Secular Right | Reality & Reason

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Richard John Neuhaus, cont’d

Damon Linker has blog posts up at New Republic here and here, drawing a reply from Ross Douthat (earlier from Bradlaugh).

I find this paragraph from National Catholic Reporter very puzzling:

From the early 1970s forward, Neuhaus was a key architect of two alliances with profound consequences for American politics, both of which overcame histories of mutual antagonism: one between conservative Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals, and the other between free market neo-conservatives and “faith and values” social conservatives.

The first half of this pair of ideas is obviously well-founded: Neuhaus’s cooperation with figures like Charles Colson was indeed instrumental in getting conservative Catholics and evangelicals to overlook some of their differences in the greater interest of a united front against secularism, cultural modernity, and other enemies. But it would never have occurred to me to call him (as opposed to, say, the late William F. Buckley, Jr.) “a key architect of [the alliance] between free market neo-conservatives and ‘faith and values’ social conservatives”. Leaving aside what is meant by the overpacked portmanteau “free market neo-conservatives”, the general alliance being referred to predated Neuhaus’s conversion to conservatism and grew weaker, rather than stronger, during his period of maximum influence. I can see making an argument that he was a central figure in undermining that alliance, in that he devoted unceasing effort to shifting the focus of conservatism from causes that provided obvious common ground with free-market advocates (like, say, limiting the scope of government) to that of culture war, where the common ground is, let’s face it, a lot more limited. But maybe there’s some case — perhaps relating to his work in Eastern Europe? — for why conservatives of a free-market secular stripe should also be grateful for his career.

National Review’s editorial treatment, by the way, pays tribute to Neuhaus’s facility for Chesterton-style aphorism, giving as an example:

“Whenever orthodoxy becomes optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed.”

I’d say that ranks with top-drawer Chesterton. It is pithy and funny; it is obviously, flagrantly wrong as applied to the world most of us live in; it is, nonetheless, fruitful to think about as an aphorism; and most of the readers who smile at its wit will not take the time to consider where its logical implications lead.

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Do you think the self-imagined Republican “base” would mobilize against a candidate who talked that way? (via Althouse). (And, yes, I wish the reporter had pinned him down with “inerrantly” rather than “literally”. But still.)




Perception or Power

What does the secular right want? If you read Kathleen Parker’s latest – and I know she doesn’t speak for all right secularists – you get the strange sense that she wants the way the GOP is perceived to change but not for the GOP to be substantively different.

As long as the religious right is seen as controlling the Republican Party, the GOP will continue to lose some percentage of voters, and that percentage likely will increase over time as younger voters shift away from traditional to more progressive values. (emphasis added).

Perception is not really a persuasive reason for the GOP to be less theocentric. What if the GOP could remain religious, even become more religious, while merely pretending to be secular? I think in many ways that’s what people like Huckabee and Palin represent. I mean, I’ve seen Huckabee on the Tyra Banks show, for God’s sake, and Sarah Palin definitely shops like the East Coast secularists Kathleen Parker identifies with. Such a rope-a-dope may be inauthentic to some degree but then again its politics.

In other words, I predict that Kathleen’s exhortations are going to have absolutely no effect. She’s arguing for a new packaging. Not for a new message. And that, really, is what people on this website have to ask. If you can get a more pro-secular packaging out of the GOP, would you have any other gripes with it.

If so, what.

And just as a follow up: are your policy differences, if any, dependent on your secularity or on something else.


“Crunchy conservative” Rod Dreher’s new USA Today op-ed is entitled “GOP’s path to victory still goes through God”, and at least he doesn’t shy away from telling us where he stands:

Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom. … All political problems, traditional conservatism teaches, are ultimately religious problems because they result from disordered souls.

Less individual freedom. Religion inserted into the management of “all” political problems since they all, without exception, “result from disordered souls”. What an appealing future for conservatism. Do you think Jeffrey Hart might have had a point when he described such a tendency as “toxic to moderate, independent, suburban, young and, more inclusively, educated voters”?

P.S. Some other reactions to Dreher’s column: James Joyner, Dennis Sanders, Doug Mataconis, Andrew Stuttaford.




What’s the matter with the Right?

Over at The American Scene, Reihan Salam asks, IS SOCIAL CONSERVATISM THE PROBLEM?:

… I doubt that Frum fears a Republican party composed in large part of devout religious believers — rather, I think he’s worried about the perception that the GOP has become narrowly sectarian. Note that Huckabee did very well with white evangelicals, but very poorly with pro-life Catholics, this despite a message that was arguably tailor-made for Reagan Democrats. A “less overtly religious message” could nevertheless hold fast to the core concerns of cultural conservatives.

I was mumbling the word “sectarian” before I got to that point. Solutions? I think ultimately we are in for a new age of sectionalism, and the lowest tension resolution will be federalism.





Ron Guhname, “The Inductivist,” is scathing about Kathleen Parker’s now-famous  “oogedy-boogedy” column.

New York City Republicans should become the center of the party. That there are six of them and 100 million born-agains isn’t the point; the NYC-ers are cooler.

I like Ron’s style, and I thought Kathleen’s column showed the ugly face of metroconservatism.  She was right to this degree, though:  the extremes of religious enthusiasm repel a lot of people who favor general conservative principles.  I meet those people all the time.  They generally end up with a grudging vote for the GOP, if they bother to turn out (and there isn’t a Libertarian on the ticket), and Ron is right that their numbers are not currently convincing enough for GOP strategists to start saying to candidates:  “Tone down the God stuff, for God…, er, I mean, for goodness’ sake.” 

That might change in a few election cycles, though; as, of course, might the preferences of evangelicals, who don’t vote Republican because they want small government and fiscal restraint, but from hostility to the greater social liberalism of the Democrats.  (I probably should have said “white evangelicals” there.)   As Jonah Goldberg says: “The Religious Right will stop being Right before they stop being Religious.”  So far as conservatives are concerned, evangelicals are fair-weather friends.

It’s a tough circle to square.  The GOP alliance of irreligious conservatives with religious haters of social liberalism may not be stable. 

In any case, we on the secular Right have to understand, as Kathleen plainly doesn’t, how marginal we are in the big antler-clashings of national politics.  Currently.


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