Republican Ra Ra

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Well, here is the last post on Crunchy Cons. I have to get this one out of the way before I start in on Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion.

There are parts of this section, particularly when Dreher is focussing on diagnosis, that are magnificent. There are other places where his implied solution (or what I think is his implied solution) makes me nervous.

First, the good parts:

“But Republicans rule in large part because our side is also nationalist to a degree that the Democrats cannot match. We love America, and we conflate patriotism with nationalism, so that we allow ourselves to be convinced that the worldwide triumph of American power is a victory for patriotism” (p. 224).

One of the central things that conservative Christians must do is detach themselves from the idolatries of nationalism. Liberals hate nationalism because they dislike patriotism. Conservatives excuse nationalism and charge it to patriotism’s account. Both jumble things that must not be jumbled.

“When as devout a right-winger as Peggy Noonan criticized President Bush for the evangelical utopianism of his second inaugural address, in which the president vowed to spread democracy world-wide, grassroots conservatives pounced on her as an apostate” (p. 225).

This relates to another good point made in this chapter. Contemporary conservatives fear liberals more than they love liberty, and are prepared to accept anything that pokes liberals a good one. But that is hardly a political theory.

The neo-con vision for the world sets before us many admirable things — peace in the Middle East, open markets and borders, gas at 10 bucks a gallon (oops) — but the Christian must not accept the idolatry of the underlying secularism that is the foundation for this vision. Only Christ can bring liberty, and this means that Christ must be preached, not America, not the flag, not democracy.

But there were some things Dreher said that made me a little jumpy.

“There are virtually no restraints — social, religious, or otherwise — on America’s appetite for consumption” (p. 221).

As a preacher, I would say this is generally true. And I believe that Americans need to hear a lot more sermons about avarice, greed, covetousness, and mammon than they currently do. But this would only be good if everyone involved knew that the sermons were thundering against a sin, and not against a crime. A preacher can inveigh against lust without thinking that the Department of Morality should establish the Lust Police. The civil government is not competent to handle this kind of thing. Only Christ can give a new heart. The state should therefore limit itself to enforcing the terms of a contract that is legally binding, and should have absolutely no interest in whether one of the parties is making too much on the deal, or whether the windfall will be good for his soul.

Dreher also says:

“The free market extolled by conservatives as the holy of holies is destroying communities . . .” (p. 222).

It is this kind of statement that shows that Dreher’s line between sin and crime is not drawn clearly enough. First, it is not usually free markets that do this kind of thing, but rather managed markets. I am afraid that Dreher has accepted a common caricature of our economic system. We still have more capitalist traces and remnants than (say) Europe, but ours is a managed and manipulated economy, not a free economy. This means, in the long run, we have a system where subsidized and regulated business and officious government put their heads together and decide the best way to screw the little guy. In response, the little guy howls and, not having read basic economics, calls for the government to “do something.” The government is happy to pretend to do so because this bestows more power on them, and the government will then have more resources to work with the next group of lobbyists for this interest or that one. Free market?

Second, to the extent that our remaining free markets might “destroy” something (my view of the mountain, say), we cannot legislate against it without destroying something far more precious (my freedom). When I was building my house about fifteen years ago, I was talking to a building inspector who came by to ask about my health. We were out in the country, on three acres, and had heard a rumor that a trailer park might be going in across the street. Not something Nancy and I had exactly been praying for, and so I asked about it. He said, yeah, that was in the works, but said that we could legally protest it. He did not know what to do when I said that I didn’t have a basis for protesting it in that I did not own that piece of property. If I don’t want neighborhood meetings trying to outlaw the color of my house, I better not go to any neighborhood meetings trying to outlaw the color of somebody else’s house.

“A conservatism that does not recognize the need of restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society, nor, ultimately, conservative” (p. 227).

This is absolutely correct — but again, the solution is the worship of God through Jesus Christ. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and cannot be bought for ready money. This requires a massive reformation in the Church. There is no political solution for this kind of thing. I think it was John Adams who said that our Constitution presupposes a moral and a religious people. It is wholly unfit for any other, he said. And he was absolutely right. Taking it a step further, if Christ is not the Savior, then there is no salvation.

“The first idol crunchy cons have to smash is efficiency, the guiding principle of free markets, but an unreliable guide to building institutions that serve human nature and human community” (p. 230).

Again, I get a little nervous. The guiding principle of the free market is freedom, not efficiency. And few things are locally more inefficient than freedom. But, oddly, over the long haul, this inefficiency is much more efficient than the pre-planned efficiency that statists everywhere lust after. A gas station on every corner of the intersection? Inefficient. Seventeen pizza joints in a small town? Inefficient. When people are free, they will, over the long term, build humane institutions that serve human nature and human community. Dreher is right to desire this. But that cannot happen without freedom from statist constraints, and we cannot be free of statist constraints until we are freed by Jesus Christ from our bondage to sin. And that cannot be accomplished by any political theory.

Last comment. This was a good book, and I recommend it (with the qualifications noted in these reviews) as a good counterweight to the current Republican Ra Ra. With the exception, of course, of Ron Paul. He’s not a Ra Ra.

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