What (and who) drives Religious Right?

At the American Conservative, Michael Dougherty argues that the well-known division of the Republican coalition into social/religious, fiscal, and national security “conservatives” is deceptive.  In fact, the evangelical Protestants who we tend to think of as comprising the “religious right” are the most enthusiastic on each issue:  more committed to Zionism and democracy exporting than the neoconservatives, more passionate about lowering taxes than the libertarians.  Based on the stated beliefs of its members, the Tea Party is not a libertarian compeditor to the religious right, but rather the religious right itself in a new guise.  Assuming this is true, I w0nder if it is meaningful to speak of the religious right per se, as opposed to calling them the Republican party “base” or “grassroots”.  Indeed, Paul Gottfried in his response to Dougherty’s article claims that, in his experience, members of the religious right care more about promoting the Republican Party at home and democracy abroad than they do about abortion or other social issues.  Gottfried attributes this to intellectual laziness.

I think both Dougherty and Gottfried are too hard on their subjects.  They are vexed that Evangelicals would stick by G. W. Bush despite what they see as his manifest incompetance, but this becomes easier to understand when one looks at that the Democrats were offering as the alternative.  As long as the Democrats maintain their fanaticism for abortion, sodomy, feminism, and secularism, it’s hard to see how evangelical protestants have any choice.

As someone who, I suppose, belongs to the religious right–but who despises democracy and capitalism–it is certainly vexing to see these issues not only embraced, but effectively eclipsing the issues I do care about.  If only there were a way to capture and reorient the debate.  What we need is an intellectual leader and spokesman.  A while back, I was reading that Robert George had more or less assumed this role.  George, you’ll recall is a law professor at Princeton and a proponent of “new natural law” Thomism.  To his great credit, he certainly brings focus back onto social issues:  abortion, in-vitro fertilization, homosexuality, pornography, euthanasia.  Against the libertarians, he has affirmed that the state has a duty to foster a healthy “moral ecology” for the community, so he has made a refreshing break with individualism.  My main objection to George’s writings is his strong endorsement of propositional nation nonsense.  He will often start arguments with something like the following:  “Unlike other nations, America is based on an idea:  human equality.  Now let’s go outlaw abortion!”  Perhaps it’s just for show–George wants people to think his inspiration is the Founding Fathers, not Thomas Aquinas–but he’s brought out this line too many times for this to be likely.

One of the disadvantages of not controling the discourse is that a hostile media gets to decide for you who your spokesperson is.  The New York Times has decided that this buffoon is our idea man.  David Barton is described generously by the Times as a “self-taught historian”.  He is also an ordained minister, but his true religion seems to be Founderolatry.  In his mind, the Founders were not deist freemason traitors history records, but infallible gods whose wisdom (distilled in quotations removed from any context) can resolve all of America’s contemporary debates, in the Republicans’ favor.  Did you know that James Madison (peace be upon him) opposes the stimulus plan?

I would love to say that Barton is really an atheist-Jewish NYT conspiracy to make American Christians look dumb, but the fact is that he has gotten approval by a number of prominent Republican politicians.  We’re making ourselves look stupid; we religious rightists have no one to blame but ourselves.  What really handicaps the religious right, and Founderolatry is just one particularly silly manifestation of this, is an absurdly inflated idea of the virtue of the United States of America.  Our own code of ethics would logically lead us to label America as an especially wicked nation.  Instead, we always hear that America is especially, even uniquely, virtuous among nations both contemporary and historical.  We’ve just fallen from our own high ideals in a few isolated areas, like abortion.  These are no doubt a blot on our nation, but they don’t touch its virtuous and glorious essence.  This is implausible, and it seems hard to believe that someone who really believes what a pro-lifer believes would go around saying that America is the greatest nation on earth.  It’s like saying that a certain man you know is the kindest person on earth, except that he’s a serial killer, but, oh, you should just see how nice he is when he’s not killing people.  No, abortion is not just a blot on the surface.  A basically good people doesn’t murder a million of its children each year to promote sexual promiscuity and female selfishness.  The rot goes to the core; the sickness goes to the soul.  One would expect that Christians would be the first to recognize the depravity of unredeemed man (and one might think a Protestant people would be especially sensitive to this point).  Instead, we act like America is holier than God Himself.  The leader we need is someone like Augustine or Calvin.

7 Responses

  1. I don’t believe this is accurate. There “religious right” as in religious traditional conservatives are mostly underground and are concentrated in homeschooling and in private schools with some influence on local politics (not national politics). It is the libertarians and the neoconservatives who drive the Republican party (right-liberals). The whole idea that the Tea Party is in disguise the “religious right” is leftist delusion and hysteria. Go to leftist blogs and see how they see right-liberals as “ultra conservatives”. The far-left is truly psychotic.

    I would tend to agree that heretical Christians and liberal Christians have an influence on national politics though. How many “cafeteria Catholics” do you know? Also they are pretty much right that evangelicals are crazy about prosperity/health/wealth/America (and even the whole proposition nation nonsense plus democracy and individualism).

  2. Dear Bonald,

    I’ve been reading your blog for some months now, and i must admit that i’m always surprised how you manage to personify the ideals of the european counterrevolutionaries. There is a portuguese author i would like to advise the reading – he is not very original, but he represents the portuguese branch of countrrevolutionary thought, harmoniously combining Burke with Bonald and De Maistre. His name is José Agostinho de Macedo. I’ll start translating some of his thoughts in my personal blog, http://espectador-portugues.blogspot.com/.

    Deus Guarde Vossa Senhoria,

    Manuel Rezende.

  3. Sorry I meant the religious right, not “there”.

  4. Bonald,

    What about someone like Brent Bozell with his Triumph Magazine? There was a guy who (much like your own story) evolved from Classical Liberalism to traditionalism he criticized the Founders and understood America itself was the problem. I was reading some old Triumph articles the other day and there was great article attacking Americanism in the Catholic Church. Also one of their covers had pictures of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Robespierre and Paine in a kind of a black shadowy manor. I was surprised, however, when I saw the cover they had put none other than St. Thomas Jefferson himself on there! No Catholic publication would ever do that today.

  5. That’s exactly the sort of thing we need.

  6. Dear Manuel Rezende,

    I have a great interest in the history of counterrevolutionary thought, but I lack the language skills to go to the most interesting sources myself. I am grateful for your translating work, and I very much look forward to reading your translations as they appear.

  7. Hello fijneni,

    I think the point was not that the Tea Party is made up of people who are “really” the religious right, but that white Protestant evangelicals are equally enthusiastic about all branches of the Republican platform. I certainly hope that’s not true, although there is some evidence for it. I think what you’re saying (and I agree) is that these people are not the real religious right; they’re just generic Republicans. There is a real religious right–the religious traditionalists–but they are a much smaller and less visible group.

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