As I write this, the Religious Right is increasingly of a mind to just shove the libertarians out of the conservative movement. Never mind that there was a tie of decades’ standing; never mind the tradition of "Christian liberty" versus "pagan stateism [sic]"; never mind the fact that the writings of both Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard used to be welcome in the journals of the old Christian Right. Presumably, this tie is too old-fashioned for the new Religious Rightist. Why should liberals have all the fun of junking vital principles on the grounds that they’re no longer in fashion?
Given the increasing hostility towards libertarianism in the Religious Right, I’ve prepared a kind of survival guide for libertarians to get through the "next wave," a warning sheet similar to the one I wish I had when I was a youth and liberalism was virulent:
- "Anti-liberal" is not pro-liberty anymore
- The underlying ethic behind the Religious Right is martial
- By Any Means Necessary?
- "So You Wanna Fight?"
- "Don’t Tell Me About Rules Of Evidence — I Know What Those People Are!"
People who are tolerant of their punchy fellows show similar tolerance for wild accusations made against deviants, too. If the Religious Right has a libertine circuit of its own, it would be composed of those who think that violating the Ninth Commandment (the Eighth for Catholics and Lutherans) makes for a wild time.
Few people nowadays realize that the FBI was lionized in the 1950s and 1960s because the "Fibbies" were rigorous when it came to the crank file during the McCarthy campaign. To his credit, J. Edgar Hoover had made it hard to commit "homicide by cop" before he reached his dotage.
Not everyone is "anti-Washington" because they believe that the federal government is after their liberties. "State-haters" can have reasons very different from ours.
Granted that a hybrid such as myself had it soft in days gone by. The most aversion I have ever faced from a Canadian Tory about libertarianism was a contemptuous chuckle. I still remember it from the year I was a member of the old Progressive Conservative club at the University of Toronto. Given the care that was taken for party loyalty back then, it was clearly meant as a friendly dissuasion for me. I can’t claim to have had a social calendar which rated a line such as "you didn’t wind up in bed with one of their girls, did you?"
That’s all that I faced from the Tory back in the olden days. They didn’t characterize libertarians as evil, or traitorous, or libertine, or closet liberal. All I got from them was that libertarians were below the salt, and thus not worth bothering with. In Canada, this position underneath the radar was the one that libertarianism occupied. Formally, it can be expressed in this way: "Libertarianism is the political philosophy of the heath, of the badlands, where the law don’t reach and the laws aren’t read." I sometimes had the sense that a dabble in Marxism would be considered more face-saving.
Yes, times were soft back then for the libertarian. Evidently, more than a few religious righters think the likes of me have had it too soft. I have actually been called a liberal on a discussion board recently! Those of you who have endured the pasting that libertarians regularly endure from liberals will find this either hilarious or sickening.
It’s one thing to see both parties propagate statism. It’s another thing to experience it personally, to be treated as a liberal by supposed conservatives and as a conservative by liberals. (I’m not the only one; I know it.)
Look carefully at what the Religious Right believes got us in the present mess. Is it aggrandizing government? Is it forced sacrifices demanded by the State? Is it the tie of welfare and warfare? Is it because government handouts have made us soft? No to all. The new Religious Right has been innovatory, in a sense: their answer is different from all these.
According to the Religious Right, society is decaying due to mass hedonism, which is fed and encouraged by prosperity. The wealth generated by the market economy is precisely what is unstringing the bows in our backs. The renaissance of freedom which is emerging from North American culture is making us too secularized. We’re becoming too used to wealth, too used to being served by businesses that court us, too used to having our demands met in a thriving marketplace.
A religious person of sterner stuff would treat the purveyors of "morally shoddy goods" as contemptible, and ignore them. It is true that a person who goes through that kind of self-imposed regimen opens him- or herself to being called a bunch of terrible names, all of which are unfair, and most of which are based upon mere prejudice. This kind of regimen, though, is evidently too modest for a growing number of Religious Righters. It’s not just the person who seeks God who has to undergo it; everyone has to raise the barn that "must" be built. Whether those others want it or not.
Enter commutarianism. The kind of commutarianism now emergent in the Religious Right goes like this: Us religious folks have been grievously put upon by both the State and the culture, and for that, "society" owes us.
Beggaring this may be, but the underlying ethic is more frightening than a line that Wimpy would have used to snaffle a hamburger. The idea that the higher man is one who sacrifices his "self-indulgence" for the common good has a natural home, and that home is a boot camp.
Back in the civil old days, the relationship between democracy and Christianity was considered to be a creative tension. It was well known that the democracy of Athens was pagan; the same went for the semi-democratic Republic of Rome. It was also well known that Christianity hit its heights when aristocracy flourished. The connection between the two heroes of Christian culture, the saint and the knight-paladin, was well-known too: both were incredibly tough. Those were the days when people knew what it meant to "live in Christ:" it meant showing utter disdain for pain.
Heroic this does sound, of course, but the political consequence was a tolerance for State-sanctioned torture and barbaric means of questioning the accused. The person who believes that there is a net benefit to the tortured finding Christ is going to be a lot more tolerant to the old justification for trial by ordeal, to wit: "if he’s innocent, he’ll be sanctified anyway. We’ll go to confession if we’re wrong about him."
It was also known that Christianity was the progenitor not only of democracy, but also of human rights; both were deduced from the primacy of the individual soul. Many of the heretics pounced upon by Church and State in the olden days were collectivists. The nub of the "creative tension" was the recognition that the Christian doctrine of free will, and its political expression in the doctrine of Christian liberty, had the cost of putting up with the wayward. In tradition, wayward souls were seen as Prodigal Sons, whose erroneous ways would lead them to a bad end or back to a more righteous path. When compared with the old kind of Christian, the Religious Righters seem remarkably uninsightful. The former were better at guessing the inner cost of the life of the city mouse.
Yes, it’s true that the new Religious Righter sees him- or herself as standing up for his or her aggrieved rights. It’s also true, though, that the labor unions were known for that too.
Those two factions have an obvious commonality: they tend to bristle when made fun of or snubbed. There is a less obvious commonality: seeing a crackdown on assault as constructively violative of their rights. Those who see Religious Righters as errant scions of the old libertarian-friendly Christian Right should look them over carefully, and dissociate themselves from the ones who believe that the rights of the individual encompass the right to smash the teeth of a deviant individual.
6. What Part Of The Bible Do Bible Believers Believe?
Someone whose favorite book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes is profoundly different from someone whose favorite book is Revelation.
There is an irony in the emergence of the supposedly anti-liberal Religious Right: they’re a perfect complement for the liberals themselves. Anyone who is conversant with the liberal castigations of "the Right" will find that the new, aggressive Religious Right matches those slurs roughly.
This irony, though, makes for a tragedy for the old Right. After many decades of both refuting and living down liberal stereotypes, such as the ones about "latent medievalism," "latent fascism," "war mongers," "authoritarian personalities," etc., etc., there is a new group of supposed conservatives who regard those stereotypes as fair-enough rules for the political game. There’s no better way to ruin an old conservative than to let him hear, "You conservatives were merely oppositional-defiant, now weren’t you?", and for him to see exactly that attitude in his newest followers.
Daniel M. Ryan [send him mail] is a Canadian with a known aversion to theocracy, whether real or covert. He is currently marking time with pen and paper.