Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Splintering revisited

Our friend Jonah responds to this post, especially the end. Here’s JG:

[JK’s concluding point] misses what’s disturbing about the potential rebirth of Social Gospelism on the right, particularly in the form of Mike Huckabee’s compassionate conservatism with better bible quotes. If the Christian right — diverse though it may be — starts to become more sympathetic to using activist government as a instrument to impose God’s teachings — or one interpretation of them — then the largest and most reliable voting bloc in the Republican Party will become merely rightwing progressives, using government at all levels to do what they think is good, regardless of whether it’s constitutional or federalist or liberal in the classical sense. Huckabee’s support for a national federal ban on workplace and/or public smoking should be very scary to believers in limited government. Huckabee’s economic populism, likewise, is not a good omen. And the fact that Huckabee is popular in this "everybody’s doing it" climate is not reassuring in the least.

Let me try to make, inadequately, the more complicated point I didn’t have time to make yesterday. I take it as given that, in practical political terms, we can’t--or should want to--zero out all the government programs put into place since the New Deal. I agree with this argument and this argument, in other words. (Thanks, Julie.)

But the dismantling of "superfluous" government doesn’t take place in a political, moral, or cultural vacuum. The question is how to cultivate the characters who are willing to stand on their own and the civil society that can foster and support them. Cultivating the conditions of self-reliance and voluntary engagement with widows and orphans was--is?--the overarching purpose of "compassionate conservatism, properly understood."

Jonah’s right that this position can easily morph into something else--morally conservative Social Gospelism or (what we saw from all too many Congressional Republicans in the past few years) a license for politically motivated porkbarreling (for which Tom DeLay is the poster child).

Can such degeneration be avoided? I’m not sure, though if the alternative is an also easily vulgarized libertarianism that is indifferent to the social, cultural, and moral conditions of responsible liberty, I think I know which poison I’ll pick.

In the meantime, I’ll muddle through, encouraging respect for the Constitution and its limits and reminding everyone that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," which I regard as shorthand for the argument that our constitution can function well only on certain moral, social, and cultural presuppositions, which need shoring up after having been under assault for the past few decades.

Discussions - 14 Comments

To clarify a point I made below, I do know some Catholics who take seriously Catholic Social Teaching who could accurately be described as social conservatives but fiscal liberals (supporting social programs, pro-regulation, skeptical of capitalism, etc.) The more thoughtful of these do not embrace Democrat style liberalism but more a third way type of Distributism that emphasizes the Catholic idea of subsidiary and human scale. There are many paleos who could fit this description.



But I just don't see all these evangelical economic liberals that everyone is talking about. The candidates who have tried to tap that strain (Bauer in 2000, Brownback, and Huckabee) have not done well. Evangelicals are very much party line mainstream conservatives. (Problematically so in some ways.) In fact, I highly suspect there is a direct correlation to how conservative someone is on social issues to how conservative they are on economic issues. There is also a direct relationship between those with more moderate social views and moderate economic views. (Chris Shays and the northeastern Republicans for example.) The truly "libertarian" Republicans (social liberals but economic, spending, tax hawks are few and far between). The few Republicans who can legitimately claim some degree of libertarianism are generally social traditionalist in rhetoric and their libertarianism is expressed as federalism (Paul, Sanford).



DR. K., you go to a conservative Reformed church, don't you? Do you see these Christian economic liberals that we keep hearing about? I certainly don't find them in conservative Baptist circles.



As I have said before, there is growing disinterest and frustration with politics, but not a growing liberalism any more than the general drift left of the entire culture.

Red,

I don't see them in people my age, but young folks these days....

More precisely, I attend a church with a relatively traditional liturgy. I know people who attend more "seeker-oriented" churches with praise services. You're likelier to find "compassionate conservatives" (properly or improperly understood) in the ranks of younger folks at those (growing) churches.

I think Goldberg is blowing this way out of proportion. For every Huckabee in the GOP there are three of four Specters or Gordon Smith's or Susan Collins or Rudy Giuliani's. It's not Protestant Christians moving to the fiscal left.

If Goldberg has any actual data to back up his claims, I'd like to see it. As it stands he seems to be regurgitating Ryan Sagers silly ideas about a fiscally liberal South and (at least implicitly) a fiscally conservative West.

Interesting link to a list of US Senators broken out by religious affiliation.


Looking at these people, I think its pretty clear that in decesending order of fiscal conservatism, we have Protestants (various denominations), Mormons, Catholics, and Jews.

To the extent that the GOP is competing more aggressively for votes among Catholics and Jews, it is probably forced to become more fiscally liberal.

The South unfortunately likes its pork like everyone else does. Especially the military kind. And there is an economic populist streak in the South. But I don't really see that as fiscal liberalism per se. Not in the way Jonah is suggesting. Supporting the TVA of Fort Benning is not the same as supporting some welfare program. It is fair to say that the South contributes its share to fiscal indiscipline.

Republican Congressmen from the South are more fiscally conservative than those from other parts of the country. It was Republican Congressmen from the South who upheld Bush's S-CHIP veto, for instance.

Clint - Reread Thomas More's rebuke to his future son-in-law in Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons."

Hmm..., I'll add it to the list, but I must say the list is rather long right now, and that will be trumped by far more useful works.

In the spirit of assigning reading, perhaps the Bible might also be useful in determining Christians' outlook on government. I know, just a crazy thought.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

In the interest of suggesting reading...I offer up Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. How would Hegel explain this splintering?

A cute analogy to be sure. If it were properly focused I would be convinced. However, Christians' highest goal isn't to chase the devil but to follow God. I might not cut down every law to chase the devil and attack evil, but I don't have a problem with cutting down law to find God and do what is right. And if less stands between our nation and God-so be it.

Frightening.

I'm sure you are a better Christian than you are a conservative.

Both? Neither? It's hard to tell when using the language that power hungry politics uses.

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