This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Conservatives Without Conscience

I have just now finished John W. Dean's recent book, Conservatives Without Conscience. (Reviewed in The Washington Post August 9th). In this work he uses psychological data on authoritarianism to examine how authoritarians in both the neoconservative and social/religious conservative movements have taken over the Republican Party and how this is could be a step to a larger dictatorship if not watched.

Dean traces authoritarianisms history in the public, although his efforts are not perfect. He mentions the disengagement of envangelicals from national politics from the 1920s until the 1960s. This may be true, however Mr. Dean misses a big piece of American political history by making this contention. What does he think Segregation was if not the ultimate in authoritarianism. The conservative hot button issues of abortion, homosexuality and desegregaton were not present on the landscape in this period because the social revolution the right wing authoritarians are currently reacting to had not yet occurred. Dean calls the right wing authoritarians Radical, but the classic term is Reactionary, since the right wing authoritarians seek an earlier time when sex was back in Pandora's Box (if it ever was). In the time where Right Wing Authoritarians were innactive in national politics they were very active in local politics making sure that Segregation was enforced. I find it hard to believe that the leaders in the segregated South, or the North for that matter, weren's Social Dominators and Right Wing Authoritarians. In fact, for a systematic discrimination to succeed, authoritarianism must be operative. It was never not operative in the American south, since the slave and sharecropper systems required it to function. When coverage of the Civil Rights movement made segregation socially unacceptable, the authoritarians had to find another avenue to power. Luckily the sexual revolution played right into their hands. Dean's problem with the social conservatives seems to be as much their inclusion in the Republican Party as their existence as a political force. This is shocking coming from someone who served in the Nixon White House. It was called the Southern Strategy. Perhaps Dean did not get the memo. What has changed is that these people are no longer as poor as they used to be. The Depression did not treat them well. Now that they are doing better economically, their dollars are sought.

What is new is the union between the Protestant Evangelicals and the Catholic ethnic conservatives. This would have been unthinkable fifty years ago, but abortion politics have made it possible. The Catholic hierarchy's complicity in this is fascinating. I am not sure who is capturing who. In conservative Catholic end times prophesy, the return of the Protestants to the Roman Church is as essential a step as the conversion of the Jews the Evangelicals look forward to. I wonder who is capturing whom.

I am not sure that all elected officials are not, to some extent, social dominators. They may not be out and out segregationists, but most of those elected to high office have, let us say, a healthy dose of self-esteem. In effect, they believe they are a cut above everyone else. Their amorality, especially in sexual matters, does not seem to know party line (remember Monica?). They seem to suffer from compulsive's disease (alcoholism, sex addiction, etc.) at a higher rate than the average citizen. A part of that pathology is a dominating personality. Also, whether they, as a class, are true believers in inequality - rather than exploiters of their followers authoritarianism - is an open question. The case of Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter is a case in point. His first love, whose child he financially supported, was in the class he proportedly hated. Maybe, just maybe, he was speaking into the listening of his constituents. While there are undoubtedly some true believers in racial inequality among the social dominators on the Republican side, they aren't necessarily the norm. As to economic inequality, the tax cuts of the past two decades may be as much about pandering to ones donors as an overarching belief in economic inequality.

The Authoritarianism Dean details can as easily be called Hierarchism as defined in the Grid/Group Theory of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. Looked at that way, the trends Dean highlights are not pathology but a long standing chosen way of life. The existence of dominant personalities in elected office is also nothing new. The parallel Dean draws between Viet Nam and Iraq also shows that adventurism in American policy is not a unique development. Indeed, the Spanish American War and the genocidal wars which opened the American West bear striking similarity to our current situation. What has changed is the coverage and the acceptability of an anti-war movement. Prior generations would have rounded up dissenters or lynched them.

Now, I am in no way arguing that we should left the current coalition unchecked. Indeed, its rise to dominance has as a key factor the inclusion of Catholics who left the Democratic Party in reaction to the partial birth abortion bill vetos of President Clinton. As long as the Supreme Court composition stays the same over the next few months, the issue of partial birth abortion will soon die, since the current Court's balance is not enough to reverse the actions of the lower courts declaring the federal partial birth abortion ban unconstitutional (just in time for the fall election). This issue will be used to mobilize the base and will then fade into obscurity - especially if the War is going badly and the Democrats gain control of one or both houses of Congress. A loss may actually better for the Republican Party as Dennis Hastert, who Dean largely ignored for reasons that are not entirely clear, is governing badly and seems to be out of ideas and way out of his depth. It would be a relief for the Republicans if his time as Speaker were ended through a change in the majority.

So, how do we get out of this mess we are in. The current political landscape is unsustainable. Political change comes when two factions work together and forge a new center coalition. When morally conservative prohibitionists and socially liberal suffregettes joined forces they made progress on both of their issues, winning the frachise for women and banning alcohol (I didn't say the progress was always good). In the same way, if abortion opponents and living wage supporters get together, a new coalition is possible. A ban on early abortion is unlikely, however some restriction on late term abortion is still possible if combined with economic and social measures that make it more unlikely than it already is (only 12% of abortions occur in the latter stages of pregnancy). Indeed, if the right economic reforms are passed, those which I have laid out here in previous entries, the enactment of criminal penalties will be entirely unnecessary since the only late term abortions performed will be for medical necessity.

Forging such a coalition is what the Musings from the Christian Left and the Christian Libertarian Party Manifesto are all about. This entry is cross-posted to both blogs.


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