Pyrrhic Victory?

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The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”





That Old Time Politics

Having come of political age in the 60s, I remember the transition from the traditional Republicanism of the Midwest (Rockefellerian, as it was) to the emergent New Right, with its fevered anti-Communism and its New Deal rejectionism. This was long before Ronald Reagan parted the waters in 1980.

Rod Dreher responds to an article outlining this New Right, aka “fusionism” and how the current moment differs. It does. Part of the difficulty of the moment, as of the lament is that the path out, this other moderate, decent path, was destroyed. The victory and subsequent purification of the Republican party robbed them of the resources now so desperately needed.

In a comment I wrote:

The impact of fusionism was the war against RINOs which displaced a deep, honorable traditional conservativism with something more ideological. Throughout the Midwest  this older, displaced form of traditional conservatism held main street values, but also championed common good solutions. These were men (few women in politics in those days) who enacted environmental law, who spoke out on civil rights, who built roads and infrastructure, who sought social programs that uplifted. They were found on Sundays in your mainline churches.

That generation of politicians of course, has largely disappeared.

Rather than seek a fusionism, I would submit that the better work is to promote the deeper traditionalist thinking of common good. Where we care about each other (and yes, this must mean the liberal and all the rest), we can then craft social solutions — political policies — that build a common life together. The best values in the BO nurture this; Deneen’s plea for a counterculture likewise points in this direction, albeit, that he wants to excoriate “liberals”. At its core, fusionism represents a shrinking of the moral base for conservative action, a replacing of what is Good and True for all (and so worthy of acceptance and action) with what is good and true for Some, a replacement of the polis for the merely political.

Can I Get a Whiteness?

The notion of white guilt as a felt need apparently is not supported by the surveys. At least according to George Hawley, in The American Conservative. He comments

even if there is a powerful, coordinated effort to shame and demoralize whites, it does not appear to be working. The self-flagellating whites so derided by the alt-right and even many conservatives are a tiny fraction of white Americans.

What is also clear is that the impact of race as a forensic item and to a lesser extent in the carried assumptions of whites remains. While whites may not have the “feeling” they certainly gain the benefit of the racial doubt. A century later, the problem continues to be the colored line.

Arms, Rebellion and Autonomy

At The American Conservative, Samuel Goldman brings a skeptical eye to the current common place in gun discussion, that the bearing of arms and militias are there to secure the community against tyranny. The short answer: well meant, but ineffective.

What often goes missing is one other condition, that of civil rebellion itself.

Bearing arms in resistance can only be legitimate to the extent that it is just. Theologically, this is a tough nut; the standing rule is go with even unjust kings. The religious violence of the post Reformation era undercut such an easy answer. For those in the Reformed tradition, obedience is conditioned by obedience to God. Even here, there is a social element.  Calvin lays out the conditions in The Institutes  Book IV.xx.31: the just rebellion against the king is done by the righteous magistrate.

The Second Amendment discussions of arms as a deterrent to tyranny broadly omit the discussion of when it is just (treating it in Frontier fashion as self-evident), and even less who then becomes the summoning authority.  To the degree that individual arms bearing is understood as a formal protection against the central State, it remains one bounded by collective decision making, something I think can be seen in the notion of “militia” itself.

(What I find that further confuses  this discussion is the role of individual arms bearing not as a protection against political tyranny, but as an assertion of individual autonomy against cultural “tyrannies.” In this, the language of resistance to a tyrannical state, a language often conveyed with great emotional vehemence, is more a kind of political theatre for what is finally a more interior sensibility. As a lover of theatre, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of the gun as a sign of autonomy.)

On Minimum Wage

Noah Millman points to some basics about the role of the minimum wage as part of a conservative approach to a more just society.

In principle, any kind of “one-nation” conservatism has to care about inequality as such, and particularly about the weakness of labor’s bargaining power in most of contemporary America. Right-wing individualism is often conflated with a conservative approach to governance in contemporary American politics, but that conflation is a profound error. As a practical matter, I’m convinced that wage stagnation is the deep reason for the financial crisis. The Bush-era answer to stagnating wages was cheaper credit. That papered over the problem for a while, but it teed America up for a terrible crash. … Avoiding a repeat requires fixing the structural drivers of widening inequality, and particularly means raising wages at the low end of the scale. In that context, a legislated rise in the minimum wage should absolutely be on the table for discussion.

He concludes,

Wage stagnation is a serious economic and social problem with far-reaching consequences. You don’t get to say “I don’t care about that problem” because your ideology doesn’t have a ready-made answer. That applies to free-market-oriented conservatives and client-service-oriented neo-liberals alike, because solving the problem is going to require solutions from the “left” and “right” side of the policy box, and these solutions may be more complementary than contradictory.

In short, there’s something for everyone to contribute.

Embodied art

Alan Jacobs writes of a Ray Davies of the Kinks and his nostalgia for the shared musical life with his sister Rene

Oklahoma!might show you some of the shortcomings of your world, but it didn’t necessarily make you hate it. There was a way to bring those distant beauties into your everyday life.
But perhaps this can only be done if you’re a creator and performer as well as a consumer. Davies’s sister Rene went to the movies, yes, but she also danced in the ballrooms and played piano with her brother. She made those songs her own by using her body and her voice, rather than merely observing the words and movements of others. Perhaps we have the power to incorporate mass culture into our lives — but not by just consuming it.

It’s not just for Davies, or for nostalgia to English working class culture.

If we are to be collaborators and co-creators then we would be well-served by creating cultural spaces for this work to take place. Art not as product but co-creation is the stuff of arts / music education. The tragedy being that we have been steadily stripping such programs from our communities in the performance driven educational reforms.

Over at The American Conservative, Alan Jacobs takes up the subject of reading Dickens and notes

Bleak House has everything: a cast of characters not discernibly less comprehensive than that of Copperfield; a great mystery story at its heart, featuring one of the first detectives in English fiction, Inspector Bucket; a brilliant and vicious satire on the law; coverage of the whole range of English society, from its height (Sir Leicester Dedlock) to its depths (Jo the crossing-sweeper),

Having just finished the novel myself, I can only agree.

As commentators point out, one of the problematic characters — perhaps the problematic character — is that of Harold Skimpole. A man of few sympathetic characteristics, especially to modern readers. He is a type of Romantic, existing at the sufferance of others, of self-conciously no mind for money, and one who presumes the world to be a gay place. Yet. His carelessness in mannered speech is like a squid’s ink. The person hides behind it, and we rarely see him; perhaps in his home, and again in Bucket’s sharp warning. A character like this raises the awareness of the writing, that the person referred to has his own unspoken history. The verbal display thus hides us from his “real” self.

And Skimpole’s  caricatured Romanticism creates a tension with  Dickens’ own pastoral inclinations (e.g. George’s last scene, turning his back on the Manchester mills to head to the country; or for that matter the sugary description of the New Bleak House in Yorkshire, Esther’s new home). I would think that it is the tug of Romanticism in Dickens that prevents him from seeing or developing Skimpole, the arch Romantic.

Skimpole’s false, Romantic innocence was also the subject of an interesting essay at First Things (1993).