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Christianity, the West, and Americanism

In broad brushes I agree with Daniel Larison:

One of the things that always bothered me about George Bush’s revolutionary rhetoric was how he identified the expansion of political freedom with God’s design for man, which makes God’s plan one of narrow political deliverance rather than deliverance from death. These claims that representative government and separation of powers have some grounding in Christianity bother me in a different way. Probably the most thoroughly Christianized state in the medieval world was Byzantium, but it retained a late Roman autocratic system of government for its entire existence, so what is the connection between political structures and Christianity? Because the experience of most of Christian history in most parts of the world does not fit this picture of Christianity as the foundation of modern constitutional government, these claims have to privilege the Christianity of certain parts of western Europe and North America as the norm when it was clearly the exception. Furthermore, the reason for privileging Christianity from these parts of the world becomes an expressly political one. In other words, the quality or acceptability of one’s Christianity becomes dependent on the extent to which it complements the political values of modern Western states. Tying the importance of Christianity to the instrumental claim that Christianity is necessary because it created or undergirded our political culture takes us closer to defending Christianity in terms of little more than “Christian-flavored civic religion.” Even if it were true, I’m not sure that Christians should want to make that argument.

The American Radical Reformation tradition of evangelical Protestant Christianity is particularly prone to making really extreme conflations between Christianity and a specific concrete temporal order (or, at the other extreme reject the temporal order altogether as illegitimate) . I think it has to do with the sectarian and often parochial nature of American evangelical pastors, as opposed to more internationalist Roman Catholic clerics. This tendency is not necessarily good, or bad, as such. But it does lead to strange assertions of necessary entailments from Christian religious affiliation which would render most pre-modern Christians imperfectly Christian, and many non-Western Christians imperfectly Christian today (the attempts by American Protestants to convert Oriental Orthodox Christians in the Near East, traditions with a 2,000 year history, is a practical outcome of this mode of thinking). The Mormon church explicitly interjects Americocentrism into their religious system, taking these tendencies to their logical extreme, and arguably out of mainstream Christianity.

Interestingly, this way of thinking is not limited to Christians. I have observed American Muslims state that the United States is the most Islamic nation, the nation where Islam is practiced most freely and in its truest, pure, form. There were similar strands in 19th century Reform Judaism, which saw in America a nation where the Jewish religion could flourish without the impediments and historical baggage which had characterized Judaism in Europe, and so ushering in the Messianic era.

The common thread then is Americanism, not any particular religion.

Liberals in the United States love to laud European ways as a cudgel against American conservative exceptionalism. But they don’t admire all European ways, Ezra Klein on Lindsey Graham’s possible floating of a constitutional amendment to repeal birthright citizenship:

How then to explain Graham’s announcement — on Fox News, no less — that he’s stepping into the immigration issue with a proposal that’s much more divisive, and much more dangerous? “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here,” he said. “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake. … We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.”

Putting aside the cruelty of the position, which penalizes children for the sins of their parents, this is certainly “bringing up immigration.” And indeed, it’s trying to use birthright citizenship as a wedge issue against the Democrats. Worse, it centers the conversation on illegal immigration rather than the immigration system. That’s a much more toxic, and much less productive, conversation.

Many European states have restricted birthright citizenship within the last generation. It’s probably a corollary to a welfare state. I happen to agree with Will Wilkinson that birthright citizenship is probably a major impediment to any resolution of immigration flows where there has to be compromise, because the stakes are just too high for everyone involved.



Pataki for 2012?

Pataki for Prez?. He needs to flip to being pro-life very soon if he wants to be viable. The only reason I point to this is to illustrate how many names are going to emerge from the woodwork before 2011. Another example, Haley Barbour. He does need to lose weight. We haven’t had a fat president since Harding.



Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll

Boos as Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll. Paul 31%, Romney 22%, Palin 7% and Pawlenty 6%. Obviously straw polls don’t matter. The only reason this is news is because the enthusiasm of Ron Paul supporters carried the day again in a circumstance where intensity trumps genuine broad appeal, upending expectations. So perhaps someone who knows more about political organization can explain this to me: why don’t they just rig straw polls so that no one is surprised and the establishment is happy?

Over at ScienceBlogs I have a post up where I explore the differences by state between the American Religious Identification Survey in 1990 and 2008. I then compare these data to the national election results in 1988 and 2008.

Here is a chart which shows the relationship between % “No Religion” and proportion of votes for George H. W. Bush in 1988:

And here is a chart which shows the relationship between % “No Religion” and proportion of votes for John McCain in 2008:

What you see here is that there is no correlation on the state by state level between those with “No Religion” and voting for Republicans or Democrats in 1988, but that by 2008 the proportion with “No Religion” can explain 20% of the variation by 1988. Some of this is just due to the rapid expansion of the proportion of the American population which avows “No Religion”. But the secularization process exhibits geographic patterns; Vermont now has a plural majority for those with “No Religoin,” and perhaps tellingly it is a state which has shifted much further to the Left than the national average since 1988 (it voted for Bush in ’88, but was a deep blue state by ’08). Secularization in fact has been most pronounced in northern New England, which has seen a shift toward the Left over the past generation.

What relevance does this have for current politics? 21% of political Independents have “No Religion,” as opposed to 16% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. The role of Independents in Scott Brown’s recent victory, and in New England in general, is notable. There is no doubt that today the Republican party is defined by its white Protestant core, and this will be the basis for any future Republican majority. But I think Scott Brown’s election shows the importance of demographics outside of the core in creating a viable majority party. Though Brown himself is an Evangelical Calvinist, his campaign did not seem culturally colored in a way that the secular Center-Right might find off-putting. I think this is an important insight, and suggests further analogies between Scott Brown and Barack Obama.* Though Obama does not seem to be personally a particularly religiously devout individual, he managed to appeal to substantial numbers of religious voters through his mastery of rhetoric and presentation. Similarly, though Scott Brown’s personal beliefs are conventionally Christian, his tone and presentation was such as that voters otherwise skeptical of the Religious Right coloring of the modern Republican party found him acceptable.

* Because Scott Brown is pro-choice and is by necessity ideologically somewhat marginal with the party I am not suggesting here he could ever be a viable presidential candidate as a Republican. Unless he changes his views appropriately, at which point he would lose any shred of credible authenticity for pulling “a Romney.”

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Seeing 2012

Daniel Larison on Palin’s Extremely Long Shot At The Nomination. Daniel’s argument is persuasive, but, I would add that the probabilities one projects are extremely conditional on local temporal circumstances. Even in the recent past John McCain’s candidacy went from being the clear favorite, to dead, to an unlikely win through capturing the largest segment of the electorate in a winner-take-all system. Hillary Clinton went from inevitable to insurgent upset in a period of weeks around December 2007-January 2008.

For me the main issue is that it does not seem that Sarah Palin is positioning herself for a 2012 run. But, assuming she runs I would say that Romney has 4 times likelihood of getting the nomination than she does. That sounds significant, but if I had to make up a number I would say that Romney’s chances are about 1 in 10. George W. Bush was the presumptive nominee in many ways rather early before the 2000 election, but from what I recall that only crystallized after after the 1998 elections, after Republican losses and New Gingrich’s ouster. In 1992 Bill Clinton was an exceptional case for a non-incumbent in that in 1990 he was not known to most in the country (despite his speech at the ’88 convention). Bob Dole in 1996 was the opposite case, his establishment creds were deep and long, and he was already very well known in 1994. John Kerry in 2004 and George W. Bush in 2000 are intermediate cases, vaguely familiar names, but not with the name recognition of Bob Dole. I don’t think we can predict very easily which scenario will characterize the Republicans in 2012. A Palin run would have resemblances to Dole’s run (or McCain in 2008 because of his high profile over the past decade). Romney never made it out of the early primaries, when most of the nation wasn’t paying attention, so I’d class him with Kerry or Bush. And there are many other vaguely familiar names to the public out there as well. Finally, there are unaccounted for “wild cards.” Because of the nature of modern campaigns in terms of logistics I think the chances of wild cards shaking up expectations are declining, but probably are still on the order of 1/3. That is, there’s a 1 out of 3 chance that someone who you barely know, some obscure governor or senator (It could be argued that John McCain was a wild card in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004, though like most wild cards they failed) becomes the front-runner. The remaining 2/3 of the distribution is defined by a power law, so that a few candidates are much more likely than others (e.g., Romeny vs. Tancredo), though there’s a “long tail” (to the extent that that long tail arguably simply continues into the wild card zone).

As I admit above, the numbers are somewhat made up. But I wanted to put numbers there to give a sense of what I think is the most plausible model of probabilities here. Prose is by its nature going to focus on what we know, the most probable. But that does not mean that is is very probable as an outcome. If opinions came with a high cost whereby that cost had to be recouped with accuracy, then there would be very little on this topic this far out. Like science fiction’s element of prognostication, political conversation about 2012 tells us more about the present than the future.

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Why are Catholics Democrats?

Norman Podhortez just came out with a book, Why Are Jews Liberals?. It seems that this as intellectually interesting as writing a book, “Why are blacks Democrats?”, would be. You can tick off specific reasons, but in ethnic terms American liberalism and the Democratic party is a minoritarian coalition. To some extent it has been true since the recruitment of the Irish in the urban North in the early 19th century as allies with the outnumbered partisans of slave power. In fact The American Jewish Identity Survey tells us that once Jews become Christian, they aren’t so liberal. Here are the percentage of Republicans by Jewish subgroup:

Jews by ethnic origin & religion – 13%
Jews by ethnic origin, irreligious – 13%
Jewish by ethnic origin, “Other religion,” which is mostly Christian – 40%

Jews of other religion are also less intelligent than the other two groups, 36% college graduates vs. 57% for Jews who are religious and irreligious.

In any case, if Norman Podhoretz wants Jews to become Republican, he should encourage conversion to Christianity. Specifically, Protestant Christianity. Look what rock-ribbed Republicans Jim Talent and Marvin Olasky became. And don’t even talk about Howard Phillips, he wants to bring back to the inquisition for idolaters and pagans!

But I come not to talk of Jews, but of Catholics. As I said, the rise of the Democratic party as we know it was to a great extent concomitant with the first waves of Irish Catholic immigrants to Northern cities. The historical details of this are well known, so I won’t go into it, but to some extent the ties still are operative. According to the exit polls, last fall Barack Obama won 47% of white Catholics. He only won 34% of white Protestants! This is still a large difference.

Some of this might be accounted for my region and ethnicity (e.g., Italians and Northeasterners are more likely to be Catholic). So I looked in the GSS. There’s a variable “ETHNIC,” which asks where one’s ancestors came from. I wanted to look at a few groups, especially ones where the sample size wasn’t too small, and where there were likely to be Catholics and Protestants. So

1) French, who are those whose ancestors come from French Canada or France

2) German, whose ancestors come from German or Austria

3) British, whose ancestors are from England, Wales or Scotland

4) Mexican, whose ancestors come from Mexico

5) American Indian, whose ancestors come from Mother Earth’s union with Coyote

Some of these groups, such as Germans, had Protestant and Catholic cohorts from the beginning. By contrast, Mexican Americans have a large Protestant contingent through conversion (though some indigenous immigrants from Chiapas were converted in Mexico). American Indians were targeted by both Protestants and Catholics. Finally, though Huguenots have been prominent in the American aristocracy (Franklin Delano Roosvelt’s mother was a Huguenot, as were the ancestors of many Southern low country planters), I assume most Protestant French Americans arrived at their religion through conversion on these shores.

I also limited the sample to 1992 and later to have some contemporary relevance.

Then I compared these classes to two categories, political ideology and political party. I created an “index” of liberalism and Democratic orientation, so that I simply multiplied the frequency in each class by an integer. Ergo:

Index of liberalism = (% liberal) X 2 + (% moderate) X 1 + (% conservative) X 0
Index of Demo orientation = (% Democrat) X 2 + (% Independent) X 1 + (% Republican) X 0

So an index of liberalism of 1 means perfect balance, while below 1 means somewhat conservative, and above 1 means somewhat liberal (2 being all liberal). The same for Democrats. Then I took the ratio of Catholics to Protestants by their indices.

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The post on Creationism & potential Republican candidates is getting a lot of linkage. A quick note, the title was a bit hyperbolic. I am simply suggesting that from where we stand today the power of the Christian Right has waxed within the Republican party, not declined as some in the media were suggesting a few years ago. The reason is simple: the party has contracted over the past few years, while the Christian Right has remained loyal. There were comments below to the effect that policy considerations are much more important than abstract ideas. The issue with Creationism is that those who accept this view are often smart, they simply invest more authority in the evangelical Protestant intellectual counter-culture (though on average they are less intelligent). That worries me. Obviously a particular combination of policies and beliefs would lead to different assessments of a candidate’s viability to different individuals. Many of Ron Paul’s enthusiastic supporters backed him not because of 100% agreement with all his views, including his skepticism of evolution, but because of core substantive agreement with is policy prescriptions. On the other hand, some weird beliefs probably would serve as a way to filter out genuine loonies who rely on non-mainstream sources of knowledge. In regards to “weird,” your mileage may vary. I would, for example, support a pro-life politician who accepted evolution over a pro-choice one who rejected it despite my generally pro-choice stance on abortion (according to the GSS around 10% of the population rejects evolution and accepts abortion on demand, so the latter combination is not impossible).

Second, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker is a gentleman indeed, he points to my observation that his characterization of German Social Democrats was a bit off, and admits that I was correct and that he was wrong. Refreshing. The best thing about blogging about science is that you are quite often wrong, or other people are quite often wrong, and wrongess isn’t a shameful state to be in. Nice to see that facts have some effect even in the subjective world of political blogging!

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Political spectrum

Arkady of Right Condition has a new “political spectrum” up:


This strikes me as a libertarian-centric spectrum. That’s fine as it goes, all “spectrums” or “typologies” are selective in what parameters they use to generate categories. The main issue with a libertarian-centric one I would have is that so few people are libertarian.




The philosophers as types

I don’t know what to make of this David Brooks column, Bentham vs. Hume. I will say that the main reason I lean Right is a suspicion of the efficacy of managerial technocracy. And I speak as someone who is positively inclined toward scatterplots & regression.


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