Thursday, February 08, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Is social conservative -- as shorthand for "anti-intellectual evangelical fundamentalist Protestant Republican voter" an oxymoron?

"Evangelicalism, driven by emotion, and not creedal, is thoroughly erratic and by its nature cannot be conservative." [Dartmouth professor emeritus Jeffrey Hart]

The Founders, and the philosophers who instructed them, certainly would be in agreement with that. "Enthusiastic" religion horrified them, because they saw it as irrational. America, peopled in part by people who found their home societies insufficiently enthusiastic in religion, has got a strong dose of it. The most persistent strain is that the Scots-Irish carried down the Appalachians into the upland South, and rooted it there. They fought the British, the federal government, the Cherokees, the Confederate Authorities, the Revenuers. In some cases they fought for change; in some they opposed it. Nixon, holding his nose, brought them into the GOP as an electoral strategy.

That so many of the heirs of enthusiastic religion happen, in our day, to generally stand opposed to some of the most active efforts at social change -- especially in the realm of sexuality and morality -- or that it did so in the past with regard to desegregation, shouldn't fool anyone into thinking that it is in some sense inherently "conservative," in any philosophical or practical definition of the term.

As easily it can be a force for change. As it was during Prohibition -- surely a "progressive" movement (the further back you go in history, the more Americans drank). Back when New England, too, was full of "anti-intellectual evangelical fundamentalist Protestant voters," they were abolitionists. Who would John Brown be today? [While we're on the topic, who would Cindy Sheehan be in 1864?]

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