When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
From a fascinating interview with Roger Scruton in Prospect:
Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the “first-person plural,” a phrase that occurs several times in the book.
Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate itself. For that reason, social contract theories are suspended in mid-air, so to speak. All political order presupposes a pre-political order, a sense that people belong together. And then, of course, they might seek a contract that embodies their togetherness. But the togetherness has to be there.
With Oakeshott’s remarks about conservatism as a “disposition” in mind, I was very struck by something you say about the tone of voice in which this book is written. You say: “The case for conservatism does not have to be presented in elegiac accents.” What do you mean by that?
So much of modern political conservatism—and you see this in America, which has a quite articulate conservative movement compared with us—is phrased in elegiac terms. [It’s about] what we’ve lost—we’ve lost the traditional working-class family, the black family or whatever it might be. Now, all that is perfectly reasonable. But the most important question is what have we got, rather than what we’ve lost, and how do we keep it?
That’s well said. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think Scruton’s insights here point the way forward for religious conservatives in this rapidly changing social order. We must give up on the hope of restoring the past in this culture. It’s not that some aspects of the past shouldn’t be reclaimed, but rather that doing so, at least at a society-wide level, is not feasible at this point in time. The more we act as if it were so, the greater our losses will be once we definitively lose an unwinnable battle. This “take back America” stuff is self-deluding nostalgia, and the more conservatives believe it, the worse off they will be.
There are times when you have to fade into the forest and retrench. I’ve called this call for retrenchment the Benedict Option, because it strikes me as the most sensible strategy by which religious conservatives can engage the world as it is now and is to come. The Benedictines were ordinarily not completely cloistered; they engaged with the people in the areas where their monasteries were. But they established walls and habits that set them apart from the secular world, and gave them the means to preserve their identity over generations. This is what I’m talking about: how to preserve the core of our identity in a post-Christian culture?
I don’t think anybody has the answer yet, and it may be that the answer will only emerge after we try a number of different things and see what stands the test of time. The thing is, we have to try. A Protestant friend wrote me yesterday about struggles within his church community, and how he’s run into a buzzsaw of opposition in trying to bring real content to the Sunday school curriculum. He reports that the adults think everything is going to be okay for the younger generation if they just keep doing what they’ve been doing and hope for the best. Meanwhile, he says, they are just processing kids who emerge fluent in moralistic therapeutic deism, but theologically and culturally ignorant of Christianity.
Absent an adult conversion, these kids aren’t likely to make it as Christians in the world as it is and the world as it shall be in the next few years and decades. It grieves my friend, but he says it has been a real lesson for him in the power of fear of change within a community. This, I told him, is the kind of conservatism that kills. To paraphrase Burke, a church community without the means of change is one without the means of its own preservation. The art of it is figuring out what needs to change in our way of living and doing for the sake of preserving our core values.
So, to pivot towards the future, let me put the Scruton question to the conservatives in the room: What have we got, and how do we keep it?
I’ll take a non-comprehensive stab at answering this from a religiously conservative point of view.
What we’ve got is enough people with a cultural memory, and cultural awareness, of what we have lost, and a desire to both reclaim it from the past and pass it on to our future, to make a community. For some it will be actual local communities; for others, it will be virtual communities. I suspect for all of us it will be a combination of both. We have to preserve those communities and the virtues they embody. We’ve got to build institutions dedicated to this end — which, for religious believers, has to mean dedicated to the service of God within our particular tradition, not dedicated to the service of the tradition itself, if you appreciate the distinctions. Schools, churches, institutions of civil society — all kinds of institutions that incarnate our values and pass them on in a living way: this is what we’ve got to have if we are going to keep what we’ve got.
We live in a time of cultural revolution, in which everything that is solid, from a Christian point of view, melts into air. If we want to hold on to what we’ve got in terms of our faith and our values, we’ve got to make our beliefs concrete in new ways, ways designed and built to endure the radicalism of the situation we’re now in.
We’ve got a First Amendment, the penumbra of which grants us lots of latitude for running our own religious lives as we see fit. The ground of liberty in this way is going to be shrinking, that’s clear, in the coming laïcité. But we still have a lot more freedom than do religious folks in other countries, and that’s worth preserving. I am a conservative, not a libertarian, but we live in a fundamentally libertarian social order. It might make sense, then, to vote for principled libertarians over conventional conservatives, if the principled libertarians truly respect the liberty of unpopular religious minorities to live within their sphere and flourish. I believe that over the course of my children’s lifetime, defending the First Amendment is going to become the most important cause for religious conservatives, because on it everything else for us will depend.
These are my two ideas this morning. I welcome yours. As I said, my conservatism is primarily religious and social, not economic, so my answers reflect that.
As history shows (Western Civilization; South Korea, predominantly Christians nations in Africa and South America; America itself) and as research empirical research has shown, the internal logic of Christianity tends towards liberal democracy, even a constitutional republic. China is finding this out these days (excerpt)…
The involvement of Protestants and Catholics in Hong Kong’s protest movement is an added concern for Beijing, which on the mainland has put in place an elaborate bureaucracy of agencies and state-approved religious bodies to monitor and control religious groups.
A religious group gathered in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area, a focal point of the pro-democracy protests, on Wednesday. Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal
About 480,000 Protestants and 363,000 Catholics live in Hong Kong, a city of about 7.2 million, according to government figures from 2013. Buddhists and Taoists make up the vast majority of the city, the government says. Many Hong Kongers have been educated through large networks of Catholic and Protestant schools.
Occupy Central leader Chu Yiu-ming is a Baptist minister, while founder Benny Tai is also a Christian. On Thursday, Mr. Tai declined to discuss his faith in detail, but he did call himself a “part time theologian” and said he could “write a thesis” on the topic of Christianity and the protests. “My faith is in the streets,” Mr. Tai added.
Wendy Lo, 21, was born in China’s Guangdong province but grew up in Hong Kong and became Christian after attending an Evangelical secondary school. The University of Hong Kong linguistics major says her bible study group this past weekend discussed how to interpret a biblical story in light of the protest movement. The chapter they read was about Queen Esther daring to approach the king without his permission.
“The story made me think about speaking up for myself,” said Ms. Lo. “If Hong Kong residents don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?”
Like most television shows about young urbanites making their way in the world, “Girls” is a depiction of a culture whose controlling philosophy is what the late Robert Bellah called “expressive individualism” — the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.
This is a perspective with religious and political corollaries: It implies a God-as-life-coach theology, the kind that pulses through Oprah Winfrey’s current revival tour, and a politics in which the state is effectively a therapeutic agent, protecting the questing self from shocks and deprivation.
And to be a cultural conservative today means, above all, regarding expressive individualism as an idea desperately in need of correction and critique.
Often the roots of this kind of conservatism are religious, since biblical faith takes a rather dimmer view of human nature’s inner workings, a rather darker view of the unfettered self. But the conservative argument is also a practical one: We don’t think expressive individualism actually makes people very happy.
Left Behind and other apocalyptic films: push back against the obsession with the present age. From Brett McCracken:
“In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor talks about the gradual emergence in modernity of a sense of “secular” time as opposed to sacred or “higher” time. In ordinary, secular time, one thing happens after another on a single plane of progression. But before the modern era, “higher times” offered an “organizing field” that gathered, grouped, and imbued ordinary time with meaning. When we lose a sense of the “higher times,” writes Taylor, we are cut off from our past and out of touch with our future: “We get lost in our little parcel of time.”
The dangers of getting “lost in our little parcel of time” are also noted by media critic Douglas Rushkoff in his book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. Rushkoff argues that 21st-century society is oriented around the present moment. “Narrativity and goals are surrendered to a skewed notion of the real and the immediate; the tweet; the status update,” writes Rushkoff. “What we are doing at any given moment becomes all-important.”
WHEN the long, grim history of Christianity’s disappearance from the Middle East is written, Ted Cruz’s performance last week at a conference organized to highlight the persecution of his co-religionists will merit at most a footnote. But sometimes a footnote can help illuminate a tragedy’s unhappy whole.
For decades, the Middle East’s increasingly beleaguered Christian communities have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world. And their plight has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.
There are three reasons for this invisibility. The political left in the West associates Christian faith with dead white male imperialism and does not come naturally to the recognition that Christianity is now the globe’s most persecuted religion. And in the Middle East the Israel-Palestine question, with its colonial overtones, has been the left’s great obsession, whereas the less ideologically convenient plight of Christians under Islamic rule is often left untouched.
To America’s strategic class, meanwhile, the Middle East’s Christians simply don’t have the kind of influence required to matter. A minority like the Kurds, geographically concentrated and well-armed, can be a player in the great game, a potential United States ally. But except in Lebanon, the region’s Christians are too scattered and impotent to offer much quid for the superpower’s quo. So whether we’re pursuing stability by backing the anti-Christian Saudis or pursuing transformation by toppling Saddam Hussein (and unleashing the furies on Iraq’s religious minorities), our policy makers have rarely given Christian interests any kind of due.
Then, finally, there is the American right, where one would expect those interests to find a greater hearing. But the ancient churches of the Middle East (Eastern Orthodox, Chaldean, Maronites, Copt, Assyrian) are theologically and culturally alien to many American Catholics and evangelicals. And the great cause of many conservative Christians in the United States is the state of Israel, toward which many Arab Christians harbor feelings that range from the complicated to the hostile.
Is it really possible in every situation for government to be morally neutral, even religiously neutral? No.
From Anthony Esolen (clip):
On the impossibility: consider the effects of a permission that radically alters the nature of the context in which the action is permitted. We might call this the Nude Beach Principle. Suppose that Surftown has one beautiful beach, where young and old, boys and girls, single people and whole families, have been used to relax, go swimming, and have picnics. Now suppose that a small group of nudists petitions the town council to allow for nude bathing. Their argument is simple—actually, it is no more than a fig leaf for the mere expression of desire. They say, “We want to do this, and we, tolerant as we are, do not wish to impose our standards on anyone else. No one will be required to bathe in the raw. Live and let live, that’s our motto.”
But you cannot have a Half-Nude Beach. A beach on which some people stroll without a stitch of clothing is a nude beach, period. A councilman cannot say, “I remain entirely neutral on whether clothing should be required on a beach,” because that is equivalent to saying that it is not opprobrious or not despicable to walk naked in front of other people, including children.
Two factors must be at work, for the Nude Beach Principle to apply. One is whether we can expect some people to act upon the permission. The other is an easily predictable harm that the permission so acted upon will bring to people who do not act upon it, or who, because of moral disapprobation, disgust, fear, or pain, would never act upon it. In Surftown, it means that ordinary people will have lost their beach. They will have lost it to theintolerance of the nude bathers, who, even if they were correct about the moral permissibility of their parading their wares, will not forbear with their more scrupulous neighbors. In this matter, to pretend not to choose is to choose.
A few years ago, I read Historian Richar Weikart’s fascinating book From Darwin To Hitler, tracing the origin of Nazi ideology to Darwinian biological and social ethics. A 14 minute documentary of the story concerning Darwinism and the first world war (Second Reich) is now available online: