As In, Knock It Off

In his next chapter, Hunter wraps up his round up of the three major groups he has been discussing — the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the neo-Anabaptists. As before, he considers them all to have been tragically politicized, but he clumps the Right and Left together, and sets the Anabaptists off to the unique side, which is, incidentally, where they like to be the best. Hunter thinks the first two are politicized straight up, while the Anabaptists have been politicized by an identity grounded in negation.

While rejecting the ressentiment that he says is driving everybody, Hunter still acknowledges that there have been and are objective threats to these various groups. They are not making everything up. And he agrees with the Anabaptists that “the perpetuation of a Constantinian alliance with the secular state and consumer capitalism is undoubtedly well grounded” (p. 167), and is to be rejected. There it is again, what “everybody” knows — that Constantinianism was a bad, bad idea. The universal ease with which Constantine can be denounced really ought to be making more people more suspicious than they are.

He makes a good distinction between democratically elected officials, on the one hand, and the bureaucrats who man the effective machinery of the state, on the other. The latter bureaucracy is where the real power is, he says, and this is exactly right. We have elections every so often, but the elections simply decide which beauty queens get to sit on top of the floats, eagerly trying to remember elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist. But the elections don’t generally get to determine the parade routes — where the parade is actually going.

I do think that Hunter misses the mark on some important points — for example, when he says that this ressentiment is “especially prominent, of course, among Christian conservatives” (p. 168). It is an interesting charge, since the problems caused by envy and ressentiment have been central to the conservative critique of the culture around us, and have been central to that critique for quite an ongoing length of time (e.g. Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction). So apart from the interesting angle of simply asserting that the pope is not catholic enough for him, I really don’t know where he is getting this.

 

Another problem can be seen with his statement that “there are no political solutions to the problems most people care about” (p. 171). Considered in one sense, this is quite true, but it illustrates how Hunter does not really get the profound difference between small government conservatives and big government “conservatives” and liberals.

If we are talking about problems “out there,” like teen pregnancies, or inadequate democracy in Iran, or greedy businessmen, he is exactly right. The government is not competent in the divine skills department, and hence ought to stop trying to be God. But there is a political solution to the political problem that I care the most about, which is the size and greed of the government itself. It is well within the scope of the government’s abilities to stop stealing so much of our money. That is something that they could in fact do. As Reagan put it, government is not the answer to our problems; government is the problem. Government can’t solve the problems it claims to be able to solve “out there.” But it could solve the problem of its own hubris. All that would be necessary is repentance. Stop. Quit it. Knock it off.

But Hunter writes as though the policy differences between Right and Left consist of the Right wanting the government to make everybody wear a red t-shirt and the Left wanting them to make everybody wear a blue t-shirt, with the shirts costing about the same. But that is not the point at all. He writes as though the Right will be unsuccessful in getting everyone to wear their correct shirt and the Left will be equally unsuccessful. This is what he means by “no political solution.” But that is not the difference between Right and Left at all. The difference is between those of us who want to make the government stop trying to make people wear any color of shirt, and those activists who want the government to double down, with the color of the shirt not mattering that much, just so long as they get to coerce somebody.

In Hunter’s world, the size and scope of the modern state is a given. And that is affecting his analysis.

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