on that claim you should be prepared to find your most outlandish doctrines closely scrutinised and roundly criticised when they deviate from what virtually all Christians have accepted for at least 1,600 years.       

Some 40 couples showed up at a country club in the tiny Ohio town of Van Wert on November 11th—not boyfriend and girlfriend but fathers and their school-age daughters, several as young as 10, dressed up in glittery gowns and heels.

After the pastor finishes, fathers and daughters sign pledges to help keep the girl chaste before marriage. Daughters agree to “remain sexually pure until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband.” Then the father gives the daughter a ring, to be worn on her fourth finger until it is replaced by a wedding band. Hugs ensue, then a prayer, and then fathers and daughters take to the floor to the strains of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”


The concept is spreading around the country. Van Wert got its ball after the pastor and his wife moved from Albuquerque, where they had run another such event. The Van Wert ball is now in its second year, and has inspired two other nearby towns to begin their own. In Colorado Springs, Lisa Wilson, the ball organiser, says she has sent information packs to groups in 21 states and four countries—New Zealand, Sweden, France and Canada. Sponsors, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s in Van Wert, sometimes help pick up the tab for the events.

But what about the boys? Surely they bear at least half of the blame for the scourge of pre-marital sex? In Colorado Springs, Ms Wilson and her husband have created a private “manhood celebration” for their 12-year-old son. He is handed an engraved sword and urged to “grow into the weight of manhood”, which includes purity. In Van Wert, ball-goers agree that there should be an event for the boys. Which, if indoctrination of the girls works, seems a reasonable idea. Otherwise the chaste will constantly be chased. ~The Economist

American Muslim “matrimonal banquets” seem relatively normal to me by comparison.  Am I missing something, or is there something distinctly odd about having girls as young as 10 making public pledges about sex? 

Ah, NYC. The Vampire City. That wart, that chancre, that evil carcinoma befouling the face of the earth, as Edward Abbey once rhapsodized. The domination — or should I say perversion, or poisoning — of American culture by the Manhattan-based corporate media has been an absolute catastrophe. God I hate that place. I travel thereto only under duress, and escape with a breathless celerity.

I mean, look: my America is Johnny Appleseed and Sinclair Lewis and Bob Dylan and Mother Jones and H.L. Mencken. NYC is network TV and Rosie O’Donnell and knocking down and paving over anything — even graves — just to make a buck. It’s Henry Luce’s Time-Life empire, which propagandized for war — any war, every war — and did its damnedest to substitute its upper-case Life for our lower-case lives. NYC contains people who think Philip Roth is a good novelist. Inexplicable. But you know what: I’m willing to leave NYC alone if it will leave us alone. Alas, it won’t.

That girl you spoke to was a fool. Hating one’s hometown is a sickness. One need not idealize it: God knows I don’t, certainly not in “Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette.” Batavia is scarred, even mutilated. Often unlovely. But why are we here if not to love the unlovable? ~Bill Kauffman

Via Clark Stooksbury and Dan McCarthy

Or, as Chesterton said, love means to love the unlovable or it is not love at all.  We make things lovely by loving them.  Those who have ever mistaken idealising a woman for loving her understanding the vast difference between idealism and love.  It is no so different with a place.  Chesterton again (roughly): “The true patriot never boasts of the largeness of his country, but of its smallness.”  That might be put another way: “The patriot never boasts of the beauty of his country, but even of its ugliness, or more precisely, of the beauty he finds in even the flaws of his country that the foreigner cannot see and will never appreciate because it is not his country.” New Yorkers will find things to love about their city that I will never understand, being entirely alien to it (indeed, I take it as a small point of flyover country pride that I have never been to NYC once), which would be fine if so many of them didn’t think that their city was the beating heart of the nation.

As for my view of New York City, well, I inherited some mixed attitudes from my father, who grew up in central New Jersey, so close and yet in so many ways so far from the Metropolis.  One of NYC’s pseudonyms, Metropolis is actually a misnomer, since New York City does not give birth to new cities as a mother does, but swallows old cities like Chronos devouring his children.

Even to this day, though my father has not lived there in forty years, he will speak with some passion about the awful New Yorkers who “stole” Staten Island from the people of New Jersey, even though everyone can see that it ought to belong to New Jersey. I learned to hate the Yankees–who doesn’t?–at my father’s knee, and at a young age took a disliking to the Mets when they drove my team out of contention for the World Series in 1986.  What sort of a name, I might have asked sneeringly back then, was Metropolitans anyway?  The Astros have since made it to the Series (and lost), so the old injury is now mostly forgotten, but who still alive can forget that heartbreaking Game 7?  The Mets now have their shot to get back to the Series for the first time since those glory days, and I wish them well, though I do not envy them the mauling they will receive at the hands of the Tigers.

With apologies to my New York-centric friends, who are not NYC imperialists and are probably embarrassed by the whole “Empire State” business, I grew up in the firm belief that New Yorkers–who claimed the mantle of ueber-cosmopolitans–were the most provincial, parochial people, who imagined the end of the world to begin somewhere just on their side of Philadelphia. The New Yorker could mock this, but only because it was The New Yorker.

There is, of course, nothing wrong and quite a lot right with parochial people and probably something very wrong with cosmopolitan people (many people attend a parish, but how many are able to attend to the entire cosmos?), but the supreme importance they have attached to their own New Yorkishness was never permitted by them to others to bask in the mild, simple satisfaction of DeKalb-ian-ness or Boiseanness or, in my case, Albuquerqueanness.  Albuquerque, after all, was the butt of a stock joke in a cartoon; New York was capital of the world.  Yet I have never wanted to go there, and I have often wanted to return home.  I do not begrudge the New Yorkers their place, but I do not want to visit it.

Going to school in Chicago has not done much to alleviate my resistance to the Big Apple.  After all, it was through an apple that man fell of old, and the bigger the Apple, the harder the Fall, right?

When George Bush has said that America is the light of the world, that is clearly a heretical paraphrase of the true statement that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. And that statement is a heresy. And to persist in that and act upon that belief can only bring about a debacle. ~Prof. James Kurth

In front of us is an opportunity. For the next twenty-four months candidates for president, congressman, senator, governor, representative, judge, county clerk, and sheriff will be seeking the Christian vote, and our money, and our energy. Every politician needs evangelicals. And like a teenage boy on a date with a beautiful girl, they will say anything and everything to get what they want.

Let’s not give it to them. Let’s tell them we are fasting from politics for a season. ~David Kuo

I have to say that this sounds like a good idea, at least in certain respects.  As a blogger and something of a political junkie, I am only too aware of the potential toll focusing on such things can take on more important priorities in life (he says as he writes on his blog about a political question).  I am not even particularly politically “active” in the sense that Mr. Kuo is talking about, but I can imagine how much more distracting and exhausting actual campaigning and regular activism would be.  Still, I am reluctant to adopt this proposal straightaway, even though I can see a great many advantages to what he proposes.  It seems almost undeniable to me that if Christians in this country put the energy they put into supporting the GOP or this or that ballot initiative or railing about liberal perfidy, they would probably accomplish more in their own communities, would build stronger families and would raise more God-fearing children.  (The story of the conservative Congressman or staffer who goes to D.C. to shore up moral values but ends up wrecking his own marriage in the process has been an all together too common one.)  But I am not certain that we can temporarily suspend our responsibilities as citizens. 

The country will not go to rack and ruin (or at least not much more than it would have anyway) if we sat out for one cycle, but whether or not there would be negative consequences does not answer the question of whether we are free to dissent, that is to sit apart, from politics all together for such a time.  And if we are free to do so, what does oblige us to enter the arena in the first place?  Now the Catholics learn from their Catechism that as “far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1915) which comes in the context of having an obligation to work for the promotion of the common good.  To koinon agathon, a concept unfortunately derided of late by some because of its popularity as a phrase among left-liberals (which should make conservatives wonder how they ever allowed these people to hijack the concept in the first place and why there is not a robust conservative understanding of the common good widely known today), is the standard by which Catholics would judge how and when to participate in public life, and it includes the conditions that contribute the most to the fulfillment of our nature and true human flourishing.  If seems clear that if it is plausible that Christians can do more for the common good outside of party politics for a couple years than they can do in the middle of them, they not only can but ought to pursue those other activities with the same zeal with which they have pursued their political goals.  If Christians judge that they can contribute more to the common good through political action, the same obligation to act in the political realm would be there.   

But there is much wisdom to the idea that a man won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, as the old saying has it, and that the GOP has to earn the support of conservative Christians before they lend it their support in the future.  Letting them have a taste of what a completely demobilised, disenchanted Christian base would be like for them and what it would mean for their election prospects would bring a number of the party’s leaders to their senses, at least for a short time.  We would need to understand that this would almost certainly ruin the GOP’s chances in 2008 and guarantee a Democratic President.  The simple response to this would be: yes, and what’s your point?  What good has GOP rule been?  Certainly, conservative Christians should be a lot less forthcoming with their support unless they see the chance of some real return on what they are giving.  The parable of the wicked servant should be foremost in the minds of Christians who have been entrusted with even one talent, as I think too many Christians have taken that one talent and, instead of burying it as the wicked servant did, donated it, so to speak, to the local Republican candidate for Congress or a PAC aimed at stopping the godless liberals.  Stopping godless liberals is all well and good, but perhaps there are better ways to use what you have been given.  To ponder the question is not to betray anything.  When the Master comes to make an accounting of what we have done with what we have been given, He may look dimly on frittering away our gifts on something unworthy. 

The advantage of Kuo’s recommended “fast” seems obvious to me because I see how things are in the Orthodox Church in this country, or at least how they have been in my three years as an Orthodox convert in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  We are, with the exception of a few concentrated areas, too small of a church in America to wield any great influence, and there are numerous jurisdictional boundaries that prevent widespread cooperation across the country, which has many disadvantages for church life but which also has the advantage of making concerted political action by a united front of American Orthodox next to impossible.  Therefore secular politics does not enter into the Church to the degree that it seems to do in other churches, and the kind of cultural warfare that evidently takes place in parish life elsewhere is largely absent.  There is no question of what is to be preached in our parishes.  It has been and will continue to be the Gospel, and homilies almost always are about the Gospel reading.  I have never heard a homily on a contemporary political issue in an Orthodox church.  The closest to something “political” I have ever seen was a moleben for the Orthodox victims at Beslan, which was an entirely appropriate commemoration of deceased Orthodox Christians.  Thus politics does not enter into the equation, and I am able to be united to fellow Orthodox who I happen to know hold sometimes radically different politically views.  It also creates the beginnings of unity in Christ that make it possible to speak intelligently and soberly to one another about these questions and, often enough, we find (especially the green and paleocon Orthodox out there) that we have much more in common politically than we would ever have supposed had we not encountered each other in church. 

I have heard it said that those who do not participate in the fasts of the Church do not participate as fully in the joy of the feast when it finally comes.  Certainly the move between the kenotic work of fasting and the fullness of the feast is a powerful one that has the greatest meaning for those who have faithfully kept the fast.  Moreover, fasting reminds us of the transitory nature of all things here below, it reminds us of the sacrifice and death of the Lord and of the call to die to ourselves, and it is through fasting that we make a few small steps in this denial of ourselves.  As a priest once told us, “Fasting is to be called into the company of the saints.”  In denying the world and the will of the flesh in ourselves through actual fasting, we become more alive to the work of the Spirit and possess more of the mind of Christ.  There is a sense in which the denial of the world represented by renouncing political activity for a time fits very well into this experience of fast and feast in the life of the Church.  Ironically, I fear that Mr. Kuo’s appeal will make the most sense to those of us, like myself, who belong to a church that is not terribly politically active in the first place.  It will unfortunately likely be met with hostility in precisely those churches where it is most needed because it comes from someone who (gasp!) once worked for Democrats in some capacity; in my view, the worst thing that can be said about Mr. Kuo’s political record is that he worked for the Bush administration, but he seems suitably aggrieved by this as well so I won’t hold it against him.     

Naturally, at NRO they are not enthusiastic about this.  Says Ponnuru on Kuo:

Kuo sometimes writes as though they’re [conservative Christians] the only kind of Christians around, which is a bad habit.

It would be a bad habit if Kuo were doing this.  But it seems clear that Kuo doesn’t claim to be addressing all Christians here, but very clearly has targeted this message to Republican-voting, conservative Christians.  The entire context of the post tells you as much.  Ponnuru says that you shouldn’t expect politics to save your marriage (no kidding! I thought that was a recommended method!), which badly misses Kuo’s point about divorce.  The point, surely, is that while evangelicals have, for example, been banging the war drums to stop gay “marriage,” no one has been doing very much that has been successful in creating more stable heterosexual marriages.  While they have been successful in many states in protecting the definition of The Institution of Marriage, real marriages continue to break down at the same rates they have done before.  Surely the real point is that this is far more socially and culturally destructive and also something that churches might well be able to do more about if they weren’t distracted with highly symbolic, oftentimes seemingly irrelevant pitched battles with radical leftists.  The more that the Faith can be understood and embraced as a living, transforming Faith rather than a battle standard in a political conflict, the better.  If I were a GOP flack, I would, of course, be very nervous that that any prominent Christian is saying things like this, because the GOP needs Christians to keep serving as useful idiots and cannon fodder, so to speak, for each election cycle.  It can’t start letting the cannon fodder think too much about whether they should even be in the army. 

Update: Poor David Kuo!  Not only is he getting all the usual grief for being part of an overarching liberal conspiracy to sap our purity of essence (I exaggerate only slightly), but because of links to his blog from Rod Dreher the Con Crunchy hyenas have descended upon his comment section.  If you need confirmation that Kuo’s proposal is an idea whose time has come, just read the comment thread that follows his post. 

The Democrats made gains across all groups in the October poll compared to the averages in previous months. But the Democratic gain (or Republican loss depending on how one looks at it) is more significant among religious whites than among the other two groups. Religious whites went from an average Democratic disadvantage of 23 points across the June through September months, to dead even in October. Less religious whites shifted only seven points across these two time periods, while the group of “all others” shifted 9 points.

A comparison of the September average to October shows a 22-point gain for the Democrats among white frequent churchgoers, a six-point gain among white less frequent churchgoers, and a 14-point gain among all others.

The comparison between religious whites and less religious whites is particularly revealing. The gap between these two groups averaged 42 points in the June through September period, and is now down to 26 points. ~Gallup

Via Andrew Sullivan

This is pretty stunning.  The Democrats have been banging the “progressive Christian” drum and talking about the importance of “faith” for the past two years, but this hadn’t moved the numbers significantly among frequent church-goers.  They have moved back and forth by a few points here and there, but never made any substantial gains.  Barack Obama could give speeches about how the Democrats needed to reconnect with “people of faith” (note to Democratic speechwriters: when you want to appeal to “people of faith,” don’t use weasel language like ”people of faith”), but nobody seemed to be listening.  They talked among themselves on their blogs and journals: “How can we trick enough Christians into voting for us with the kinds of cynical rhetorical appeals that have always worked for the Republicans?”  For some reason, this kind of talk did not inspire enthusiasm for the Democrats. 

Then came Mark Foley, the grinning pederast of Palm Beach (I’m sorry, I mean “virtual pederast”), and the bumbling GOP response to the scandal (”Uh…blame the Democrats!  No, blame the media!  No, blame the terrorists!”).  In a recent conversation I made a remark, “This Foley thing seems like some kind of divine retribution.”  Apparently the faithful saw the sign and believed that there was some sort of punishment being sent down from the Most High, because if this Gallup poll (+/-3% margin of error) is correct many of them are fleeing the GOP this cycle at a simply stunning rate in the last two months.  Between August and the first week of October the GOP dropped 15 points among “religious whites” (defined as “whites who self-report attending church weekly or almost every week”) at the same time the Dems gained 14 points, bringing them to a neck-and-neck 47%  Does anyone know of the last time something like this sort of rapid collapse happened this close to an election among one of a party’s most reliable groups of supporters?  It seems pretty unusual to me, and I have followed elections pretty closely for at least the last eight years.  So much for the great “theocratic” juggernaut that was coming to destroy us all. 

Update: The Wall Street Journal reports a poll that includes this interesting item:

When asked about recent Capitol Hill scandals involving charges of corruption and sexual improprieties, 64% said they believed those activities were the just the “tip of the iceberg,” compared with 25% who believed they were “isolated incidents.”

Whether or not it really is the “tip of the iceberg,” a sizeable majority thinks that it is, and perception is reality.  Tellingly, the “tip of the iceberg” folks included 49% of Republicans.  Tony Blankley and other Republicans who called on Hastert to resign are looking pretty smart right now; Hugh Hewitt (he of the “donate now to the RNC to fight the vast left-wing conspiracy” approach to this scandal’s politics)…well, Hugh Hewitt remains Hugh Hewitt.  After the Year of Corruption it would be hard to credit that the latest scandal does not represent a deeper disorder in Congress.  In any case, the Goppers made no real effort to stop the political bleeding; they wasted so much of their energy and attention freaking out about George Soros’ evil designs that they put almost no effort into damage control and making amends.  So confident were they that their voters would blame Foley and only Foley for the mess that they missed something important about their voters: these people aren’t stupid and they don’t follow blindly, whatever GOP elites may think about them, and they actually hold people in positions of authority responsible for their failures.

Hastert’s speech in front of a cemetery was a fitting statement on the whole mess.  He might as well have been saying, ”I come not to praise the mighty GOP, but to bury it.”  Indeed, the inept handling of the scandal has very likely buried them. 

Yes, but the secularist overreaching hasn’t actually succeeded in turning the U.S. into Europe, or anything close. If it did, though - well, Daniel accuses me of threatening Linker with an empowered, nuclear-armed Daniel Larison, but what I really meant to threaten him with was myself, the patriotic Catholic Christian who generally accepts the liberal bargain, at least as I understand it, despite having doubts about liberalism’s ultimate philosophical compatibility with my faith. If you ask me to choose between God and the liberal order, because that’s what the liberal bargain supposedly requires, I’ll choose God every time. ~Ross Douthat

I think I see where I was mistaken.  When Ross earlier warned about Linker “vindicating” Christians and secularists who believe in the opposition of the Faith and liberalism, he was saying that if the “liberal bargain” really were as narrow and limited as Linker makes it out to be Linker would have succeeded in vindicating such arguments in Ross’ eyes.  Linker would have proven these different critics of the bargain correct, forcing faithful Christians (previously friendly to what they thought the bargain was) to seek refuge elsewhere.  As interesting as the prospect of a “nuclear-armed Daniel Larison” might be (I hereby renounce the first use of such weapons, in case anyone was worried), I see that Ross’ point was simply that Linker’s conception of the “liberal bargain” could radicalise even those who are willing to embrace a more expansive definition of the bargain. 

Elsewhere, I see that Ross’ debate at TNR received some notice and some words of approbation at First Things itself.  Not surprisingly, Michael’s remarks and my posts were met with rather less enthusiasm.  Here is Neuhaus, who is referring to the posts linked in this Ross Douthat post:

Following the links from the above, you will note that some of the comments assume that my colleagues and I at First Things are trying to “baptize” the liberal tradition by equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine. That is far from the truth, as any thoughtful reader of First Things knows. Between God and Caesar, there are deep and perduring tensions, and will be until Our Lord returns in glory, at which point all Caesars will be dethroned.  

But neither Michael nor I have said the things attributed to us.  Not exactly.  Michael wrote:

My own view is that this attempt to baptize modern liberalism is misguided. Like Daniel Larison, I hold out American small r-republicanism up a productive political model. There is no reason, historical or theological to turn mixed constituionalism into anything more than a wise and practical political form. There is no reason to believe that modern liberalism is ordained in some special way by God. We don’t have to believe this in order to remain sane participants in civil society. But for some reason, certain Catholic neoconservatives and certain West Coast Straussians believe we do. I would say that they are promoting an ideology, not Catholic truth or (to use an ugly phrase) gospel liberalism.

Michael did refer to the baptism of liberalism, which is at least partly metaphorical.  He did not claim, and, so far as I remember, I have never exactly claimed that theocons “equate” “our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine.”  If I ever did say that, I would have been badly overstating my case.  No one, so far as I know, has talked of theocons’ engaging in any such equation of the two.  I have referred before to ”equating the “law of nature” with Catholic natural law tradition,” which seems to me to be rather different from equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine.  Perhaps that statement of mine could stand to be refined, and perhaps that statement is inaccurate, but it does not match with Neuhaus’ description.  At bottom, I “reject the presumption that unless one can concoct an elaborate theory of ideological compatibility between philosophy inspired by the Faith and liberal political philosophy that militates against basic truths of the Faith Christians are somehow necessarily opposed to or alienated from the political regime of their home country.”   

We do say that there is an attempt to link or associate the political liberalism of ”the Founding” with Catholic natural law teaching.  I have elsewhere observed that there is a similar attempt among the Straussians as they try to understand different conceptions of natural law as essentially one unbroken, continuous tradition in Western thought (a tradition, of course, only fully understood by the genius that was Lincoln).  But leave them aside for the moment.  With respect to the theocons’ basic project, it seems to me, we are in agreement with Ross Douthat, according to what he said in part of his response to Linker:

But, for the most part, I suspect that you believe that the attempt to link the American Founding to the Catholic natural-law tradition–which is at the heart of the “theoconservative project,” insofar as there is one [bold mine-DL]–marks a greater departure from America’s supposed secular ideal than did the God-soaked politics of, say, Bryan or King. 

Now perhaps Ross has it all wrong and is not a “thoughtful reader of First Things,” but I don’t think so.  As I would have thought my latest entries against Linker should have made clear, I am perfectly aware that theocons acknowledge “tensions” between God and Caesar (they would surely have no credibility if they did not acknowledge such “tensions”), but the “tension” between God and Caesar does not really address the question at hand.   

I object to the claim that there is some basic compatibility and harmony between Enlightenment liberal understandings of natural law and their Catholic/Christian equivalents.  As readers of Eunomia are aware, I don’t think there is any such compatibility between Enlightenment liberalism and Christianity generally because of the opposition of their basic assumptions about human nature.  I object to investing liberal rights language with the weight of theological claims, not least because theories of natural rights tend to be subversive of hierarchies and because they detract from a theocentric understanding of our existence. 

I have assumed one of the basic claims made by “theocons” is that there is such a compatibility and liberal rights language is significantly compatible with Christian ideas of justice and human dignity.  According to this view, so I have thought, Christians can embrace the liberal tradition in this country and its assumptions about man and society because that tradition is fundamentally in agreement with Christian teachings.  Stripped of its Continental anticlericalism and fanaticism, I understand the theocons to be saying, Enlightenment liberalism makes claims about natural rights that were sufficiently in agreement with the Faith that there is no cause for Christians to look askance on the liberal tradition.  Because Christians understand the transcendent origin of the rights of man, they are better-fitted to defend an order supposedly built up around those rights than others.  Furthermore, as I understand the argument, because this tradition is compatible with natural law arguments found in the Christian tradition, it is not only possible but imperative for Christians to be active in public affairs and also imperative for the liberal society to allow them to bring religion into the public square because it is not only relevant but essential to the survival of a healthy liberal order for them to do so. 

For my part, I don’t think most of the claims of substantial agreement between Christianity and liberalism hold up under scrutiny, and I don’t believe that such an agreement needs to exist for two reasons: one, we do not need to reconcile ourselves to a Lockean synthesis to defend the ancient, mixed constitution, and, two, we do not need an elaborate philosophical architecture to justify the participation of religious believers in the affairs of the commonwealth.  That is, in a summary form, how and why I object to the “theoconservative project,” which I do not believe I have ever claimed involved the equation of the constitutional order with Catholic doctrine (indeed, I am not even sure what that would mean).

Neuhaus concludes his post thus:

In the forthcoming November issue of First Things, I explain why a writer in Time is quite wrong to be worried by the fact that so many Christians in America say they are Christians first and Americans second. The right ordering of their loves and loyalties is what makes them, contra the proponents of the naked public square, better Americans.

This is noteworthy, if only because I just wrote something to very much the same effect earlier this week.

Why is it that you, like the theocons I examine and criticize in my book, seem so terrified of the American republic falling short of Christ-like perfection? Why is it not enough that the United States be a good and decent country among good and decent countries? Why is it not enough for you and other pious Christians to enjoy the freedom to worship and pray and proselytize in peace? Why, despite your own better judgment, do you so steadfastly resist seeking your salvation outside of politics? Why do you insist on identifying the fate of your soul with the fate of your country? ~Damon Linker

There were many ways Linker could have ended his debate with Ross.  He could have ended it with civility or grace or wit.  Instead he ended it with a heavy-handed, appallingly condescending lecture that does not simply question the intellectual project of theocons or Ross’ defense of religious conservative politics, but which actually presumes to say that Ross is some immanentising, chiliastic nationalist heretic.  I have my problems with the theocons, including what I consider to be their unfortunate tendency in certain cases to privilege the policy of the government over the admonitions of their bishops, but this attack crosses the line.  It’s on now, as they say. 

Ross made some pointed arguments and scored some hard hits against Linker, which must have been frustrating for his opponent, but he never stooped so low or directed his attack against the man.  It is always a sure sign of a man who has been beaten that he goes for the cheap shot at the end in a final act of retribution.  No wonder our political discourse is in such a shambles, when a reasonably intelligent, polite debate such as this one was has to end on such a dreadful note.

The first question is the most obnoxious.  I am one of the harsher critics of First Things and their general project, but accusing them of wanting to bring ”the American republic” to Christ-like perfection is absurd.  They do not expect any such perfection in this world, and whatever I think of their attitudes towards liberalism no one could really accuse them of this kind of utopianism and chiliasm, at least not in the way that Linker has here.  This is the kind of stock insult that I would expect from someone like Andrew Sullivan, forever prating on about Christianist-this and fundamentalist-that, but not from someone who claims to know something at first hand about First Things.  Obviously he cannot have read much of Ross’ work if he attributes such a ridiculous view to him. 

Also quite annoying was this line:

Why is it not enough for you and other pious Christians to enjoy the freedom to worship and pray and proselytize in peace?

But Christians are not left to pray and proselytise in peace.  They are driven from public institutions, public scenes and public venues.  They can proselytise and pray, so long as they stay in their metaphorical closets and say nothing about the affairs of the commonwealth and do not openly pray in any government building.  Relatively few Christians in the West since the Peace of the Church have ever put up with such obnoxious restrictions on and stigmas against their involvement in the life of the commonwealth.

But the worst comes at the end when he says:

Why, despite your own better judgment, do you so steadfastly resist seeking your salvation outside of politics? Why do you insist on identifying the fate of your soul with the fate of your country?

This is as grievous an insult to a serious Christian as there is.  We might as well ask why Linker has joined forces with Satan, which he would probably find quite offensive–that is approximately how offensive this question is to a faithful Christian.  There are modern political religions that offer a kind of this-worldly salvation, but no Christian conservative actually believes that he will achieve his salvation through politics.  Some Christian conservatives, including theocons, may make poor choices, bad arguments or the wrong commitments, but to say that they seek their salvation in politics is the ugliest kind of an attack on Christians that you can make.  I may have no time for their politics, but I do not presume to know that they do not earnestly seek salvation in Christ.  The fate of Ross’ soul is in God’s hands, and I don’t presume that he identifies it with the fate of his country any more than most any other sane, reasonable Christian ever has.  This accusation is not just insulting, but completely bizarre.  It has no foundation in anything Ross has said during this debate.  It has no foundation in much of anything, excerpt perhaps the perfervid imagination of Mr. Linker. 

Update: As if on cue, Andrew Sullivan cites the same quote, names it one of his “quotes of the day” and says:

Linker nails it in these few paragraphs…

So, frankly, I’m unsure what to conclude from this little debate. I will simply note how perplexing I find your own concluding remarks–about how my construal of the liberal bargain is dangerous because it might vindicate those “Christians and secularists alike” who have contended that there is a tension, sometimes requiring that a choice be made, “between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar.” Funny, I thought it was Christ himself who pointed to just such a tension at the core of the human condition. ~Damon Linker

But, of course, Ross didn’t say “tension.”  This is what he said:

…it’s also dangerous to liberalism, because it vindicates those people–Christians and secularists alike–who have always said that faith and liberalism aren’t compatible and that everyone need to choose between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar.

There’s tension and then there’s incompatibility.  A man and a woman have tension in their relationship without necessarily being perpetually at odds with each other.  Incompatibility is the state of natural opposites or even mortal enemies.  What Ross was warning against, I think, was the victory of the sort of argument that there is no common ground between the Faith and liberalism; in this argument, the two are irremediably opposed because of fundamental differences of understanding human nature, society, and, of course, the place of religion in society.  I tend to believe this.  Ross does not quite believe it, or seems to hold out hope for some common ground.  But the point is surely that Ross wants to keep alive a relationship between the two, in spite of the occasional tension, the bickering, the odd thrown vase, while Linker wants a clearly delimited arrangement in which adherents of the Faith can operate more or less freely but have little or no influence on political life.  I would prefer trial separation leading to divorce–assuming, of course, that the two were ever really joined in the first place.  What Ross was really talking about was not the Dominical teaching about the distinction between things of God and things of Caesar, or things of heaven and things of earth, but much more basically a question of whether the Faith and a liberal order premised on indidivual rights and contract theory fit together or not.  In forcing the issue, Linker threatens, so Ross suggests, to lend legitimacy to the arguments of the real reactionaries and the hard-core secularists who want the Faith and liberalism to have nothing to do with each other.  This is presumably something Linker does not want, since he already regards theocons as reactionaries and dangers to liberalism–imagine what he would say about someone like me!

This is one more tired attempt to dress up secularism as a modest defense of the idea of the Two Cities, when it is nothing of the kind.  It is manifestly a declaration of the supremacy of the City of Man in the affairs of men, and that’s all there is to it.  Attempts to encroach on the claims of the earthly City will be viewed very negatively, and it is for this reason, and I think probably this reason alone, that Linker attacks the theocons so strenuously.   

Treating the cultural revolution of the ’60s as something planned or controlled or directed by some powerful and sinister ideological force is commonplace on the right. But it is a fiction.  (Though it is a very useful fiction, since it serves as a politically beneficial rallying cry for right-wing populist discontent with various social and cultural trends.) But it distorts our understanding of what really happened in those years. The relaxation of sexual taboos, the rise of youth culture, women’s liberation, the breakdown of the authoritarian-patriarchal family structure and its replacement by more egalitarian arrangements–there have been positive and negative consequences of these and many other social-cultural changes over the past several decades. But they were not planned or controlled, certainly not politically. (Just as there was no bohemian Comintern directing the quite similar cultural revolutions that took place all over the free world at roughly the same historical moment.)  ~Damon Linker

First, let me congratulate Ross on his ability to participate in a debate at a magazine that describes the ongoing debate with the title on its main page: “Are Christians at odds with democracy?”  Not even Linker at his most theocon-paranoid would ask such a ridiculous question (the question begs more questions–which Christians are we talking about?), so it impresses me that Ross has soldiered on in an atmosphere almost uniquely unfriendly to his perspective and acquitted himself admirably.  Ross and I have a few disagreements, but in the end we both recognise rather unhinged secularism when we see it, and I’m sorry to say that Mr. Linker is a representative of just such a secularism.

Now to the Linker claim above.  Ross has made a point in the past of specifically not attributing massive social and cultural changes that reached their crescendo in the ’60s on liberal intellectuals organising a revolution guided by a single ideology.  He is not the cardboard cutout of a Christian conservative that Linker still seems to think he is.  First of all, he is clearly too smart to have fallen into the trap of believing that broad social change is ever planned.  Basic common sense and a conservative appreciation for the complexity of human societies would tell him that this is virtually impossible.  Frankly, only social engineers, progressives prominent among them, even think that social change ought to be directed or planned according to ideological guidelines, or even that it is possible.  But that does not mean that the social engineers and intellectuals are ever actually in control, or that the transformation of cultures necessarily stems from their meddling.  They tend, on the whole, to magnify or exacerbate ongoing developments for the worse, but no one serious, on the right or elsewhere, thinks that social upheaval is planned.  Surely one of the reasons why conservatives are unnerved by upheaval is that it is chaotic and disorderly, without any clear direction or organising principle.  So right away Linker is boxing Ross into a stereotype that he, more than many Christian conservatives, does not fit.  Before he even gets to the substance of his response, such as it is, he has shown a tendentious and rather condescending streak that does him no credit.  He says to Ross, “Look, my boy, you seem to think that some sinister left-wing Blofeld was compelling people to use contraceptives through his mind control devices, and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!”  This is supposed to be persuasive? 

That said, did an ideology of emancipation and liberation prevail in this period?  Did it or did it not encourage, legitimise and empower all of the forces of dissolution then in ascendance?  Or are we supposed to believe that, because many of these changes took place as part of the transformation of private life, the “nonpolitical” spheres of life were left untouched by the adherents of the “liberal bargain”?  Has Linker not actually tried to seal off hermetically the “liberal bargain” from any negative social and cultural consequences that might be laid at the door of left-liberal ideas?  Isn’t his recourse to the allegedly noncomprehensive liberal view, in fact, a way to duck responsibility for the negative consequences of past secularist troublemaking?

Naturally, if I were on the side of the forces of subversion I would want to insist that there was no real subversion going on.  No one was actually trying to overthrow established mores and norms.  It just sort of happened!  It’s just “change.”  This doesn’t say much of Linker’s understanding of agency in history.  But it also takes away the theocons’ claim of being defenders.  No, they are not defending against the aggression of the subversives.  They are (gasp!) reactionaries!  He says so right here:

But the theocons look far less admirable in the light of reality, which shows them to be reactionaries incapable of coming to terms with the developmental logic of societies devoted to freedom.  

Well, no.  In fairness to the theocons, whom I have given a rather hard time over the past two years, they refuse to allow freedom to be defined acccording to the tiresomely selfish and passion-soaked values of secularists, just as they elsewhere refuse to allow reason to be reduced to the most meager of instrumental faculties deprived of any higher inspiration or illumination.  Just as they refuse to let reason be reduced to its barest minimum, they refuse to let human freedom be defined according to the deficient standards of self-will and choice.  Whether their entire vision with respect to liberalism is consistent with this is another question, but once again to say that they cannot come to terms with the “developmental logic” of free societies is to reduce them to a caricature and refute the caricature.  The use of the loaded term reactionary is telling.  No one serious can call Fr. Neuhaus et al. reactionaries.  As a reactionary, I disavow their claims to reaction, and I am confident that they want nothing to do with people like me.  What is so strange about this entire debate is that Neuhaus and Co. inhabit what seems to me to be a halfway house that makes room for liberalism on certain, important conditions.  Linker wants unconditional acceptance of the liberal order as he defines it; unconditional surrender is what he desires from the theocons.  Until they offer such a surrender to his vision of the “liberal bargain”–a bargain to which they are committed just as much as he is in their way–he will cast them as the blackest of reactionaries, fundamentalists with a view to wreck our entire political system.  I might note that Linker here replicates nothing so much as a reverse image of the caricature of the conservative view of the ’60s as “ideologically driven transformation.”  He sees the rise of the Christian right as just such an “ideologically driven transformation,” he casts the theocons as the central villains of the piece and assures us that they are here to break with all precedents and overturn the existing order–which is, according to him, what we say about secular liberals of decades past.  Whether we actually say this or not is immaterial; he has already called such a view ridiculous, and so indicts himself with his own attack.

What Pew actually did over two weeks in May was ask 820 self-identifying American Christians “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?” And in this case, 42% of Christians did actually answer “Christian first.” Another 48% answered “American first,” while 7% ducked and said they thought of themselves as both.

Not surprisingly, the “Christian first” response emanated disproportionately from self-identified Evangelicals, 62% of whom said “Christian first.” By contrast, the figures for other major Christian sectors were nearly reversed, with 62% of Catholics and 65% of Mainline Protestants saying “American first”.

To some, the 42% “Christian first” number will seem a shocking bit of data. It certainly seems to be a new one. As far as Pew knows and I have been able to determine, nobody ever asked the “Christian or American?” question before. Perhaps that’s because it’s divisive on the face of it, almost un-American: why should anyone have to choose between his faith and his nationality? Doesn’t the very query assume some sort of nefarious loyalty test, or hint at a fifth-column movement? And what would be the criteria for choosing? Why are you taking us down this road? ~David Van Biema, Time

Via Ross Douthat

I think I must owe Ross a drink for pointing out this hilarious article.  What a hoot!  (I also appreciate the generous link to my latest theocon post, about which I will have more another time.)  I suppose if I believed the nation was “built on the separation of church and state” as Mr. Van Biema does, I would also be somewhat distressed at these results.  Happily, I do not believe any such thing, and I am left pondering what the other 48% might be thinking when they identify as Americans first.  Goodness knows I appreciate the principle of America First when it comes policy and politics, but how is it that a properly catechised Christian (I know, that’s quite an assumption right there) would believe that his loyalty or identity is first to a land or kingdom of this world?  I can understand why there would be some residual hesitation on the part of Catholics to give priority to their Christian identity, since American Catholics have gone to quite a lot of trouble over the last century and a half to convince their neighbours that they are good Americans and have had to put up with quite a lot of criticism asserting the contrary.  But what other answer can a Christian give?  There is no question of necessarily choosing between faith and nationality–it is a question of ordering priorities in a hierarchy, in which religious commitment and faith take precedence for Christians, as you would expect.  This does not cancel out patriotism or national loyalty, and can even serve to bolster and confirm such feelings in a way that does not have to give wild-eyed nationalism or chauvinism religious justification, and it is not a case where one must choose one or the other.  The only thing divisive about any of this is the reaction to the result, in which Mr. Van Biema first takes us through a tour of similarly worded polls used to gauge Muslim sentiments (for many secular reporters, religion is religion is religion, and the content thereof is irrelevant) and then responds to a statement of the classic opposition between the Kingdom and the world with an almost self-parodying comment:

Well, that was then… But where, I asked, might a contemporary Christian’s interest diverge from an American’s?

I’m pretty sure Mr. Van Biema really didn’t get the point of the lesson, which is that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  In that sense, you could have a fine, old Christian empire and it would still be imperative to understand that your primary loyalty as a Christian is to Christ and the Church and not to the emperor and the empire.  We are, after all, only sojourning here below.  It isn’t even necessarily a question of “interests,” though if the state intrudes upon matters of faith or becomes an abominable tyranny that would change things considerably.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Van Biema declares himself uninterested in theologically-defined “meta-citizenship.”  And he was so close to passing his meta-citizenship test!    

If you’re the arbiter of what the liberal bargain means, then I want no part of it. The American experiment has succeeded for so long precisely because it doesn’t force its citizens channel their “theological passions and certainties … out of public life and into the private sphere.” It forces them to play by a certain set of political rules, yes, which prevent those passions and certainties from creating a religious tyranny. But it doesn’t make the mistake of telling people that their deepest beliefs should be irrelevant to how they vote, or what causes they support. The kind of secularism that you’re promoting–and that Neuhaus and the rest of the “theocons” were originally reacting against–is an attempt to change those rules and impose greater restrictions on religious Americans than have heretofore existed. This isn’t just blinkered, unfair, and contrary to the actual American tradition of how religion and politics interact; it’s also dangerous to liberalism, because it vindicates those people–Christians and secularists alike–who have always said that faith and liberalism aren’t compatible and that everyone need to choose between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar. And, if you force Americans to make that choice, I’m not sure you’ll be happy with the results. ~Ross Douthat

Ross’ second installment at TNR in his theocon debate with Damon Linker, whose first installment is here, knocks down the fairly weak ripostes that Linker had offered and then proceeds to grind them into the ground.  At least for the most part.  The more I think about it, the less I am persuaded by the basic theocon claim that a liberalism that  cannot be informed by religious, and particularly Christian, ideas is in danger of failing.  I am even less persuaded that liberalism will be endangered because secularism will end up empowering those voices on both sides (like mine?) that preach hostility between the Faith and liberalism. 

If empowering people like me (and whoever my opposite number among the secularists might be) is the great danger to liberalism posed by Linker’s secularist overreaching, Linker can probably sleep soundly, since 50 years (at least) of secularist overreaching has typically empowered precisely those religious conservatives who keep insisting on what good liberals they are, how much they want to play by the rules and how important they are to liberalism’s survival.  As Ross knows, American Christians are perfectly content with the liberal order (though they will object to a thousand and one policies or legal rulings within that order), because it is the only kind they have ever known and indeed the more intensely Christian Americans are the more they (typically) invest the American system of government and political culture with quasi-religious significance.  Actual anti-liberal Christians are as rare as gold in this country, not least because so many Christians have persuaded themselves that America is a “Christian country,” and not just in a historical-cultural sense, which causes them to intellectually bend themselves into pretzels to demonstrate the religious origins of the Union.  The “Christian country” spiel is just the “proposition nation” claim for people who go to church, and is just about as substantial, but it is very effective in keeping people on board with the project. 

American Christians have seen Christianity excluded from the public square more and more each decade, and have mustered by and large limited resistance to this trend.  Who now fights for prayer in school–not a minute of silence, not “one nation under God” hokum, but actual prayer?  To ask the question is to acknowledge the extent of the defeat.  In fact, you would be fairly hard-pressed to find a religious conservative today who would lament this development in print.  Unlike Christians in fights with liberalism in Europe–which the liberals tended to lose in the early decades when they provoked the Christians about vital issues pertaining to education or social policy–American Christians are locked into some form of liberalism and, through the work of theocons, have developed an entire argument for why they are basically not only in harmony with this liberalism but are the essential protectors of it.  

They cannot mount an effective counterattack on the ravages of secularism, because they are so committed to the procedural rules of the game to which they constantly appeal in arguments with secularists, while the secularists have no scruples about altering the political and legal landscape through ever-more outrageous and preposterous readings of the law.  Each time they change the rules, religious conservatives cry foul but then set about convincing themselves that they must abide by the new rules.  If this is the backlash against secularism and liberalism, I would hate to see what accommodation looks like.  More to the point, if this is what has resulted from half a century of galloping secularism, the secularists have nothing to fear from any more serious backlash in the future.  Seen this way, the theocons are certainly not laying siege to secular America, which appears here as an entirely ludicrous claim, but might as well be opening the gates to the secularists with their half-hearted, “We’re Christians, but we love liberalism!” defense.

Ross’ final remark is a kind of appeal to the mob, in which the religious conservative warns the secularist that if he does not grant religious folks full participation under the rules of the game then the religious folks might just start listening to the Thomas Muentzers of the world and decide that they absolutely prefer Christ to the Republic (on the whole, I suspect Christians do prefer Christ to the Republic, but not to the necessary exclusion or detriment of the latter).  In other words, talking about theocons besieging secular America is crazy, alarmist talk…for the moment.  As I read this, Ross seems to be saying that the Neuhausian detente with liberalism and the involvement of religious Americans in politics more generally help to prevent a religious majority from rising up and destroying a secular liberal order, which they might otherwise do if this happy middle ground broke down.  Religious Americans are good liberals, unless you push them too far, so Linker would be advised not to do too much pushing.  That doesn’t seem likely to set the secularist at ease about the potential threat that he sees.

This seems to be an odd way to end an otherwise compelling argument.  Perhaps the spectre of a more extreme religious politics would make the mild-mannered theocons seem less terrifying and would convince Linker that it could be a lot worse than Neuhaus et al. and he could learn to live with them, “religiously informed public philosophy” and all.  Yet it is odd that Ross ends his contribution by playing on the very irrational fears of religious politics that he has spent the entire debate dismissing as, well, irrational and unfounded.          

By the way, Michael also gets into the mix this morning and makes a particularly good observation:

Linker is stumbling here as I think it is very difficult to deduce exactly what John Paul II taught on this matter - but he is right that the Church and Churchmen like Neuhaus have staked out a precarious and novel position that I’d like to call “semi-traditionalism” - if that weren’t such an awkward term. There has been an uneven tradition, embodied perhaps first by Orestes Brownson, of lashing together a form of enlightenment liberalism to Catholic natural law teaching. It should be explored in depth sometime, without Damon Linker’s “heavy breathing” or even the rhetorical demands of a debate held by the New Republic.

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis


Ross Douthat pens a solid challenge to Damon Linker at a debate hosted by TNR and pretty much covers all the bases you could want.  He hits Linker for the inconsistency of tone, by turns scholarly and alarmist, the book’s overreaching thesis (secular America is DOOMED!) and the nationalist (dare we call it nativist?) refrains about an “alien ideology” corrupting the national tradition.   

As one inclined to view at least certain kinds of theocracy in a good light, and perhaps as one of the “heirs” to “the old throne-and-altar European right” (personally, I prefer symphoneia as a concept to Thron und Altar, but we reactionaries have to be broad-minded about our differences) that does not care much for the Christianity-fortified liberalism of Neuhaus et al., I thought I might offer a few remarks to supplement what was generally a very satisfying and thorough thrashing of Mr. Linker. 

Worthy of mention is that a friend of Eunomia, Prof. Arben Fox, also receives favourable mention in Ross’ treatment for his remarks on Theocons.  It is in connection with Fox’s reading of the critique in Theocons, which I think offers the best explanation of what Linker is trying to accomplish in his attack on the theocons, that Ross takes the easiest route to polemical victory and makes a charge that doesn’t hold up quite as well as the rest of his contribution.  Ross searches through the Catholic polemicist’s bag of tricks and comes out with the attack that never gets old: Linker is indulging old-fashioned anti-Catholic tropes about the impossibility of good Catholics being good Americans.  He says:

But, for the most part, I suspect that you believe that the attempt to link the American Founding to the Catholic natural-law tradition–which is at the heart of the “theoconservative project,” insofar as there is one–marks a greater departure from America’s supposed secular ideal than did the God-soaked politics of, say, Bryan or King. (This is how your friend Russell Arben Fox interprets your argument, at least, in an exegesis of your thesis that’s somewhat more interesting than the thesis itself.)

If this is what you mean, I wish you had been gutsy enough to take your argument to its logical conclusion and to say outright what you repeatedly imply–namely that orthodox Catholicism is essentially incompatible with the American liberal order, and that Neuhaus (like John Courtney Murray before him) is wrong to tell his co-believers that there’s no great tension between Rome and the United States. You spend a great deal of time talking about the “authoritarian” political inclinations of Neuhaus and company and how they threaten liberalism, but your evidence is nearly always that they believe in accepting the Catholic magisterium’s religious authority on matters of faith and morals–with the implication being that, if you let the magisterium tell you what to think about birth control or the Virgin Birth, you aren’t fit for the responsibilities of democratic self-governance.

This argument–that American Catholics need to choose between the Pope and the republic–has a long pedigree in our political life, and it’s far from an absurd interpretation of the relationship, or lack thereof, between liberalism and Catholicism: It is held, for instance, by Neuhaus’s critics on the Catholic right, who accuse him of choosing the republic over Rome. So I put it to you–is this your opinion on the matter? Is the dissenting, the-Pope-can’t-tell-me-what-to-think Catholicism of Garry Wills the only form of Catholicism that’s acceptable in the American context? You accuse Neuhaus of hinting that Jews and atheists can’t be good citizens; do you think that Neuhaus, given what he believes, can be a good citizen himself?

Or put another way: As someone who believes in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches–and as someone who thinks that our laws should be just and that the ultimate source of this justice is God–can I be a good American? Is there a place for me at the table of your idealized secular state?

I said that this doesn’t hold up as well because this may be the one part of the anti-theocon attack that has some purchase.  As I have talked about before, referring to my adventures in anti-Straussian argument, the problem with the theocon claim about equating the “law of nature” with Catholic natural law tradition (and thus creating the supposed historical basis for applying Catholic theology as the leaven of American political life) is the same problem the Straussians have in pulling off a similar maneuver of stuffing Aristotle, Aquinas and Locke in a nicely-wrapped box called Natural Law: it is manifestly ahistorical and rests of the slenderest of conceptual reeds (i.e., that Catholic natural law teaching and Lockean law of nature are sufficiently similar to be roughly identical).  As everyone’s favourite champion of the gentry shows us, there is on the one hand no need to indulge elaborate natural law theories to defend the constitutional inheritance of Englishmen and on the other, by extension, no need to concoct a rather preposterous alliance of Bossuet and Locke when neither one is needed to support and defend the genius of the mixed constitution.  This does not need to scandalise faithful, patriotic Catholics (Orthodox in America will not find, and do not seek, the Byzantine origins of “the Founding,” because it is not necessary for them to find such origins), because it was largely in the twilight of the Republic (i.e, post-1861) that our political language began to be saturated so heavily with the application of Biblically-derived rhetoric that took us far from the forensic and deliberative rhetoric of the republican period.  (For those who have been paying attention, yes, this is Bradford’s critique of Lincoln, and, yes, this is a paleo critique.)  In other words, it perfectly normal for Americans to be both Christian and yet not engage in the sort of conflation of religious and political ideas that theoconservatism seems to assume was the normal and natural way of things in this country.

This is not to say that Americans wanted to be “secular” exactly, since a small cottage industry of authors has successfully shown that early republican Americans were actually often enough quite thoroughly religious churchgoers and, yes, they brought their religious scruples to bear on matters of public interest as Christians had done since time immemorial.  But they didn’t confuse having established churches or public religion with claiming that the mixed constitution was exactly ordained by God, by and large didn’t go on about God-given “rights” (with some notable and unfortunate exceptions) and did not tacitly or explicitly claim some quasi-privileged status for Christians as better citizens (Fr. Neuhaus, meet Katherine Harris).  There wasn’t just a real tension between Rome and the United States (i.e., between Catholicism and America), but between the Kingdom and the Republic.  It was ever an unhappy New England tendency to collapse the two and identify the fortunes of the Republic with the earthly glory of the Kingdom–thus such blasphemies as Battle Hymn of the Republic, or John Brown’s Body, a song only a jihadi or Bostonian could love, or the Christification of Lincoln upon his death.  It has been to the unending confusion of the American mind (and, more recently, American foreign policy) that we take seriously Winthrop’s Zionification of the nation as ”a city on a hill,” as if America were the New Israel, which is properly a role reserved solely for the Church.  Fr. Meyendorff once noted that the chief problem with the Byzantine idea of symphoneia was that it denied the fundamental opposition between the Kingdom and the world; in the end, even though the emperor was crowned by God, the Roman Empire could never fully be in harmony with the Church, but must always remain part of this world.  So, too, with American order. 

To deny the implausible claim that America was born from the substantive marriage of Christianity and Enlightenment liberalism (the marriage, if it ever did take place somewhere, was surely annulled for failure to consummate) is not to deny that full-throated, serious, orthodox Christians can and should be politically active and “good citizens,” but to reject the presumption that unless one can concoct an elaborate theory of ideological compatibility between philosophy inspired by the Faith and liberal political philosophy that militates against basic truths of the Faith Christians are somehow necessarily opposed to or alienated from the political regime of their home country.  (What never seems to trouble theocons and their friends is the rather unpleasant implications this sort of ideological compatibility model has for Catholics in countries with a much more explicitly anticlerical, anti-Christian Enlightenment political tradition or countries that have only limited experience with Christianity of a century or two.) 

In trying to concoct such a theory, it is actually Neuhaus et al. who accept the assumptions behind the anti-Catholic trope by creating an entire philosophical apparatus designed to create nothing so much as a reverse image of the anti-Catholic charge.  The thinking seems to be: “Not only are we not aliens and enemies of the American way of life, but we are the best Americans!  Not only is there not irremediable hostility between Rome and Washington, as you say–there is virtually no tension between them at all!”  This tends to do violence to the very real tensions that will inevitably exist between the Gospel and any particular political philosophy, and forces the theocon to fudge on questions pertaining to the Faith.  This seems to happen most often when the government goes to war or supports a line of policy in foreign affairs that seems patently unjust.  In the eyes of the secular Mr. Linker, theocons arguably ought to be at their most “reasonable” and accommodating with the liberal political order when they are at their most enthusiastic for the government-backed bombing of other countries, which ought to make him reconsider whether he wants to have Christians who are a little too friendly with Caesar in this perfectly secular way.  It is only when they fervently and rather ineffectively rail against the evils of the “culture of death” at home that they might frighten Linker with some of their rhetoric, but even here they have framed their objections in terms of resisting judicial usurpation of representative government, which is still not exactly the call to arms of a theocrat. 

The habits of mind necessary to construct this flimsy bridge between Christianity and American liberal political theory also tend to encourage wild swings between accommodation to the demands of the liberal political order (and, in practical terms, the government) at expense of the Gospel when the two do inevitably conflict and the zeal of the religious revolutionary who, having invested the liberal and democratic political order with the dignity of divine justice, is outraged at the aforementioned judicial usurpation of liberal representative government.  This tends to make the theocon curiously passive and accommodating to official policy when confronted by the injustices of government inflicted on other nations (because the saints must go marching on, I suppose) and almost equally intense and uncompromising when confronted by legal interpretations or policies that foster or even enshrine profoundly evil and immoral things such as abortion.  Their motto might be: “Revolution on behalf of the unborn, but not one tear of compassion and not one word of outrage for the victims of aggressive war.”  Perhaps that is a touch exaggerated, but only a touch.    

It is interesting that there are Catholics and other Christians who feel, for reasons of patriotism and full assimilation to what they consider the values of their country, the need to engage in this sleight-of-hand, but I fear that the reason why they feel this need is part of the problem with their attempt to identify an important part of their religious intellectual tradition with the political and philosophical traditions of Anglo-America, and this is the need for all citizens in good standing to agree ideologically about the nature of the “project.”  This is tied in deeply to terribly mistaken ideas about the nature of American identity, which makes being American a question of accepting propositions of political liberalism rather than any other sort of belonging or historically-constituted identity.  If this is indeed an “ideological nation,” it becomes imperative to show that you are on board with the reigning ideology; this is imperative not only to show that you belong here, but also so that you can wield influence and power.  But this is easier to do than for others, and this is a particularly unwise kind of game for conservative Christians to play, since we will never be able to identify with Enlightenment liberalism or its latter-day heirs as thoroughly or credibly as others.  By playing this game, and claiming to win it, First Things encourages exactly this sort of “ideological nation” thinking and exposes conservative Christians to further exclusion from the national narrative once it can be shown (and it is not hard to show) that Christianity (and philosophical conservatism) and Enlightenment liberalism are as compatible as water and oil. 

In its way, theoconservatism is the final expression of Catholic Americanisation, or is an example of Catholic Americanisation gone too far, and represents a latter-day form of the immigrant’s strategy to prove his belonging to the nation by talking about how much he loves freedom and democracy and insisting that he’s not like his reactionary peasant ancestors from Europe (and here, as always, I mean reactionary peasant as a compliment).  This is all well and good in one sense, but when it creates a model of accommodating the Faith to the (false) claims of liberalism about human nature and society or encourages mistaken compromises of moral principle with the liberal regime out of a misguided sense of American loyalty it does no one any good.  If Linker’s book might show some small part of the problems with this theocon model, it will not have been a complete waste.  Since it is unfortunately caught up with the much bigger progressive hobby-horse of fighting a supposedly incipient theocracy that does not exist, it will probably accomplish nothing.

I like these Mexicans. They go to Catholic Church; They work hard; They’re learning English and they will eventually create a new blue-collar middle class.

Yes, I do worship at the high church of GDP. But I also worship at the high church of Catholic Mass. And therefore I’m able to combine supply-side economics with the teachings of Catholic humanitarianism. ~Larry Kudlow

Kudlow is quite the humanitarian. He has not seen a war he didn’t think was good for America and, more importantly, good for the stock market. Kudlow is so very humanitarian that he welcomes the creation of an exploited underclass. I don’t know for sure where Larry the Humanitarian stands on the abuse of prisoners and torture, but I suspect he is especially humanitarian when it comes to inflicting pain on prisoners–at least as humanitarian as he has been in cheering on the devastation of whole nations. He is so painfully humanitarian (his heart, look how it bleeds!) that he sees nothing amiss in comparing a border security fence with the Berlin Wall–the one designed to keep unwanted people out, the other to keep enslaved people in–because he literally cannot understand the difference between the two. To limit the “free movement of labour” is the same as commie oppression. That is what your stereotypical pro-immigration “conservative” believes. One wonders, incidentally, if he thinks Israel’s security barrier is a new Berlin Wall–I’m going to guess that he doesn’t agree with that comparison.

Here’s the main problem I have with the rhetoric of the people who keep pointing to the Catholicism of Mexican immigrants as if that were some kind of free pass for them (besides being based on the strange and entirely unproven assumption that Mexican Catholicism is as amenable to American political and cultural values as European Catholicism could come to be over time): the people who use the Catholicism of Mexicans and other Latin Americans as the rhetorical club with which to beat restrictionists also invariably happen to be the same people who think the freedom of movement across borders, a flood of cheap labour and maximising of GDP are the things that are most important in determining immigration policy. In other words, most of the people, including the Catholics, who are thrilled to see more Catholics crossing the border illegally are typically also the people who would be thrilled to see them cross the border if they were atheists, Muslims or Shintoists, because they are making these determinations primarily on economic grounds and have clearly made economic values their priority. I bet millions of Muslim labourers wouldn’t trouble Larry one bit. After all, we know where Larry stands on hateful “Islamophobia”–he’s against it, especially when it might bar the way to glorious international trade arrangements.

It is useful to them that the labourers in question are often Catholic, whether nominal or not, but it would not matter a whit to these people what religion they practiced so long as they lent their aid to building the Temple of GDP. It is also a sentimental ploy to tap into Catholic memories about past anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant prejudice in the 19th century as a way of mobilising Catholic America against the enforcement of immigration law and the control of the borders. It is manifestly cynical for the most part, but few are bold enough to hold up their cynicism for the world to see as Kudlow is.

But at least Kudlow holds up the glaring contradiction of his two loyalties for all to see. He doesn’t even hesitate to embrace the language of “worship” to express his economic desires. I have long held Kudlow up as a kind of walking caricature of the money-obsessed conservative, but that is because he plays to the stereotype so perfectly that it is impossible not to think of him when trying to imagine what such a person would be like.

“Yes, I worship at the altar of Mammon. But I also worship at the altar of God,” the man says to us, “And therefore I’m able to combine Mammon with the teachings of Christ.” What was it that Someone Important said about two masters? It’s a bit fuzzy, but it was something about not being able to have two. So Kudlow has fortunately declared very openly which one he serves. Give him credit for being at least somewhat more forthright than all of the conservatives who say, “But I’m not a materialist! Look, I go to church!” Instead Larry preaches a new gospel: “I’m a materialist because I go to church!”

Steve Sailer quotes one of several readers writing in on the dating scene today:

My experience in the undergraduate dating scene, such as it is, has been that Feynman’s admonition against paying compliments to women is somewhat outmoded. He was writing at a time when chivalrous traditions in America were still relatively strong, everyone thought that the way to woo and wed was trhough [sic] whispering sweet nothings. Not to be melodramatic but today chivalry is dead or at least in a persistent vegetative state. What this means for the women in my social circle is that they almost never receive compliments from men. I noticed this and have found that when I do issue a compliment they are remarkably greatful [sic]. Obviously compliments alone don’t do it, you have to show enough ‘machismo’ to be in the game, but their rarity has allowed compliments to regain a certain amount of value today.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but this seems to me to be almost completely and in all ways untrue.  Not only are compliments rare, but when they are offered they are a sure sign of a man who has no idea what he is doing.  Men who persist in this habit are almost assuredly living in a time warp or are, like myself, dedicated reactionaries. 

I do not presume to know much of anything about this part of life, but I can tell you that chivalry is (unfortunately) only too dead and complimenting ladies has gone the way of wearing powdered wigs and waistcoats–as has the distinction of referring to some women as ladies–because the compliments, while technically appreciated, are worse than useless.  They are in most cases counterproductive or as good as putting up a giant, blinking sign that says, “Hey, I’m desperate and a walking, talking anachronism!”  This is a loss for the ladies, and for women in general, and a loss for civilisation, but there it is.

And more and more, the report concludes, Germans are disappointed with democracy within the country. This is especially true for those living in eastern Germany.


Last year, only 38 percent of eastern Germans thought democracy was a good form of government, the study said. In 2000, it was 49 percent. ~Deutsche Welle


Put yourself in the shoes of the average German from the old DDR.  Those who grew up under the old system probably find the transition under the unified Germany rather unpleasant and jarring (arguably, the hit success of Goodbye, Lenin! with its nostalgic DDR kitsch tapped into some sentiment that could view the DDR with both fondness and contempt); the roughly 20% unemployment in the east (the rate is higher in some of the eastern Laender) can hardly encourage a lot of enthusiasm for the status quo; there have probably been a lot of unreasonable expectations of the “why doesn’t Rostock look like Frankfurt-am-Main by now?” variety that assume there is some magic connection between having elective government and having an economic engine that generates massive wealth and that this wealth will be widely distributed to everyone by dint of being a member of the same country.  People who talk about democratic capitalism can only exacerbate this problem, as they imply that there is some necessary connection. 


These expectations of fortune and success under democracy are silly expectations, but if you grew up associating the wealthy Wessis with democracy and freedom, you might be forgiven for thinking that the acquisition of democracy and freedom (of some sort) should lead to greater economic success.  When that doesn’t happen, you assume something must be wrong with the democratic system rather than with, um, you. 


Fundamentally, the reason why most people in the West say they like democracy is because they think it is a means to get them the stuff they could not have under another system, and in this case they quite literally mean “stuff,” as in material things and wealth.  Indeed, one of the main selling points of the superiority of ”democratic capitalism” over communism during the Cold War was the former’s ability to get people lots of stuff; the austerity of communism was held up as if it were some kind of insult, when it was the oppression, not the lack of material things, that mattered.   


When the people expecting it do not get the stuff, they believe that the system has failed them.  In other cases, the democracy may be nominal or it may become the property of the plutocrats–as in Panama–and disillusionment with the promises of democracy follows swiftly.  Panama in particular has shown high levels of disapproval of democracy and strong potential for preferring authoritarianism because of the deeply corrupt nature of Panamanian democracy, alluded to so well in The Tailor of Panama (one of the best anti-interventionist films of the last 30 years), which is not at all surprising.  Democracy does not guarantee either eunomia or prosperity, and quite frequently results in neither, and expectations of either are misplaced and will inevitably lead to disappointment.  The question is not why so many people in eastern Germany are losing faith in democracy, but why so many in Germany or anywhere else still have faith in it.   


Of course, there is a good argument that it is irrational to blame the political system for your region’s economic failure, but popular preferences are very often a mix of rational interests mixed with a lot of irrational, muddled thinking.  It is generally easier to write off an entire system.  That does not mean that you are wrong to write it off, but it does suggest that you may never find anything satisfactory if you assume that the fault is in the system and not in yourself.  Democracy itself contributes to this error because it encourages people to project their own failures onto the collective of “the people” and thus avoid responsibility by attributing the problem to “all of us” and saying that this is a problem that “we” need to solve.  It is, of course, the priorities and values of the people in the system (in theory) that will dictate the people’s relative success or failure.  One of the problems with democracy is that it gives people all of the wrong priorities and many of the worst values, starting with ingratitude and laziness and working down from there. 


This is perhaps a crude portrait and possibly unfair to many Germans in the east who have not soured on German democracy (which is, incidentally, a system far more constrained and limited in its political options than even our own, if such a thing were possible), but I think it must explain part of the reason for the disenchantment.  Germans in the west have much greater confidence in democracy as a good form of government, which makes sense since their material conditions are remarkably better than those in the east:


That percentage for Germans in the western part of the country was higher, with 80 percent in 2000 and 71 percent in 2005 believing it was a positive form of government.


This should serve as a warning: support for democracy can often be very broad but also very shallow.  It receives as much widespread enthusiasm as it does because there is a common, but mistaken impression that it has some connection to prosperity, and when that prosperity falters or disappears there can be a large loss of confidence that paves the way for other kinds of radical mass movements. 


Democracy is unusually vulnerable to this disillusionment in the modern age, because it has tied its identity in the West to social welfarism and the competence (ha!) of the managerial state, which perversely makes the performance of government managers and the conditions of society measurements of the worth of democracy.  By making management of the economy a central preoccupation of government, economic failure redounds to the discredit of democratic government, even if the government has no direct role in economic problems.  When the managers fail to run things well, and democracy fails to provide “the safety net,” the many will seek alternative solutions.  Countries with people suffering from unreasonably high expectations, Eurosclerosis and a broken social democratic model (we suffer from two out of three of these, by the way) are at risk of losing confidence in democracy, or at least in the particular system of democratic government that currently exists as that government increasingly fails to meet those unreasonable expectations and cannot “provide the goods” that it has no role even trying to provide.  The flaw is not that democracy fails to deliver the goods, but that it very often promises to do things for people through government that they ought to be doing for themselves.  In its inculcation of dependency and apathy, it is the perfect breeding ground for future despotism.    

Becker says he’s not optimistic that any of the schemes underway in Europe and elsewhere to encourage having babies will work. “Since 1970,” he writes. “no country has had a large increse in its total fertility rate after this rate had fallen much below the replacement level.” The only solution, then, will be large-scale immigration, which presents its own massive set of problems. But by the time that choice is squarely in front of us, there will likely be no other choice.

It strikes me that this whole topic makes people extremely squeamish for a variety of reasons. When I published some time ago a Phillip Longman essay about it in the section I edit at the Dallas Morning News, I got several critical comments from co-workers about how Nazi the whole thing sounded, re: having babies for the national good. ~Rod Dreher

Now I think people who respond to natalism or the idea of encouraging more births as a matter of policy with references to Nazism are rather silly, but they are not entitrely wrong on the facts.  What drove Italy and Germany to pursue such pro-natal policies?  (A separate question: is such a policy ‘reactionary’, ‘modern’ or simply common sense in certain circumstances?)  The first reason is obvious: both countries had lost a considerable number of men in WWI and both understood that in an age of mass labour and mass armies a larger population was the key to productivity and international power.   The other reason is more philosophical, and comes from fascism’s affinities with modern nationalism: the belief in the priority and preexistence of the nation, and the related belief that each individual owes his existence to the whole that has made his life possible. 

One of the things that did characterise historic fascism and Nazism was the assumption–hardly unknown among nationalists of various stripes and not entirely unreasonable–that the nation and the political community (which nationalists unfortunately frequently identify with a consolidated nation-state) take precedence because they preexisted any individual or group within the nation.  On a smaller, more humane scale, this may be less difficult to understand; in Aristotle’s Politics, he held that the polis was by nature prior to the family, “since the whole is of necessity prior to the part.”  Aristotle here sees the political community as a corporate entity of which individuals and families are members and this membership is easily demonstrated, he goes further, because individuals on their own cannot be self-sufficient.  In any case, humans are social and political beings, not naturally given to living in isolation. (Pol. I, 1253a) 

Everything about both the nationalist and Aristotelian ideas drives devotees of liberal autonomy crazy.  It suggests that you have obligations that you did not “choose,” and that you exist in relationship with others in ways that you should not be able to opt out of.  It suggests that your life ought to contribute to the good of the whole, or the common good, that is it not simply your single, solitary, individual life to be lived entirely as you see fit.  Probably what scares most devotees of autonomy about this is that it is an eminently normal way of thinking about social and political life, but this kind of thinking will interfere with everyone’s private and autonomous sphere.  Of course, when raised to a national level and once it involves a consolidated nation-state, the abstract nature of the ”community” and the coercive apparatus of the consolidated state become real practical problems.  The scale of our political system becomes a significant barrier to arguing in favour of the obvious social good of the nation reproducing itself.  Because it is vaguely reminiscent of political systems where the obligation to the nation was taken to excessive and idolatrous extremes, people across the spectrum have been taught to be wary of these sorts of things, but the real reason why people react viscerally against the idea of a policy that encourage people to have more children is that it crosses several red lines of privacy and autonomy that modern Americans, especially in the post-Roe world, take far more seriously when it comes to reproduction or any aspect of their “private” life than they do about anything else.  (Americans will cede every constitutional right they have if it will help provide for “national security”–this is a kind of sacrifice they are frequently only too glad to make–but they will riot if you suggest that their preferences in “private” life are somehow askew.  One might go so far as to say that protection from real government abuse matters less to Americans than being able to shop at Wal-Mart without criticism.) 

Even if a policy does not actually “intrude” on a person’s private life in any discernible way, but makes some sort of common sense, boilerplate value judgement that “having more children is desirable for good of the political community,” people feel that it is intruding on the realm of individual “choice” by implying that the choice to have fewer children, or none at all, is unsatisfactory or wrong.  (Of course, as far as the political community is concerned, it is unsatisfactory and in some sense lacking in virtue.)  There are probably relatively few people who really object, as a matter of principle, to an actual natalist policy, but quite a large number of people will react badly to the idea because they do not want their lifestyles to be judged and found wanting from the perspective of the natural purpose of sex and one of the purposes of the institution of marriage.     

Like Rod’s co-workers, Americans today tend to see the idea of the precedence and priority of the political community as leading in a straight line to totalitarianism, because they have been conditioned for two generations to think that any system that opposes liberal autonomy and “freedom” must perforce be fascist or totalitarian.  It seems to be the only opposition that people can imagine: if one is not autonomous, one must become an ant in the fascist anthill.  It would be interesting to go into how autonomy helps to create the tendency towards such regimented conformity, but that is not the subject at hand.


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Let’s try this one again:

Here is another surely-radical opinion:

Kids, if you care for your souls and desire to find a different way than that which you have glimpsed out in the world today; if you find in yourself some strange hunger for beauty and meaning, although if you have grown up as I did in this culture these things are but enigmatic figures, opaque promises; if you have any wish to recover authenticity, life in its natural way; then, kids, do not go to college.  

Expect the derision of all for such a radical step that they will say will certainly prevent any economic achievement in your life on your part (the proof that this is their summum bonum).

Instead, before you shackle yourself beneath the gods of usury, choose to learn a trade and work with your hands, live with the poor or handicapped, find a tutor and some like-minded students, in a beautiful place, read Scripture and the Great Books in your leisure, otherwise play music and sing, dance and paint, be festive as you at last will be able to be, and celebrate the Divine Liturgy every day. (And if you find a place like this and it calls itself a “college” or “university”, if such a place exists, don’t worry, they are equivocating, for they certainly then cannot have anything in common with what a college or university is taken to mean today, and feel secure in going to that place.) ~Matt Fish

This is not the American way. Efforts to fight big chains like Wal-Mart are not either. The counterfeit Americanism of the far left and parts of the paleoconservaitve right has nothing to do with America’s core values: free competition, free access to property and markets, and minimal government interference with economic development. Now businesses, big and small, have resisted this model, seeking various forms of priviledge [sic]; but the rhetoric of free markets and small government has long been championed by the middle classes as a whole. These views have been the antidote to European-style socialism. This historically-grounded economic freedom was the banner of resistance to FDR’s New Deal. It is also the reason that all of the anti-Wal Mart hysteria is wrong-headed and un-American. ~Chris Roach

I am often puzzled how people can in the same breath talk about America’s core value of free competition and invoke Wal-Mart as the standard-bearer of that value.  Surely any behemoth company itself is most interested not in free competition, but like all firms it is interested in limiting competition.  The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a relative major corporations that grow ever larger and take over more and more markets has nothing to do with free competition.  To look back to the town near my own alma mater of Hampden-Sydney, Farmville, I remember distinctly seeing just in the four years that I was there the final death of all of any Farmville downtown shops that competed in any direct way with the services provided by the Super Wal-Mart that seemed to dominate the space of the town like a castle overlooking the lord’s holdings. 

At the time, young college student that I was, awake at all hours, the 24-hour Wal-Mart seemed like a boon to a young urbanite like myself stuck out in the boonies of Southside Virginia.  It occurs to me now that the people who lived in the town might have had different views of the matter.  In any case, the coming of Wal-Mart was not some simple introduction of new growth and money-saving opportunities, but caused a measure of dislocation in the town and, more than that, has now wedded the town’s future fortunes  much more closely to the continued presence of that Super Wal-Mart. 

I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development.  We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road.  The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power.  The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!”  And so you do.  Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!”  And so you do.  At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.  If the two parties are, as Mr. Buchanan’s memorable phrase had it, “two wings of the same bird of prey,” the state and corporations in state capitalist political economy are the talons of the same bird. 

The Hamiltonian juggernaut has triumphed, and in one of the bitter ironies of American history it has convinced Americans that bank rule and the moneyed interest are friends of liberty and that dependence on these interests is emancipation.  In all of this the dream of liberty and independence, an independent and self-governing people, is nowhere to be found.  Hamiltonianism and indeed “the American System” itself are certainly American in origin, so I will not engage in the mistaken rhetoric of declaring them un-American, but it is not at all clear that they are in the best interests of the commonwealth or the institutions of the Republic.  It has never been clear since the original system behind them was first concocted in 1789, and there is a long line of American patriots who have made credible arguments that this system is the enemy of a free Republic.

And while some did frame opposition to the New Deal in terms of economic freedom, and still others on constitutional grounds, the most vociferous opponents were the oligarchs of yesterday’s corporate giants.  We do not necessarily have to bow either to FDR or to J.P. Morgan; the choice does not have to be between Social Democracy and Wal-Mart.  An economic regime where landed property was widely diffused and securely held, where economic independence was a plausible reality and not an electioneering slogan, where direct taxation of any kind would not subvert the rights of the smallholder but public authority would not walk hand in hand with corporations would provide a means out of this false dichotomy. 

The majority of our political and pundit class associate “blood and soil” with the Third Reich, though they rarely associate the “proposition nation” with the Soviet Union. So, can we put those two horrors away for a moment? ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Many readers may have already come across Michael’s fun, fortune cookie takedown of neocon arguments elsewhere, but I highly recommend the original post and the follow-up.  On a more serious note (hardly anyone will ever accuse me of being too glib), the substance of Michael’s response to Foreign Policy’s James Forsyth’s post regarding Mr. Buchanan and State of Emergency is excellent, so let me quote a little more from it before I go on with my remarks:

Forsyth posits that anyone who “believes in the value” of certain ideas is an American. If I’m supposed to take him literally then there are a number of absurdities that result : anyone in Latvia, Belize, the Congo, or China IS an American if they believe in a certain ideology. They may not know George Washington is the Father of their country, they may not understand expressions like “mom and apple pie”, they may not be impressed with American ingenuity, or literature. They don’t have any of the thousands of cultural marks that being an American imprinted on them unconsciously. They don’t even have to speak English - they believe in an idea, you see.

He goes on to suggest that Mr. Forsyth’s views on what makes an American American are not necessarily all that interesting or meaningful, since Forsyth is not an American and might be missing out on a few important things that go into making Americans who we are.  Indeed, that would almost be worse than a recently naturalised citizen declaring people with generations of ancestors in this country unpatriotic because of policy differences–but that couldn’t happen here, could it? 

Unfortunately it can, and it is precisely the kind of thing that happens and will keep happening if we define being American–and by extension patriotic loyalty to America–in terms of the political positions we take and ideological commitments we make.  But before we can successfully combat this ideological turn, we need to make clear what the origins of the ideological “proposition nation” idea are and why this idea has been increasingly misleading us for 140 years.  At first it seemed very odd to me that, along with the usual list of texts and “values” that people embrace to become American, Mr. Forsyth also listed the Gettysburg Address, but the reason for its inclusion became clear to me soon enough.  This address is rightly understood as the seminal document that expresses the idea of the ahistorical, consolidated nation dedicated to a proposition, as the opening lines say very clearly:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The other day I referred to this as “mendacious revisionist propaganda,” which I think is a fair assessment of its character, but my reasons for saying so may be obscure to those who have not given much thought to the numerous problems with this text and the inordinate influence it has had on modern Americans’ conception of how the Union came into being. 

M.E. Bradford is our surest guide through the minefield of the Address, just as he is well-known for his powerful opposition to everything that the Address represents in the politics and rhetoric of our country.  In the following, I am including excerpts from his “Lincoln, the Declaration and Secular Puritanism: A Rhetoric For A Continuing Revolution” contained in A Better Guide Than Reason:

The reason behind this movement of mindless rehearsal into myth is then the success of Mr. Lincoln’s battlefield performance.  In such a cauldron history is easily remade.  For Lincoln’s Pennsylvania miracle is visible in the shape and surface of its accomplishment, a retreat from proposition, discussion, and argument into oracle and glorified announcement: an advance from discourse of what is believed to be into an assertion of what must be, and yet forever remain in the process of becoming.


For Americans, the effect of this epideictic encapsulation is what the Greeks called “Asiatic.” after observing its prevalence and usefulness among natiions living beyond their eastern boundaries.  It is a prerhetorical rhetoric, suited to judges, prophets, and priest/kings who instruct and command without explaining: that is, suitable to a “closed” world.  As no dispute concerning the materials it enshrined was imaginable, the end to which it was employed was obviously very different from that of the deliberative and forensic discoursings of which the Athenian philosophers approved.  Never did the epideictic serve in pure Hellenic “deciding before” or “judging after” a genuine choice.  Probably its intent was instead the affirmation of a common bond–often in its user, but always shared by those who heard or read after him.  Of course, as long as there have been “authorities” among or over their people, the style has remained a part of every rhetorician’s equipment, a magic to be used whenever what was there for the saying was less important than the saying itself.  Now, we may at first reasonably resist this association of Lincoln and Oriental despotism, especially if we know of Necessitarian Rationalism.  But before we resist too strongly, let us look at what the biblical style implies, and conceals, in his address, aqnd ask if he is not assuming the role of a Joshua, whose authority is such that he need only speak the command of the Lord for it to be obeyed.  

What troubled Bradford, and what should trouble us, is the move beyond discourse and deliberation in political rhetoric to declarations and affirmations of unchallengeable mystic truths.  The Address that fathered the idea of the “proposition nation” is spoken in the language of command and dictation–it and the idea that comes from it both demand unstinting obedience.  This rhetorical move by Lincoln began a tradition of taking sacred idiom and applying it to profane political disagreements that takes the gnostic step of seeking to realise the sacred through politics:

We were a fellowship of “the Book” and took all government and political philosophy–even the Constitution–to be practical and unworthy of mention in the same breath with Holy Scripture.  Politics might, within reason, be tested against revealed truth.  But we never imagined more than a tangency for the political and the sacred–never a holy beginning or conclusion by politics.

In this new confusion of the sacred and political, the creation of the “nation” (which he ahistorically locates in 1776) cannot be simply the separation of one political community from another, but a sign of a commitment to a timeless abstraction.  The Address’ abuse of the Declaration denies the importance of history and custom and all of the actual causes that the Declaration gives for the separation.  The substance of the Declaration itself has little to do with the timeless abstractions with which it is so often solely identified:

Prescriptive laws and kings and honor have nothing to do with the “self-evident” and “metaphysically” proved first principles of Burke’s doctors of the closet.  History is their “legitimate” ancestor; trial and error, reputation and disrepute, sifting and selection stand behind Jefferson’s appeal.  In weight, this argument from the record will not replace revelation or anointment by a Samuel.  But it is far removed from the abstractions of the Encyclopedists or mechanical universe of their perpetually absent “Creator”.  And therefore it does not pretend, despite “self-evident,” to bespeak His will.  Respected for what it is (and with its explosive sentences circumstantially grounded and converted into “mere argument” by a Whig rhetoric), the Declaration is agreeable enough.  Its implicit denial that there was a “founding”, its complexity and dialectic (recognized by most responsible American leaders who invoked the document before 1860, and acknowledged by the very different language of the 1787 Constitution) are, I repeat, inverted by Father Abraham.  And the forces which he thus released in manufacturing his “political religion” [bold added] find their tongue in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” 

So here we come to the heart of the matter.  Not merely a confusion of sacred and political, but the creation of a “political religion” that all good Americans now must confess to belong to the nation.  From the horrors of the twentieth century, we know the full destructive power that political religions can unleash, but, as Michael said, let us leave those horrors aside.  The “proposition nation” idea is even more dangerous than a generic idea of an ”ideological” nation, because it comes from our own history and possesses a mythology of its own.  The problem and the evil of the “proposition nation” idea are that this idea has been ingrained in our national consciousness; we have been to some degree initiated into the political religion of Lincoln from a very early age, perhaps before we could even reason, and many of us have been convinced that to turn against Lincoln and this religion is to set ourselves outside of the boundaries of the nation whose “founding” he invented and rhetorically invested with sacred purpose.  When someone suggests to us that being American is defined by the acceptance of certain values, the dedication to certain propositions, we are predisposed to heed this falsehood, because it is a homegrown falsehood and so it seems to us that there must be something to it. 

There has always been something deeply worrisome about the phrase “credal nation,” so closely tied as it is to a similar notion of “proposition nation”, and it is in the likening of the nation to the Church and the transformation of political ideals into the equivalent of the Deity.  If taken literally, this is blasphemy and idolatry.  Even if taken only metaphorically, it is extremely dangerous to the continuation of reasonable discourse and deliberative politics of the kind fundamental to our republican system and our common experience.  The “proposition nation” idea possesses all of the same dangers. 

In its potential to exclude or denounce dissenters as traitors or enemies of the nation, the “proposition nation” idea is perhaps the single most poisonous idea in American thought today.  That it is taken up with the greatest zeal by those who seem to glory in causing upheaval, violence and revolution around the world and by those who are the heirs of the prophet of “perpetual revolution” should not be a surprise.  It is a revolutionary idea designed for the furtherance and continuation of political revolution.  For this and other reasons, conservatives–if they are to be conservatives–cannot have anything to do with it. 

The Pew religion poll has many interesting items related to religion, politics and public life, but the item that strikes me as most remarkable (though it is probably not a new phenomenon) is the percentage of Protestants and Catholics that does not believe in the Second Coming: 17% of all Protestants and 30% of all Catholics don’t buy it.  One wonders what they think is going to happen.  One also wonders what it is they think they’re doing as Christians if they have no hope of the general resurrection.  Of course, the Protestant numbers are hugely affected by the mainline churches (only 60% of mainline Protestants believe in the Second Coming), while the white evangelical (95%) and black Protestant (92%) numbers are a lot closer to what I would expect them to be.  Silly me, I would expect the numbers to be somewhere around 99%.  Part of this is undoubtedly related to how the people in question view the authority of Scripture with “literalists” being more likely to believe it than others, but I would guess that another part of it must be the neglect of regularly confessing a creed that contains the promise of Christ’s return or, if such a creed is regularly recited, there is no sense that making that public confession is anything other than a rote or perfunctory obligation that has no meaning.  It would have been interesting if the researchers had asked whether the people being interviewed routinely confessed a creed and what creed it was that they confessed.  There should probably be some significant correlation between knowing and reciting a creed and believing in what the creed says 


Your family could have arrived on the Mayflower or in the back of a van, but if you believe in the values of this country as embodied by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Civil Rights Act, then you are American. ~James Forsyth, Foreign Policy Blog

Hat tip to Michael Brendan Dougherty

I remember Bob Dole saying something like the first part of this in 1996: 

A family from Mexico arrives this morning legally has as much right to the American Dream as the direct descents [sic] of the Founding Fathers.

At the time, I was not old enough to vote, so it didn’t cost Dole my vote (it definitely cost him my father’s), but I found it offensive nonetheless.  This is because in such a statement lies a contempt for the historic America and the peoples who have comprised the historic America, as if any group of people from anywhere might have gathered together and created the same kind of country.  It expresses an indifference to inherited culture that would be incredible for a conservative to utter.  It assumes that the people who arrived today have the same claim and the same stake in this country as people whose ancestors have lived here for almost four centuries–this is deeply wrong.  It does make a difference and it should make a difference whether your family arrived in 1607 or 1997–and it does not matter where you are coming from.

Mr. Forsyth objects to Mr. Buchanan’s call for American identity to be rooted in “blood, soil, history and heroes.”  I confess to being perplexed as to why this call should actually be controversial.  Yes, I know why many people think it is controversial, but their position makes no sense.  No real national identity of any kind, and certainly none that ever lasted, has ever endured without being solidly based in these things.  Indeed, what else could our national identity plausibly be rooted in?  Most Americans today do not hold to the political philosophy of the Founders in their attitudes towards consolidated government and their preference for the rule of law over the rule of men.  This is unfortunate, but it will happen in the course of time that peoples adopt different and even diametrically opposed political creeds.  The Loyalists did not accept the ideas of the Declaration, but they were real Americans whose fathers had helped to create our country in its colonial days.  The Antifederalists did not accept the Constitution, but they were real Americans who helped win the War of Independence and forge the Confederation.  The Confederates would not have accepted the Gettysburg Address and did not accept the so-called “new birth of freedom” to be realised at the expense of Union and Liberty, but they were real Americans who maintained their fidelity to the principles of ‘87 and sought to reenact the drama of independence to secure the liberties protected for them by their ancestors.  In the same loyalty to the Constitution, much of the early modern conservative movement opposed the Civil Rights Act as the federal usurpation that it was (and is)–they, too, were real Americans.  Indeed, the formulation that Mr. Forsyth has put forward retroactively must strip many of our most noble and admirable patriots of the name American.  Any definition of American that could conceivably exclude Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee is a meaningless, ridiculous definition. 

As for myself, I have strong reservations about the “values” expressed in the Declaration, at least if we are to take the platitudes expressed therein as claims of truth about the real world; I respect and honour the Constitution, but recognise the serious consolidationist flaws in it; I cannot in good conscience accept anything in the Gettysburg Address, mendacious piece of revisionist propaganda that it was, nor can I accept the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act or the enthusiasm for egalitarianism that inspired it.  According to Mr. Forsyth, I am not an American, though some part of my people have been here since 1634 and most of my family has been here since the early 1700s.  I obviously cannot and will not accept such a definition of my nation that would put me–and a considerable number of my countrymen–outside its boundaries.  I cannot countenance a definition of national identity that makes one’s loyalty to a political position the basis for belonging to the nation.  I want no part of any “ideological,” “credal” or “proposition” nation–you cannot love a proposition. 

There is nothing more artificial, more insubstantial and more dangerous than categorising a nation according to ideology–this is to make honest disagreement over political principles a betrayal of the nation itself.  It is to make dissent into a kind of treason; it is to make fidelity to older traditions that contradict the reigning ideology a mark of disloyalty to the nation.  Fundamentally it is also to confuse ideas for concrete realities and to give them the loyalty we owe to real things.  It is to ignore the concrete realities of kin and place and our memory of our kin and place down through the centuries for the sake of abstractions.  This sort of thinking may very well make it easier for people to enter the country, but it makes it impossible to say any longer what kind of country it is, where it came from or who we are as a people.        

In 1930 twelve Southerners, scholars, men of letters, poets and patriots, issued their defense of a way of life and an understanding of how to live well that they had received from their arts, their fathers and their Southern patria: the book of essays in defense of the Southern agrarian tradition, I’ll Take My Stand.  They were, as M.E. Bradford described them, “the natural heirs of Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline, and the better side of Jefferson–anti-Hamiltonian, antistatist, conservative Democrat….Community was their a priori ideal–an informally hierarchical social organism in which all Southerners (including the Negro, insofar as the survival of that community permitted) had a sense of investment and participation.  In brief, a patriarchal world of families, pre- or noncapitalist because familial, located, pious, and “brotherly”; agrarian in order not to produce the alienated, atomistic individual to whom abstractly familial totalitarianism can appeal; classically republican because that system of government best allowed for the multiplicity that was the nation while at the same time permitting the agrarian culture of families to flourish unperturbed.” (Remembering Who We Are, p.86) 

As Dr. Tom Landess recounted to us in a talk last month, the South to which the Southern Agrarians referred and which they defended was neither an imaginary product of nostalgia for the antebellum South nor a the fruit of longing for the days of the Southern aristocracy.  The South of their hopes and loves was the South of the small farmer, the yeoman, the small businessman, the shopkeeper, the South that existed, the one which they knew, and the one which they knew was threatened and in danger of passing away under the new onslaught of industrialism and abstract notions.  In that land, there was a way of life not unique to the Southern experience but one that was nonetheless peculiarly present in the region that was attuned to the “rhythm of the seasons and the uncertainties of life,” tied to nature and to the passage of time, and thus to history, in a way that, as Dr. Patrick reminded us in his talk on Allen Tate, cultivated a mind all together more historical and culturally European than the mind malnourished in the cities of the Northeast. 

On account of the agrarian way of life of the smallholder and the farmer and the culture of the people who settled the South, the region’s people had a keen sense of place that itself grew from an awareness of being fixed and rooted in a place and forming part of the continuity across the years that bound ancestor and descendant.  That experience could fuel the imagination of a Faulkner to tell the story of the Sartoris clan where the generations of a family together formed a character in its own right, for perhaps the most complete story and the most fully formed characters come from the experience of multiple generations bound by place and their relationship to that place. 

Memory across generations ties a people to their past and lends the place where they live meanings that had been hidden by the veil of time.  This sense of the past was fed by the reception of memories from their fathers in the form of simple stories told and retold, the recollecting of their people’s lives that wove together anecdote, gossip and report into the remembrance of who they were and what they were doing in the particular time and place where they were.    

The Southern mind saw history as something concrete, the fruit of a series of events that does not move us onwards towards a goal but is embodied in the tangible reality of habit and memory (and Bradford tells us to love the inherited nomos of our place and people rather than rush on madly towards the telos of the teleocrat).  This mind saw history as a process of growth and change that those closest to the land understand better, and it remembered that history through the telling of the stories of their kin.

Receptive to memory, the Southern mind was also submissive to nature and God.  As the “Statement of Principles” in I’ll Take My Stand tells us:

Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society.  Religion is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creatures within it.  But nature industrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nature but a highly simplified picture of nature.  We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent.  The God of nature under these conditions is merely an amiable expression, a superfluity, and the philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in the religious experience is not there for us to have.

And in its piety the Southern mind did not, like some Eunomian heretic, scrutinise and weigh the essence of God. On the contrary, it tended to set anything that smacked of rationalism to one side in the understanding of the Faith such that the Southern religion might even be called in many respects “arational,” as Dr. Patrick explained to us, and in its spirituality potentially and dangerously prone to think of religious experience as an escape from history rather than a living out of the Word incarnate and the Word enfleshed and embodied in us in the sacraments.  And yet it was this same religious spirit in the South that does instinctively recognise the createdness of things and the dependence of the being of all things on the will of the Creator, a recognition that comes and must come in no small part from the relationship to the created order of one who tends and cultivates rather than one who uproots and exploits, which is to say an agrarian relationship rather than that of an industrialist and a consumer.  It is there in the tending of the “cultivated garden” that man understands his place before creation and his Creator, particularly by being in his own place where he will give praise to his God for the bounty that has been provided in God’s goodness.  It is there that he remembers who he truly is, seeing his connections to his place across the generations in the fields and groves that nourished him and made him into what he is.   Then, having remembered, he will tell his sons and daughters of their history on that land, so that they will know it is loved and should be loved, and to see that they must love and care for it because, in a way, the land has already loved and cared for them.  As Bradford concluded his essay in defense of the Agrarians (and all agrarians), so will I conclude today, with a few lines from Donald Davidson:

Is good, but better is land, and best
A land still fought-for, even in retreat:
For how else can Aeneas find his rest
And the child hearken and dream at his grandsire’s feet?  

When Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks and Bill Kristol latch onto an idea, you can be pretty confident that it will involve either calls for war or preachy self-importance.  In the creation and transmission of the “McCain-Lieberman Party” meme, we get both, where the central figures of this new “party” are both pro-war (which war? name one!) and preachy, self-important men.  But the “McCain-Lieberman Party” idea is not a new thing of the last few years.  It is the same convergence of ”hawks” that America has seen over the last two decades during each conflict or international crisis.  During the 1990s and especially during the Kosovo War we saw a similar convergence of opinion, represented best by The Weekly Standard and The New Republic as each tried to outdo the other in calling for more aggressive action in the Balkans.  Indeed, “aggressive action” might as well be this group’s motto, since that seems to be the standard by which it judges all other foreign policy ideas lacking and according to which it deems a politician to be “responsible” or not.  McCain-Lieberman serves as a handy substitute for this convergence, since McCain is the poster boy and hero of the Standard (he was their favoured primary candidate in 2000 over George “humble foreign policy” Bush) and Lieberman has become the personification of Democratic interventionism beloved of Marty Peretz and Peter Beinart at TNR.  We might also call this the Hegemony-Democratism Party.  If you like both of those ideas, you’ll love the McCain-Lieberman Party.

In its obsession with foreign policy this “party” bears all the hallmarks of crisis unity governments, such as those of Britain in WWI or Israel under Sharon during the second intifada.  Because certain “gloomy hawks” believe that America in particular now must endure a situation similar to that of Israel, the parallel with an Israeli unity government may be the most instructive.  For such alliances the crisis and foreign policy are dominant and perhaps even all-consuming–they are the alliance’s reason for being and, as such, there is an all too natural tendency on the part of alliances forged during crisis to want to exaggerate the scope of the crisis and imagine that the threat is far, far more dire than it may actually be.  This not only suits the interests of the alliance itself, but also suits the priorities of the constituent members of the alliance who have made facing down foreign threats (real or imaginary) the fundamental litmus test of all “responsible” politics in their respective camps.  

Because the ”party” conceives of the situation as an emergency, normal rules of dissent, the rule of law and representative government are no longer necessarily binding and must be bent to accommodate the crisis.  One might also note that this “party” is an entirely elite party in its inspiration and membership, a party that dictates policy and ideology down to the lower orders, who depart from the script that is written for them at the peril of being declared by their masters unpatriotic, extremist or in some other way insane.  As detached from their constituents as the two (real) major parties have become, as miserable as their record of serving their constituents’ best interests certainly is, they remain relatively popular parties based in real constituencies–even if those consituencies are routinely used simply to serve the interests of a few.  The McCain-Lieberman Party is a “party” made up of ideological cadres whose influence and worth is based solely in their adherence to party doctrine, which is nothing other than support for projecting power and maximising hegemonic control in the world.  The party of democratism does not need a lot of the rabble meddling in its plans.  McCain-Lieberman is shorthand for, “We’re in charge, we always know better, so sit down and shut up.”  

Like ancient satraps, the interventionists govern their respective provinces (conservatives on the one hand, progressives on the other) and make sure that they continue to pay tribute to the Shahanshah, War.  But like any Shahanshah, this party’s master demands slavishness and servility from its subjects and rules by the whip and the knout.  Free men and patriotic Americans do not prostrate themselves before this party’s master.  If the “party” would make their devotion to War the thing that defines them and gives them meaning, let us consider them its subjects and servants and judge them accordingly.   

Perhaps most significant, many men without college degrees are not marrying because the pool of women in their social circles — those without college degrees — has shrunk. And the dwindling pool of women in this category often look for a mate with more education and hence better financial prospects. ~The New York Times

Via Steve Sailer

As if it weren’t bad enough that modern education and professional psychiatry neglect and overmedicate boys when they are in school, the system is actually managing to educate their marriage prospects right out of their income bracket! 

Regarding another element of social and cultural breakdown, the experience of having gone through their parents’ divorce and the realistic probability that their marriage might end in divorce are enough to dissuade those in a position to marry from doing so.  As the article notes, to no one’s surprise:

For some men, living with a girlfriend is an attractive alternative given the possibility of a messy divorce. Many men fear that a former wife will take all their money. For blue-collar men, the divorce rate is twice that of men with college degrees.

This is, to put it mildly, a highly abnormal state for any sizeable number of people to be in.  We might then go into the social costs of the pursuit of chimerical gender equality, discuss the social disorder of a large population of permanent bachelors, generally berate a society obsessed with autonomous choice, point to the inevitable results of pushing women into the work force while simultaneously allowing the desanctifying and undermining of marriage, highlight the creation of job insecurity thanks to offshoring and outsourcing and other beneficial effects of “creative destruction” that make marriage very difficult for labourer and professional alike, or note the impact of immigration on the labour force and housing market.  Mr. Sailer has already touched on some of these.  However, I haven’t even had breakfast yet, so I’ll let those ideas float out there for your consideration.

But even if Israel somehow loses this war, through incompetent Israeli tactics or superior Hezbollah strategy, that does not, in itself, prove the war was unjust by reason of lacking a “reasonable chance of success.” The North came very close to losing the Civil War; if Early had taken Washington when he had the chance, or the bluecoats had broken at Gettysburg, the South might have won. Would those events have made Lincoln an unjust warrior? ~Joseph Bottum

This unfortunate question by Mr. Bottum, which comes in response to some interesting notes of limited skepticism about Lebanon and Iraq from Ross Douthat, is supposed to be a sort of rhetorical slam dunk: no one would be so crazy as to suggest that Father Abraham was not a “just warrior”!  There is also a reference to FDR, but that would take us too far afield into the history of that man’s particular tyranny.  But let that wait for a minute. 

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