What’s Wrong with the Republican Party?

by Jeff Taylor on November 21, 2012 · 39 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Politics & Power

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Sioux Center, Iowa.   I was one of the delegates representing the state of Iowa at the Republican National Convention three months ago.  Most of us were grassroots conservative activists and many were first-time convention goers.  At the state convention, last summer, I was a member of a Ron Paul/Tea Party/Religious Right slate that competed against a pro-establishment slate.  When elected, I felt very grateful.

There were two ways to view the national convention.  The first focused on the style of the convention.  The second focused on its substance.  Most TV viewers and most delegates took the first approach.  For them, the convention was a success if the convention hall looked appealing, if the speakers spoke with zest and without gaffes, if the party looked unified, if events ran smoothly, if the weather cooperated, and if pundits told them that Governor Romney would get a bounce in the polls coming out of Tampa.  In that sense, I agree with most observers who said that the convention was a success.

However, as both a political activist and political scientist, I naturally gravitate more toward the second approach.  Moving beyond surface analysis, I was disappointed by the convention in several ways.  As is true of all modern nominating conventions, there was little for the delegates to do beyond serving as props in a week-long infomercial for the presidential nominee.  In the old days, delegates actually chose the nominee during the convention week—and often the vice presidential nominee as well.  The roll call lasted for multiple ballots . . . sometimes over multiple days.  There were roll-call votes on credential disputes, rule changes, and platform planks.  Nowadays, the conventions are sanitized and tightly controlled from above.  They are less a convention and more a coronation.

Unfortunately, almost all possible drama and excitement were removed from the national convention before it got underway on Tuesday.  The end result was a slick but boring production.  Often times, the highlight of the hours was the great house band led by ex-SNL song leader G.E. Smith.  Delegates from some states danced on the convention floor.  As the convention week went on, the aisles grew increasingly clogged with Romney whips sporting baseball caps and super-serious faces, as well as chipper young people handing out Romney signs for delegates to wave for the benefit of the cameras.

In an interview with CBS News at the beginning of the convention week, Governor Romney disagreed with our party’s proposed platform and revealed that he favored legalized abortion in the cases of “rape and incest and the health and life of the mother.”  The health exception is well known as a large loophole.  It can mean physical, mental, or emotional health. This was the loophole used for “therapeutic” state abortion law changes in the late 1960s, including California and New York.  This was the loophole favored by liberal Republican/Planned Parenthood types like Romney’s parents and Romney himself during the pre-Roe period.

In the 1990s, Mitt Romney was still an abortion supporter.  By August 2012, he was posing as an opponent, but he couldn’t keep his words straight.  Smiling, Romney told CBS that the Democrats try to make abortion a political issue but he didn’t see it as such.  Instead, it’s “a matter in the courts” and “it’s been settled for some time in the courts.”  Not exactly a rallying cry for the anti-abortion movement.

On the first day of convention proceedings, delegates voted on controversial rule changes that shifted power away from future state and national convention delegates, putting it into the hands of presidential candidates and the Republican National Committee.  They were opposed by the anti-establishment forces in the party (not just Paul supporters).  Speaker John Boehner was chairing the convention.  He asked for adoption of the Rules Committee report, including the new power grab.  About equal numbers of delegates shouted Aye and No but Boehner immediately said the Aye’s had it.  Those of us on the losing side protested, calling for a division of the house (standing vote) to get a more accurate count.  But national conventions do not use Robert’s Rules of Order.  No debate is allowed.  The floor microphones are turned off.  There is no way to appeal the ruling of the chair.  This leads to frustration.

The undemocratic, rigged nature of the convention became even more obvious the next day when cell phone video of the teleprompter surfaced.  After Boehner asked for the No’s, the teleprompter text declared, “The Aye’s have it.”  In other words, the outcome was scripted and predetermined.  The process was fake but at least it was exciting.   (By the way, Democrats are no better.  Their national convention included a false, scripted vote on changing the party platform.)  In making, or even proposing, these and other changes designed to curb the power of grassroots conservatives, the GOP establishment revealed for the umpteenth time its contempt for tradition and its hypocrisy in regard to professed opposition to power grabbing by centralized authorities in Washington.

Ron Paul delegates were upset early in the week when the Romney campaign excluded a bunch of duly-elected delegates from states like Louisiana and Maine, and replaced them with Romney supporters picked by national party officials rather than state convention delegates.  Again, power seemed to trump principle.  The presidential roll call of the states was moved from its traditional place later in the week to the very beginning, and scheduled out of primetime, so the Romney campaign would be spared the embarrassment of having TV watchers see Congressman Paul receive a couple hundred votes in tribute to his campaign and his principles.  The outcome was never in doubt.  Governor Romney had the vast majority of delegates locked up and was the obvious presumptive nominee.  When states announced votes for Paul—usually just a few per state—not a single one was verbally acknowledged by the convention officials at the podium.  Such actions made the Romney campaign look insecure and were not conducive to party unity.

Another example of possible overreaching by the Romney campaign was the fact that every podium speech had to be submitted in advance for approval.  Senator Rand Paul was forbidden to say the name of his own father in his own speech!  With the exception of Senator Paul, recognized leaders of the grassroots Tea Party movement were absent from the list of speakers (e.g., Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Mike Lee).  Combined with the virtual absence of any talk about protecting the unborn and defending traditional marriage, non-establishment Republicans had little to be enthused about despite their preexisting doubts about Mitt Romney.  Most voted for Romney on November 6 because they detest Obama, but the enthusiasm deficit that plagued his campaign during the past year continued and hindered crucial on-the-ground support.  The lack of enthusiasm probably cost him the election.  Fear and hatred of Barack Obama—the only two weapons in the Romney/Republican arsenal—could only go so far.  The nominee and the party had little positive appeal for average Americans.

It was nice to feel a sense of kinship, at least on some levels, with a bunch of strangers.  Obviously, I felt closer to fellow Paul delegates but I had some things in common with most grassroots Republicans.  It was nice to hear different regional accents, from Massachusetts to Texas.  It all contributed to a sense of community.  Many of the Ron Paul delegates were Christians and it was nice to fellowship on that level as well.  The convention hall was full of professing Christians and I agreed with many of them on social issues so that was also a nice atmosphere in which to practice politics.  Nonetheless, from a Christian perspective, some of the most prominent elements of the convention were the most disturbing.

There was an abundance of condemnation of the Democratic Party’s sins (real and imagined).  This wasn’t all bad because there is a time and place to publicly call people to account for wrongdoing.  But even here, the Romney-dominated convention pulled its punches when it came to subjects like legalized abortion, politicized homosexuality, and aggressive secularism.  Wanting to appeal to centrist voters and not wanting to appear too religious, almost nothing was said from the podium by the speakers on any of those important subjects.  Another reason for the silence is that Governor Romney apparently has little interest in such matters beyond their utility as political tactics.  As a result, there was no clear, strong voice on behalf of protecting unborn babies even though this is the single biggest issue that keeps many Christians voting Republican.  As someone who is deeply pro-life, I found that very disappointing.

Although the “sins” of the opposing party were loudly and repeatedly condemned, there was almost no confession of, or contrition for, our own “sins.”  The failures of the Bush administration were never acknowledged.  By 2008, millions of Republicans associated with the Religious Right, Tea Party, and Ron Paul movements were disillusioned with the national GOP leadership.  Listening to the convention speakers, one would think that all was forgotten by the time Republicans convened in Tampa.  Every ill of society was blamed on Barack Obama, with the implication that conservative Republicans experienced a golden age during the eight years of George W. Bush.  Yet Bush-Cheney set the stage for Obama-Biden when it came to deficit spending, corporate bailouts, big government regulation, executive overreach, disregard of the Constitution, same sex “marriage,” and belligerent foreign policy.

Not only was there no contrition for GOP errors in evidence on the podium of the convention, but the promotion of what could be viewed as anti-Christian values bothered me.  The poor appeared only as a plot device in rags-to-riches stories.  Crony capitalism was glorified under the euphemism “job creators.”  Faux rugged individualism was touted under the boast “We built it.”  While these emphases contained a kernel of truth in their rejection of overweening statism, they were also laden with an unhealthy dose of pride and greed.

Finally, there was the civil religion and patriotism-as-faith summed up by Governor Romney’s slogan “Believe in America.”  During his acceptance speech, he listed one of the missions of America as “uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness.”  We know that save and darkness are messianic terms.  I am a patriot and a nationalist of sorts myself but there are limits that ought to be recognized.  If such limits are not recognized, one falls into idolatry even with the best of intentions.  It was Jesus Christ—not America—who gave “light to those who sit in darkness,” who is “the light that shines in the darkness,” and who has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (Acts 1:79; John 1:5; I Peter 2:9).  God sent the Son—not America—into the world “that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

At another point during his speech, Romney said, “Now is the moment where we can stand up and say, ‘I am an American.  I make my destiny.  We deserve better.’”  He referred to America as “the greatest country in the history of the world.”  In some ways, this is true, but what indices are being used to measure greatness?  Ancient Israel might have a more valid claim to the title by some measures.  Other possibilities are ancient Athens, the Roman Republic, or the Swiss Confederation.  And since comparisons between countries are invariably a matter of apples and oranges, why this obsession with being The Greatest?  I realize it’s an old phenomenon—Tocqueville sardonically made note of it—but it’s not a good trait.  From the standpoint of manners, it’s boorish.  It’s not integral to patriotism.  The old song “You’re a Grand Old Flag” claims that “there’s never a boast or brag” among American patriots.  Finally, and most importantly, humility— not pride—is a Christian virtue.

The title of Governor Romney’s campaign book was No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.  In a form letter written by Romney, on the eve of the convention, he asserted, “When you believe in America, you don’t apologize for America.”  Does he believe the nation— which really means the federal government— is beyond error?  Free of wrongdoing?  Or just that errors and wrongdoing should never be mitigated by apology because America should never apologize for any mistake or any evil?  It is an interesting idea but it is far from Christian.  If “American exceptionalism” means that our nation has many wonderful attributes, then I agree.  If “American exceptionalism” means that our government is exempt from the moral code bestowed on the world by God himself, then it is a false and dangerous doctrine.

Forty years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned, “In the United States many churches display the American flag.  The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other.  Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal?  If it does, you are really in trouble. . . . Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.”  These words remain true even though they contradict the pandering clichés of ambitious politicians and the cherished beliefs of well-meaning citizens.

More recently, J. Budziszewski made the same point, listing civil religion as the first moral error of American conservatism.  He defined it as the notion that “America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration.”  He went on to criticize the mistake of “confusing America with Zion”: “She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. . . . No nation can presume to take God under its wing.  However we may love our country, dote upon her, and regret her, God can do without the United States.”

It is also worth mentioning that such displays of patriotism ring false to some of us because they come from a clique of globalists who evaded U.S. military service when they had the opportunity, and who show little regard for our Constitution, our local communities, or the best traditions of our country.  The evil is multiplied by the fact that cheap patriotic platitudes serve as cover for a foreign policy of power and profit through bloody, open-ended wars of aggression.

One peek-behind-this-curtain is afforded to us by Robert Kaplan’s book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos.  Drawing inspiration from Machiavelli and Hobbes (among others), the book was published in 2001 with blurbs by Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich.  It rejects Christian morality in favor of a pagan, amoral, end-justifies-the-means method of gaining and sustaining power.  Kaplan writes, “For American power to endure, it will need to be impelled by a more primitive level of altruism than that of the universal society it seeks to encourage.  American patriotism—honoring the flag, July Fourth celebrations and so on—must survive long enough to provide the military armature for an emerging global civilization that may eventually make such patriotism obsolete.”  In other words, short-term disingenuous patriotism in the service of long-term global governance.   Yuck.

Admittedly, Governor Romney and the national GOP bigwigs did not lose the election because they were too committed to the anti-Christian values of greed, pride, idolatry, violence, injustice, and deceit.  There were other, more pedestrian, reasons.

Romney was a poor candidate.  He lacked the common touch and could not successfully fake it.  He was a rich elitist who made his money through vulture capitalism at a time when such wheelers and dealers are held in low esteem.  He was a flip-flopping opportunist.  He didn’t even try to distance himself from the Bush-era neocons/pragmatists who launched two unnecessary wars abroad and an intrusive federal government at home until very late in the campaign.  He was a man who apparently had no interest in the social issues of concern to many Republicans—namely, protecting unborn life and upholding genuine marriage (or if he did have interest, it was in the form of private adherence to the social liberalism of his family and class).  He was a Mormon in a party full of evangelical Christians, who tend to see his religion as a cult.  He gratuitously antagonized grassroots conservatives at the national convention.  He was surrounded by amateurish control freaks.  Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the other professional entertainers who pontificate on politics for money and power tried to paper over Romney’s weaknesses, but the weaknesses remained.

The anti-Christian elements of modern Republicanism did not hinder the Romney campaign very much because they are widely viewed as good things.  They are examples of the red meat routinely tossed to the conservative masses.  But for those of us who recognize them to be weaknesses rather than strengths, they make it more difficult to buy into the lesser-of-two-evils argument.  Even if we concede that it’s okay to vote for an evil candidate because he’s the lesser evil, what do we do when that candidate is the greater evil in some ways?  When he’s more phony and more unjust, more materialistic and more imperialistic?  If Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge their own shortcomings, refuse to turn in a different direction, then what do we gain if “our guy” gains power?  Power to do what?

A younger, sexier, or more ethnic Mitt Romney is not the answer.  It’s not enough to win.  What happens after the victory?  Most of the post-election critiques of the Republican Party are about style.  Substance is more important.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Gorentz November 21, 2012 at 1:09 am

The Republican party is irrelevant. It’s only purpose is as a whipping boy. There is no conceivable scenario in which it is not going to be demonized and made the object of official hate.

We should be talking instead about what’s wrong with the one-party state.

avatar David Smith November 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

Well said, Mr. Taylor! I realize that life is full of grays rather than black-or-whites, but, once again, the minimum standard for any holder of public office is a commitment to supporting and defending the Constitution. No, our founding legal document is far from perfect, but if the original intent is given due respect, it is pretty darned good. Dr. Paul was the only candidate who has consistently articulated and practiced such a commitment.

And I never believed a Paul presidency would lead us into messianic bliss: the man himself would vehemently denounce such thinking. Put another way, I was for him as much for what he would not do as I was for what he proposed doing. Talk from the candidates of both parties regarding “job creation”, for example, struck me as symptomatic of the fundamental problem: it isn’t the government’s responsibility to create jobs; their “creativity” in this matter is about staying out of the way!

Furthermore, I saw Gov. Romney, though I believe him to be a basically good and honorable man, as yet another heir to Hamilton’s “national greatness” doctrine – a true Federalist/Whig . . . Republican! While I certainly preferred the deportment of both Romney and Ryan to the vulgarity of the Democrats – they at least weren’t contemptuous in their speech of the traditional (and frankly Southern) America I inhabit – the ultimately idolotrous appeal to American Exceptionalism and its resulting messianic pretensions at meddling, both at home and abroad, may, in the end, be every bit as damnable as the rank immorality and secularism of the Left.

Once again, I believe we’d be better off if the Republican Party would go into the dustbin of history.

avatar Robb Davis November 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

Naming American idolotry takes courage. Thanks for doing it. The day after the election, and after Iran took a shot at a US drone near (in?) its airspace, a Tea-Party family member who is also a minister wrote, not once but twice on Facebook, that the US needs to use nuclear weapons on Iranian cities. I responded (saracastically at first) thanking him for clearly articulating the principles of the Prince of Peace. Later, still angry at the “America-First” rhetoric of his posts, I asked him how he would feel if I forwarded his posts to a dear Iranian friend with whom I work, told the friend they were from a minister of Christ, and then presented the message of Jesus’ reconciling work to the man. He promptly un-friended me.

My point (and I am still shocked and stinging from the exchange) is that the idolotry you call out in this piece is a reality in this land. Allegiance to the state is reinforced by both parties and is truly the religion that binds us (if you doubt that consider how supportive most Dems have been of Obama’s continued use of drones because they are deemed necessary to protect our way of life).

Thanks for naming this reality.

avatar Albert November 21, 2012 at 10:50 am

Thanks, Mr. Taylor. This is really good: your comments are not simply critical, but quite constructive.

The political establishment is becoming more abhorrent by the day; I am increasing tempted to gut-reactions of simply disagreeing with whatever the establishment recommends.

The reason I did not vote for the Republican presidential candidate this month, for the first time in my life, was simply because it was unknowable whether he really was “the lesser of two evils,” because no one actually knows what he believes or would do once he lied his way into office. So it would have been, in my opinion, equally irresponsible to vote for him as to vote for the terrible candidate of the Democratic Party.

avatar robert m. peters November 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. You have related by first-hand experience what I have sensed for a long time. The last time I supported a Republican candidate was as a teenage volunteer for the maverick Goldwater. Since then, I have supported and voted neither Republican or Democrat; for I recognized that they were merely co-parasites of the ultimately parasite on the American commonwealths, namely the Hobbesian state, the egg of which the Federalist had planted in the Constitution itself, which was nurtured by the Whigs and which hatched as a cockatrice in the Republican Party of the mid-19th century.

avatar Roman November 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Good piece, Mr. Taylor. Calling out the idolatry of “American Exceptionalism” is dead on. The mainstream “establishment” has hijacked the names and identities of grassroots movements and continues to portray the groups as wacky racist Republicans. What happened at the convention shattered whatever remnant of respect that might have been left for the process. The “lesser of two evils” is a sham that we have been falling for for too long. The “lesser of two evils” argument is now being labeled by many Christians as “proximate justice”. I’d be interested to hear what people around these porches have to say about that. Is that really what we’ve come to? Your comment, “…what do we do when that candidate is the greater evil in some ways?,” answers that.

avatar Gerrit Botha November 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I have recently discovered this site and enjoy the discussions here and particularly this article by Mr Taylor. I am a secular progressive Canadian, but I am concerned for conservatism as I think society requires a healthy conservatism. Our governing conservative party is indistinguishable from the liberal party, as it seems is the case in the USA. I visit as many conservative sites as progressive ones and may I just say that the kind of healthy back-to-fundamentals conservatism I see espoused in the discussions here would make a formidable societal force. I hope to see your ideas influence conservatism for the better. Best wishes from Canada.

avatar Matt Cordella November 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm

“power seemed to trump principle.” Nail. On. The. Head.

avatar Mike Fournier November 21, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I, like many other have become fairly disenchanted with the Republican Party. I joined so that I could vote for Reagan for President. But despite continual rails against the establishment there seems to be little that we can do about them, they run and will continue to run the party.
I believe it is time for a new third party, but the people who make the conservative movement, the people who have great ideas, will remain with the Repubs. In a party that does not get anything done and keeping a good third party from getting off the ground.

avatar robert m. peters November 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Once we have come to understand that we have had a one-party faction with two faces, at least since the “progressives” from the Republican Party filtered into the pre-Wilsonian Democratic Party and once one of those faces, hopefully the Republican face, is destroyed, perhaps we can begin to have sober reflection on the nature of the Hobbesian state and the party which animates it through its military,its police, its bureaucracy and its monetary system. Conservatives, so it would seem, continue to have a false hope in a party, namely the Republican Party, which has never been conservative. It has played Christians, Southerners and other conservative for fools. It is time for us fools to look elsewhere.

avatar Sean November 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm

The Repubs lost because they professed a ideology of exclusivity and offered “trickle down” to those on the fence. The Dems remained ghost-like without a real ideology, which frankly undermined Romney’s attempts to paint him as the devil. Take away “trickle down” and “no taxes” and all you have left are social issues that are incongruent with the libertarian bent of the younger conservative folk and scary to those who don’t trust people who talk about the 47%.

What is a conservative? It means one thing in life, in governing it may mean another. Can the right accept this difference? I don’t see why not.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 12:16 am

Sean,

Libertarians are not conservatives. The very term “liberal” is hiding in the name. I do, however, hasten to add that there is a nexus on issues between paleo-conservatives and libertarians; but that nexus does not go to first principles.

The “right” does not necessarily equal “conservative.”

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 3:32 am

I will post separately as to what I think is wrong with the Republican party (and note I am an outsider here, not really identifying with either party for some time). But this struck me:

“One peek-behind-this-curtain is afforded to us by Robert Kaplan’s book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. Drawing inspiration from Machiavelli and Hobbes (among others), the book was published in 2001 with blurbs by Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich. It rejects Christian morality in favor of a pagan, amoral, end-justifies-the-means method of gaining and sustaining power.”

As a neopagan, I don’t really get this. It’s true that morality don’t have the same philosophical foundations in pagan and Christian traditions, but doesn’t make any sense to me that Christian and Pagan are juxtiposed this way. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero were pagans and they wrote quite a lot about moral obligations.

Any successful society must have two fundamental things, the first is a support structure by which those who are down on their luck or otherwise temporarily incapacitated, and the second is a system for ensuring that behavior is moderated and channeled to the extent possible in pro-social ways.

We may not always agree on what morality is, but I think there’s a danger of hubris in assuming that it is somehow a relatively new thing over the course of the last couple millenia.

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 3:51 am

As for what is wrong with the Republican Party, I am reminded of John Medaille’s previous post here on FPR entitled “The Music of the Spheres and the Terminally Tonedeaf.”

But reading this article today has helped capture something for me. In the US, we are conditioned to believe that we have a democracy and that the people are the source of sovereignty. The portrayal here of the two parties is simply one where the people are powerless and things are actually being directed from the top. I think we can guess whose interests are being used to direct these things and they aren’t our interests. So the people are the losers and whoever wins or loses the election nothing really changes. How different, really, was GWB from either Clinton or Obama? How different would Romney have been? There I think are your answers.

But I think beyond that, there is the unicorns offered by liberalism.

The problem I think for those who would stand up against the tide of liberalism in both parties (Libertarians in the GOP especially) is that we are cutting deeply against the cultural frame of reference we have today. It is easy to be deceived by these frames of references, and I have argued that the idea of the unicorn was what you got when folks described the Asian Rhino with the horse as a reference point. And indeed Marco Polo talked about how disappointing it was to actually see a unicorn.

Liberalism promises freedom and it is a system worked out in great detail, which purports to show not only that it does deliver this freedom but also that liberalization is the same as freedom. Less liberal societies are thus less free, and you have a very hard time convincing many people today that this isn’t the case.

But this freedom is a unicorn. When it actually comes we have been sold a tall and beautiful horse, but what we get instead is a short and ugly rhino. The so-called freedom is not only isolating but it is also oppressive and it is definitely un-free. We are isolated, removed from communities and people that can and will support us, and forced to depend on employers and the state, and these in turn demand that we give up any ounce of freedom in order to survive. We have been promised the unicorn of freedom and when it came, it was the rhinoceros of servility.

But ideology is a powerful thing and convincing anyone that liberalism and libertarianism don’t lead to freedom in our culture is very hard. It certainly cannot be reduced to soundbites, and one can certainly not be elected pushing for it.

avatar Sean November 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

Robert:
First principles? The Repubs are far from a pure pure political mixture. This isn’t political science 101! It is politics. Terms and ideology get confused. Yes, libertarian has the word liberal in it, but the word liberal is used in many ways. Against democrats it really means big government, which is the antithesis of libertarian thought. It is also why tea party folk aligned with libertarians in this election. Liberal philosophy is an entirely different thing. So, you see, the word liberal by itself is of no help or guide. if I was to be a Repub soul searcher, I would begin with figuring out what the mix of libertarian and classical conservative thought leads to. There are many contradictions between the two on social issues. This alliance has one consistent aim: reducing gov’t, at least at the Federal level.

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 10:08 am

Sean;

I know Robert will probably respond too but I think the point I got from what he said was that the liberal current in modern American thought includes libertarianism. The idea is that liberalism goes back to Locke and Hume, and represents an anti-traditionalist approach to life and governance. I would add to this that what these thinkers did was extend the universe-as-machine and body-as-machine to the body politic so it isn’t really that it was new with them but rather that they were, ironically enough, carrying on a tradition of their own.

The opposite of liberalism in this sense is not really “conservatism” in the way this term is typically used in American politics (which is really another form of liberalism) but rather traditionalism and the idea that cultures and traditions matter and should be supported rather than attacked and eroded. This approach has nothing to do with the right wing of American politics but rather, I think, represents a rejection of the whole political spectrum. Robert, of course, may differ with me on that point.

avatar Jeff Taylor November 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Chris, Thanks for your comments. I’d be a poor member of the Ciceronian Society if I didn’t acknowledge the presence of moral obligations in the writings of Cicero, and, as you mention, Plato, Aristotle, and many other pagans. My complaint about Kaplan is not that he appreciates some pagan writers, but that is glorifying the wrong parts of that tradition. I realize that pagan and amoral are not the same thing. But, borrowing from Machiavelli and some other modern thinkers, Kaplan seems to be consciously rejecting Christian morality because it’s “weak.” Nation-states–or their leaders, to be more precise–need “stronger” stuff to survive and prosper, according to the Machiavellis and Nietzsches of the world. That’s my disagreement.

Also: the fact that patriotism is used in a cynical way by these folks. It’s bait and switch but the average patriotic Republican doesn’t see this. True, Plato did talk about the medicinal lie, to his discredit, but I’d like to think that Cicero, at least, wouldn’t have approved of demagoguery and phony patriotism by self-seeking rulers. We know he recognized the danger of the original Caesar. It’s the same story with religion. Can we really say that the Bush triumvirate (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove) embodied Christian values? Of course not, but the average Christian Republican doesn’t see this. These folks represent not the best of paganism, but the worst. In the end, with their pride, greed, violence, dishonesty, and lust for power, maybe it’s not even paganism so much as satanism.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Sean,

As I said in my post, there is a nexus of issues between paleo-conservatives and libertarians. We can indeed work together to reduce big government; but we do not share first principles, particularly as it relates to markets. Hans Hermann-Hoppe, whom I a respect, has written an excellent work: Democracy: The God That Failed. I recommend it to paleo-conservatives and libertarians. He is a libertarian; but he closes with a call for us to collaborate, despite our differences, in dealing with the Hobbesian state. Once libertarians and paleo-conservatives had a formal collaboration in the John Randolph Club; several years back, that collaboration fell apart. Jack Trotter wrote an article for Chronicles this month which outlines the fundamental differences in principle between paleo’s (an utterly inadequate term) and libertarians.

There are the among the paleo’s Protestants and Catholics. We have some fundamental theological differences; yet, we do work together.

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Mr Peters;

I think it would be interesting to see what collaboration might be possible between traditionalist conservative Christians and traditionalist reconstructionist Pagans.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Chris, Sean and Jeff,

There is a created order and a Creator. All that is moral flows from that fact. The term “pagan” is a term of the Western tradition. It was applied to the country folks who held to their non-Christian traditions of antiquity and the classical age longer than did the city folk who more readily, for one reason or another, converted to Christianity. Our pagan antecedents in the Western tradition (Greece, Rome, etc.) were absolutely aware of the moral nature of the created order. One cannot be a creature in the created order and not be aware of its moral nature. One might misinterpret it; one might come to understand it through the filter of one’s own culture; one might even find it convenient to deny it; but one is aware of it. The Church could not have been successful in spite of ongoing persecution in her first three centuries had it not been for the moral order and perceptions thereof and the institutions thereof in the Greco-Roman world.

A culture is defined as the traditions, customs, habits and principles along with the requisite institutions reflecting a given commonwealth’s understanding of the created order and its moral imperatives for the purpose of restraining the whims, lusts, desires and quests for gratification so that a given person is therefrom emancipated, i.e. freed or free, to do his duty, to fulfill his obligations or to carry out his responsibility to the gods (God), to the family, to the religious institutions (Church), to the associations of the commonwealth and to the commonwealth itself pursuant to the common good which is the gestalt of the traditions, customs, habits and institutions. At the heart of culture is that which we have come to call religion which is man’s attempt to respond to that Something which is pushing through the created order and which demands or seems to demand a response, be that response as among the Aztecs cutting the heart out of a captive, as among some islanders of the Pacific, at least in lore, throwing a virgin into a volcano, as among the Carthaginians offering child sacrifices, as among the Romans offering sacrifices to become a citizen of the Republic or as among us Christians, God Himself coming as our Kinsman Redeemer and becoming the sacrifice for us. The quest of a culture is to instill character which is the acquisition, internalizing and living out of the great virtues, those being the cardinal virtues, the capital virtues and the theological or Christian virtues. Dante has already more more eloquently than I demonstrated the seamless transfer from the classical (pagan) to the Christian as Virgil leads him through hell and purgatory and hands him off to St. Beatrice who gives Virgil and the classical tradition whom he represents it just place as the moral antecedents to the Christian faith.

What we live in today is an anti-culture, something neither Christianity nor our classical antecedents have experienced. The anti-culture is deconstructing the traditions, customs, habits and institutions which would restrain the whims, desires, lusts and quests for gratification of the person so that the person is emancipated, freed from, those restrains to pursue his whims as the would-be Promethean or autonomous individual. In the anti-culture, not the restraining character of the person but the licentious personality of the individual is pursued to the fine point of the cult of personality.

Hobbes foresaw the emergence of the autonomous individual which would be well-articulated by Rousseau and which would be outfitted by Locke with his abstract rights. Thus, in Modernity, in the anti-culture, all we have on one side is Hobbes’ Leviathan: an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power and driven by the will of some dictator, some oligarchy or some vulgar democratic majority and on the other side the would-be Promethean selves with their abstract Lockean rights, would-be gods, who in reality are more and more in the decay of Modernity alienated, estranged and shriveled selves. They loathe the restraining forces of traditions, customs, habits and institutions, including those of “religion” and in particular those of Christianity since for the last 2000 years it has been the religion in various idioms of the West and they see the Leviathan, the Hobbesian state as their ally against these traditions, customs, habits and institutions and this “religion.” The Hobbesian state and its factions, in the case of America, the Democrats and the Republicans, are all too happy to oblige.

I find it perfectly fitting that in the anti-culture of modernity we are enamored with the vampire – the ultimate alienated, estranged and shriveled self, intent on seducing the woman from the protection of family and church, i.e. drawing the life out of the social and created order. The Hobbsian state, the counter part the the “individual vampire” is itself the Obervampir, sucking the subsidiarity, the wealth and the moral essence out of culture.

So, call yourself a neo-pagan, a libertarian, a paleo-conservative or a Front Porcher; but know your enemy: Rousseau’s autonomous individual outfitted with his Lockean abstract rights with his ally being the Hobbesian state in a prevailing milieu of unbelief. Just be sure that the anti-culture, like one of the pod-people, is not embedded in you. If you have made that spiritual and intellectual reconnoiter, then lets come together as a motley battle group of neo-pagans, libertarians, paleo-conservatives and Front Porchers and engage the enemy: unbelief, the Hobbesian state, and the aggregate of would-be Promethean individuals who are in reality estranged, alienated and shriveled selves.

avatar Sean November 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm

@Chris,

So you assert that a” large” segment of republican voters (Libertarians) are more akin to Democrats (Liberals) than conservatives? Seems like theory trumping practice, at least in the USA. Which is why I find this marriage of Libertarians into the Repub party bloc so fascinating. My guess is that it will make it hard for Republicans to focus on conservative theory in re -shaping itself and it will by and large remain as the anti-big gov’t party.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Mr. Travers,

I am frankly not sure what a traditionalist reconstructionist Pagan is; however, Christian and non-Christian Romans heroically fought my heathen ancestors, those barbaric Saxons and Celts; so if Christian Romans and pagan Romans could fight together for a common cause, perhaps we can do it again. The difference is, of course, that my barbaric ancestors were themselves believers of a primitive sort. What we battle today is systematic unbelief organized in a state and with an ideology, outside the holy ground of home and hearth, kith and kin and blood and earth.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Sean,

Libertarians, at their root, believe in the relatively modern, abstract notion of the individual. That is a liberal concept. A first principle. One definition of a libertarian is an anti-state liberal. They, like some paleo’s and some Chistianists (not necessarily Christians) have fallen for the Republican ploy of being small government. Hopefully, those foolish days are ending for all of us, regardless of our intellectual or political label.

avatar Sean November 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Robert,

Really nice writing and perspective, but….Scientism, Darwinism (taken wrongly), technology…these are what led to a sober, passionless relativism we have today. The vampires are just the result of this, not the cause. Passionless Relativism can be cured in two ways: first, Through God (I would argue only through a Christian or Judaic God) or by loss of the power of scientism. I have faith in the first, but I am becoming increasingly optimistic about the latter. When man realizes that he cannot know himself by looking at the small pieces of data, he may look up to the heavens again. At least Man may look for himself again, rather than “letting the experts do it”…. Anyway, I find either of the two ways more plausible than uniting with pagans or any sort of cult of the supreme being.

avatar robert m. peters November 23, 2012 at 12:04 am

Sean,

I did not speak to the causes. I could have cited a lot of things, going back, at least as far back as Nominalism, perhaps back to Joachim of Fiori. I could have cited Descartes or Bacon and yes, Darwin, and obviously Scientism. I could have also mentioned Comte, Marx, Hegel, Schelling, etc. One is quite aware of the destructive nature of reductionism.

The temptation in the Garden, as articulated in Genesis, was to choose a quest of knowledge apart from a personal I/Thou relationship of the Creator, i.e. to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the temptation that knowledge is power or walk in an I/Thou relationship with the Creator and acquire knowledge on that walk as a mere byproduct of relationship. Scientism and its reductionism are merely new renderings of the old temptation. I have no faith in “Man” looking to himself. As I wrote to Mr. Travers, I have no idea what a traditionalist pagan is. In the Western context, the pre-Christian classical world, what we have come to label as “pagan,” has been transcended. There is no way back. I am, however, quite open to trying to understand what Mr. Travis means by “traditionalist pagan.” What do you mean by “cult of the supreme being”? Is your own spiritual and intellectual understanding somewhere along the spectrum between Thomas Jefferson and Nietzsche?

avatar Sean November 23, 2012 at 12:33 am

It is true that science was created by Christianity, but Christianity did not create reductionism. By “look for himself” I meant two things. First, each man may once again look for meaning, beauty and truth, rather than “letting the experts sort all THAT out”. Second, that he will begin to look at his self as a soul, not a clump of cells. No will man ever know himself, but he can know what a soul needs. If this is not true than the cause for conservativism is truly lost. Funny, by “cult of the supreme being” I was referring to Robspierre, whose tastes were similar to Jefferson’s.

avatar Chris Travers November 23, 2012 at 4:23 am

Mr Peters;

First a note on the origin of the word “Pagan.” Of course it derives from paganus which originally meant “village dweller” but by the time the empire was in full swing it had been adopted by the military to mean “civilian.” It is generally accepted these days that it is this military sense that gave rise to the word. Thus “pagan” in this sense just means “outsider” from a Christian perspective.

As for a created order, my only hesitation is that I worry about hubris if claiming to know the mind of God. Every tradition has a sense of that order and these traditions may be functionally equivalent (in the sense of supporting and nourishing human flourishing). So provided that it is an invitation to explore that order instead of a claim to a monopoly of the best understanding of that order, you won’t get any complaint from me.

As far as the anti-culture today, I could not agree more. I wrote a blog post yesterday sacred space in Bali and compared it to sacred space in Islam (the latter being global in orientation while Balinese society is very local in its cosmology). Christianity doesn’t really have the same orientation-centric aspects of religion. There is no point on the planet that one maintains consciousness of one’s relationship to the way a Muslim looks to Mecca or the Balinese look to Mount Agung. I think that if we had a stronger sense of sacred space, we’d be better off (tonight or tomorrow I expect to write down something about subsidiarity in Balinese society along the lines of my past comments but going into a little more depth).

Finally as to traditionalist, reconstructionist neopaganism. I don’t know how familiar you are with the history of Neopaganism as a religious movement in general but most modern Neopaganism goes back to the 19th Century, and was a mixture of Freemasonic teachings and Romantic-era nationalism. In the mid to late 20th century, movements began to emerge which found this mixture inadequate and sought to recreate and re-establish the actual pagan traditions as they were practised before the conversion based on the development of modern anthropology and sociology. While Wicca can be seen as the “left wing” of modern Neopaganism, these groups can be seen as something more like the religious conservatives of today are. We are nationalist instead of internationalist, focused on time and place, and localist instead of globalist.

I think there is natural agreement that traditions matter and a real possibility of working together. If we are supremely lucky (and I know I can say I am in this regard) we will find ourselves enriched by the other.

avatar Chris Travers November 23, 2012 at 4:58 am

Sean,

So you assert that a” large” segment of republican voters (Libertarians) are more akin to Democrats (Liberals) than conservatives?

Actually I would say that a large segment of “conservatives” are actually more like “liberals” than like “traditionalists.” There may be alliances of convenience, but I think for real traditionalists, we have to reject the political spectrum, which ranges between brands of liberalism. For example, there is the issue of “Republican Family Values” which of course is a farce. When you actually look at Republican family values as a whole, there are very important things missing. Nobody among the Republicans can say that it is a family value to make sure people are paid a family wage. and while there is a lot of talk about abortion, there is a lot less talk about making no-fault divorce a bit more annoying to get, like making waiting periods longer and therefore strengthen marriage.

The traditionalists I have known (and they are few and far between) tend to have a few very specific things in common. The first is that we believe traditions matter. The second is that we believe that families are the social, cultural, and economic bedrock of this nation and therefore the goal of the state and the economy is to nourish the family, not the other way around. The fact that this puts us on a direct collision course with both parties cannot be overstated. We also tend to see the human condition as determined by social context and not a matter of very radical individualism. Finally we tend to be very uncomfortable with both centralized government control and unchecked liberal capitalism. These things apply across religious groups btw. I have met Orthodox and Catholic Christians who have qualified, and I have met heathens and neopagans who have qualified.

I would also point out that the traditionalists I have known have been divided between unwilling Democrats and unwilling Republicans. I think the reason is that few of us at all can be happy with the choices of agendas we are offered. But being liminal here is also a very liberating place to be. I assume that Mr Peters and I disagree on much, and may even vote very differently, but at the same time, we probably have much more in common than we have with either political party as far as our basic assumptions and viewpoints go.

avatar robert m. peters November 23, 2012 at 11:58 am

Sean,

I know full well that Christianity did not create reductionism, although some Christian practice it today, attempting to limit God to paragraphs and to the “magic” of original meanings.

Thanks for clarifying your use of the phases “cult of the supreme being.”

A man who takes an honest look at his “soul” will find that he is fallen and will then look to the ultimate Man, the Second Adam, for his deliverance. To do otherwise is to again end with the Promethean self.

avatar robert m. peters November 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Mr. Travis,

Your words:

“I assume that Mr Peters and I disagree on much, and may even vote very differently, but at the same time, we probably have much more in common than we have with either political party as far as our basic assumptions and viewpoints go.”

You assumption is true as far as some basic assumptions to as to home and hearth, kith and kin, blood and earth; however, there is where we part; for each morning I rise and ask the Lord of the Universe, the Creator of home and hearth, of kith and kin, of blood and earth, of subsidiarity, all of which exude from His creating and giving Being, “Domine, quo vadimus?” (Lord, where are we going?) I take up my cross daily and stumble and totter after Him. Only in Him is that which is truly good preserved and renewed. It is beyond the capacity of Free Masons and Romantics or any movement which may come out of their work. Here, we definitely differ, and fundamentally so.

avatar robert m. peters November 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm

For the Record

I admire Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia republican and the Southern agrarian with his keen understanding of republican virtues and prerequisites for the good life. Yet, Jefferson was no Christian. He was a Deist, somewhere along the spectrum from a neo-Arian to an outright atheist; nevertheless, he was not antagonistic to the “Christian superstition,” understanding its role of social cohesion and continuing to grace his pew at his local church.

He was also, despite his Virginia repubicanism, his Southern agrarianism, and his distrust of monarchists like Hamilton and nationalists like the chameleon Madison, nevertheless caught up with liberalism in the breeze and fed us the regrettable lines in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence about inalienable rights and the Lockean mantra of life, liberty and property.

Jefferson was somewhat the pagan. He admired the Saxons. He was fond of Horst and Hengst and saw them as worthy antecedent to the American spirit.

Despite the complexities of Jefferson and the contradictions in his understandings and actions, a return to at least thinking about and discussing the principles which guided him and which were reflected at least through 1860 as principles of the union of constitutionally federated republics would be, I believe, productive.

avatar Jeff Taylor November 26, 2012 at 12:05 am

I do want to put in a good word for libertarianism. This shouldn’t be surprising coming from a Ron Paul supporter. Libertarianism isn’t everything but it is something (of value).

Many elements of libertarian thought are not only compatible with Christianity but are inherent parts of our faith and of reality, starting with God’s decision to bestow free will on human beings. There are threads running through Scripture dealing with the value of liberty and the danger of human power. These should be recognized.

Conservatives who romanticize monarchy ought to consider the account of ancient Israel wishing to exchange their decentralized, theocratic/quasi-anarchistic governance for monarchy (I Samuel 8). The only monarchy I support is the Kingdom of God. When Jesus began his ministry, he proclaimed that God had sent him to “proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Paul the apostle was the great exponent of Christian liberty, especially in Galatians. It’s too easy to dismiss all the N.T. references to liberty as having only spiritual implications. Spirituality is not so neatly separated from the rest of life.

I do believe that our political philosophy should be more than libertarianism or it will be lopsided and incomplete. Yes, there is liberty but there is also responsibility. There is the individual but there is also the community. They complement one another and the various components all need to be taken into account (as best we can).

Like Robert, I’m an admirer of Jefferson. A great admirer, in fact. I’m not disappointed that Jefferson used Lockean language in the Declaration. It was appropriate and accurate. Locke was a Christian and natural, God-given individual rights are an important part of our world. See Nick Wolterstorff’s recent book Justice: Rights and Wrongs for a Christian philosopher’s take on this.

Lord Acton, who coined the famous “Power corrupts” maxim, was a Christian, as was Tolkien, who made the same point (among others) through his fiction. Abraham Kuyper of the Reformed tradition warned against church/state power both theoretically and practically. Two of my favorite contemporary libertarian writers, Lew Rockwell and Tom Woods, are both Roman Catholics (as were Acton and Tolkien).

At the same time, I’m different from average libertarians in some ways. I detest the Nietzsche-Mencken-Rand school of egoism, atheism, and elitism (though Mencken had some excellent insights as a debunker of politicians). I don’t like the hyper-individualism of some libertarians. I don’t like an over-emphasis on property and economics because it smacks of greed and materialism. While I oppose statism and the Patriot Act, and value the Bill of Rights, I’m not hostile toward, or paranoid about, all law enforcement. I see some value in public education, as well as other public goods/services. While I believe government has a largely negative role to play, in the sense of restraining and punishing practitioners of evil, I recognize that the pursuit of justice implies a positive role at times (especially when implemented at the lowest possible level, as per the principle of subsidiarity). I’m not against all government assistance to the truly needy. So, in some ways, I’m not a very good libertarian and I lack the usual libertarian flavor.

Nonetheless, I like liberty. It is a wonderful gift from God, as well as a great responsibility.

I’d like to also put in a good word for the despised Rousseau. Many conservatives and libertarians through the centuries have detested Rousseau but they are usually condemning a caricature of his philosophy. He cannot be justly blamed for the oppression and bloodletting of Robespierre, Lenin, or any other demagogue who presided over a centralized, dictatorial state. Rousseau may have been guilty of inciting over-idealism, but not totalitarianism.

At the 2012 Ciceronian Society conference, Don Livingston pointed out that Rousseau’s ideal social contract envisioned a population of 10,000. Rousseau was a proud native of Geneva. That city-state had a population of 26,000. The French Revolution betrayed this tradition. The revolutionary Jacobins laid claim to the popular mantle of Rousseau and his concepts of social contract and general will, but they embodied an oversized despotism that was far removed from the philosopher.

Hobbes and Rousseau were both social contract theorists, but they had fundamentally different perspectives and prescriptions. I’ll take Rousseau any day. His thought wasn’t perfect and he was obviously flawed as a man, but he makes some important points in his books. He overestimated the goodness of human nature but he recognized the corrupt nature of human culture.

Rousseau was also an admirer of the great French Catholic archbishop/writer Francois Fenelon. Fenelon’s Telemachus was the single book Emile the man was given as a guide to life. Another great French Catholic Francois–Mauriac the novelist–had a soft spot for Rosseau despite his checkered, if not opportunistic, religious history (Men I Hold Great, 1951–Mauriac won the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year).

Anyway, Locke and Rousseau have their place at the table, in my opinion, even though they were imperfect and their thought is not adequate for a full understanding of the world and what we ought to be doing in it.

avatar Chris Travers November 26, 2012 at 6:45 am

@Jeff Taylor:

First, on libertarianism, I wrote a piece looking at Libertarianism from my perspective as a Heathen Distributist. My critique of libertarianism is rather nuanced compared to other Distributists as it is easy to make too much of either the similarities or the differences. I think the fundamental difference is that while Libertarianism stresses liberty in one’s contracts, Distributism stresses liberty in one’s works. This is a subtle distinction but it is also a very deep one. I think this leads to some very deep differences. For example, I think Distributism must see micromanagement in the corporate workplace as evil in a way that Libertarianism would not be so quick to judge. After all, as long as you have a right to leave, the Libertarian might say, you are free to do so.

As for any discussion of monarchy, I think the thing that everyone must understand is that the term encompasses a huge variety of systems and these range from sultans whose entire power is based on wealth and acknowledged persuasive power but have no legal clout (the Sultan of Java, based in Central Java, for example, is of this kind, and every citizen of Jogjakarta I have spoken with has been in awe of their Sultan) to autocratic and hereditary regimes. The Royal Family of Bali again carries with them a huge amount of political clout but no special legal force. Monarchies are not always hereditary and sometimes monarchs were elected by the aristocracy.

This makes it especially difficult to discuss monarchy as a governmental system. As is the case everywhere, details matter and monarchy is neither an unconditionally good or an unconditionally bad idea.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins November 28, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Since I originally became a fan of Jeff’s writing about William Jennings Bryan, and better, the original Populists, its a little difficult to see him as a full fledged Republican. But, Ron Paul ran as a Republican, so the Republican convention is where Ron Paul supporters had to be. I voted for him in the primary, knowing full well that I would vote for President Obama in the general election, because Paul was indeed the best the Republicans had to offer, and yes, what he would not do appealed to me far more than what he would do. I would like even better a revived People’s Party, the original party, not the weird, twisted caricature indulged by manipulative plutocrats and paranoid liberals, perhaps a revival with pro-life and pro-choice wings.

One of the tragedies of Barack Obama’s presidency is he keeps feeling he has to prove how “strong on national defense” he is, how “fiscally responsible” (in the Geithner sense of the term) he is, and his advisors keep holding him back from what people expected him to do. If he’d had the courage to break up every “too big to fail” bank in need of a bailout, sell off the pieces to recompense the Treasury, and let the resulting smaller banks rise or fail on their own, there would have been no Tea Party.

Picking up on David Smith’s comment, whatever else we may disagree about from time to time… Our founding legal document is far from perfect, but it IS our Constitution. Without it, the federal government has no right to exist. I’m not a secessionist; I agree with Andrew Jackson that “the United States is a government, not a League.” The southern branch of my family includes a Lt. Colonel in the 11th Tennessee Cavalry, United States Army, commissioned in 1863. But, the Constitution is the foundational, jurisdictional document. Where power is legitimately exercised, that is because the constitution assigns, confers, and delegates it.

Our freedoms are not a unicorn, but preserving them requires that people have the initiative and endurance, more than the courage, to act as if the constitution is in full force and effect, rather than mildly admitting that its just a piece of paper. True, we can’t overturn Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railway by nonviolent direct action, but we can smile at unelected local commissions and say “See you in court.”

I can’t agree that as a matter of style the Republican convention was a success. It was pedantic and boring, and as I recall, gave Romney little in the way of a bounce. Fundamentally, Romney has no principles beyond “I want to be President.” Thus, of course he’s a flip-flopper. Issues are a matter of telling voters what will get him elected. There are legitimate criticisms that could be made of Barack Obama’s tenure… but one would have to be grounded in a set of principles to offer any. Romney was not. Neither, outside the Ron Paul delegates, was the GOP.

It was Jesus Christ not America who gave a light to those who sit in darkness, who is the light that shines in the darkness, and who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (Acts 1:79; John 1:5; I Peter 2:9). God sent the Son not America into the world that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

Without being an evangelical Christian — I am a heterodox unitarian-leaning member of a rather orthodox Protestant church — I can applaud that reminder without hesitation. Recently, being away from home on a Sunday, I found my way to a local Baptist church, and noticed that the statement of what the church believes ended with “in the separation of church and state.” I commented on this to the pastor, who rejoined, “Of course. The words, ‘separation of church and state,’ are from a letter Jefferson wrote to a Baptist church’.” True enough. I knew that. Its good to know Baptists remember it too. As James Madison observed, one purpose of the separation is to protect the church from the profane hand of the civil magistrate, a profane hand much in evidence in the Republican platform.

Frankly, I don’t think either abortion or marriage offer much of a future for either party. There is no public consensus for substantial changes in our constitutional law on abortion, and I for one don’t support any. There are those who offer the constitutional argument that the rights of states have been unconstitutionally contravened. But that is a red herring. The decision was a jurisdictional one, between the Individual and the police powers of The State, not between the state and federal governments. There is a place for the pro-life argument in the public square, an important one, but it’s not going to fuel a nationwide political renaissance, because not enough voters put much priority on the debate.

I am firmly opposed to the argument that there is a constitutional right to the approbation and notice of the community, e.g., by issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples. But if, as has begun to happen, a majority of voters approve such a measure by referendum, its a political non-starter as an issue. I believe for many reasons that Marriage is a unique covenant between a man and a woman, but if the body politic wants to issue civic marriage licenses to same-sex couples, so be it. The integrity and immunity of those who teach otherwise is well protected by the First Amendment, even if many in the SSM crowd seem clueless about that.

I would like to see a Republican candidate worth voting for in 2016. Any party becomes smug over time about why people vote for them — and most of us have reasons that diverge a good deal from the fondest self-congratulation of party leaders. I would like to see a Republican who sincerely and openly recognizes that large concentrations of capital need to be regulated for the protection of persons, while finding ways to streamline the impact upon individual business initiative (without forgetting that the corner butcher shop can also be selling meat tainted with salmonella).

I would like to see a candidate who acknowledges that the First Amendment is profoundly pro-religion, carving out a special place for religious faith in our life, but not as a mandatory imposition on anyone. I would like to see a Republican who understands the conservative argument for a substantial increase in the minimum wage as essential to prosperity. But I’m not hopeful that “The American Conservative” is going to nominate the next Republican candidate — and no, I don’t mean Pat Buchanan.

A libertarian could be right. The word does not contain the word “liberal.” The root word of libertarian is “liberty.” Liberal has different roots, and more connotations of patronizing noblesse oblige. But liberty from what, aye, there’s the rub. Kerr-McGee funds libertarians who promise to free corporations to run rampant over the prostrate citizenry, who are at liberty to stand up and fight the colossus, if they can. Liberty requires some community framework, or else it becomes the right of the weak to rule the strong, rather than the right of peaceful citizens to take initiative for themselves, or the common good.

avatar Jeff Taylor November 29, 2012 at 3:26 am

With the usual exception of the social issues, I agree with everything you write here, Siarlys. You write well, with style, nuance, and truth.

William Jennings Bryan and Ron Paul are not so different. They have far more in common than not. Even Paul’s gold support should not obscure the fact that Bryan was a bimetallist. He, too, wanted gold backing of currency, but he wanted silver restored as a second metal. Their populism and anti-imperialism are similar and both are rooted in their Christian beliefs.

I, too, would love to see a revived People’s Party. If it were a genuine people’s party, it would contain differing views on issues like abortion, where solutions could be debated honestly, without cynicism and manipulation. It would be a party that includes all ethnic groups, social classes, and religious viewpoints. In other words, it would reflect the demographics of the 90 to 99 percent of the American common people (i.e., those who are not wealthy, powerful, or famous).

I’m afraid it’s never going to happen, but I wish it would. Even the original People’s Party was unsuccessful in supplanting either of the two big parties at the national level and it failed to attract populists who were firmly rooted in those parties (despite the temporary alliance with Democrats under Bryan–an alliance that I don’t find regrettable, by the way).

I agree that liberty means not only freedom from coercion by big government, but also from big business. I wish grassroots conservatives outraged about Obamacare and faceless bureaucrats getting between us and our doctors would be equally upset about Insurancecare and its faceless bureaucrats. Obamacare is really just an extension of the existing rotten system, including giant giveaways to Big Insurance and Big Pharma. I’m against it, but it’s not “socialized medicine” in the way Fox News viewers seem to imagine. (BTW, when I say “existing rotten system,” I’m referring to health care financing, not health care itself, although medicine in America is flawed by an overemphasis on drugs and reactive care.)

In your closing sentence, when you write, “or else it becomes the right of the weak to rule the strong,” you mean the other way around, right? If you can turn your last paragraph into a prayer, I’d join in with an Amen.

To everyone else who made comments: Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation. I’m glad many of you liked what I wrote.

avatar Chris Travers November 29, 2012 at 10:06 am

@Jeff Taylor:

One thing about a gold/silver standard is that it doesn’t really guarantee value. One need only look to the decline in silver content of the Roman Denarius to see that it offers no effective guarantee at all and that state-issued currency is and will always be fiat currency. The denarius was eventually degraded so far that instead of a silver coin one had, by the end of the empire, a copper coin with a silver wash.

avatar Anymouse December 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Siarlys Jenkins, you are speaking from the perspective of a man with the interests and attitudes common to the Modern American population. You need to escape from that.

Our forefathers attained their functional communities largely because their politics had room for little else. Rejecting modernism, individualism, and idolization of democracy will get us someplace better. But deciding that modern American individualism is a settled custom will simply get us more Geithners.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins December 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Anymouse, I do have an eye on what attitudes are common to the modern American population. That’s why, growing up in a conservative paper mill town in the midwest, I did not grow my hair long in the early 1970s, nor, did becoming a fan of Eugene Debs move me to do so, since Debs, after all, was bald. To be attuned to what “the people” want or will tolerate, while remaining committed to a coherent set of principles, is a fine line to walk. But unless one lives in Plato’s Republic, or has the fortune (good or bad) to be the leader of a totalitarian dictatorship, it is necessary. It can be done without falling into sheer flip-flopping opportunism. What is necessary is to choose one’s words carefully, and speak persuasively to what actually concerns the electorate.

I cannot, as yet, perceive in your words a clear picture of what you consider a functional community, or what you favor in place of modernism, individualism, and idolization of democracy. Individualism is not sufficient unto itself. Individual rights are rendered effective by a well-ordered community that enshrines them in both culture and law, without making individual existence the be-all and end-all of life. What is it you would offer a fellow-citizen seeking what is best for our country and its people?

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