Archive for the ‘Conservatism’ Category

Movement Conservatism

The kind editors at DRC (among them, my friend and former pastor, Charles Brown) invited me to make an occasional contribution to this blog. I’ve enjoyed following the discussions here over the past couple years, and it’s a great privilege to be able to contribute in any small way I can. My own plans for the near future (graduate studies this fall at Notre Dame, plus the birth of my firstborn in May) may prevent me from any strictly regulated posting, so to speak, but I’ll do my best.

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Over at my homeblog, I mentioned a piece from the Washington Monthly which profiles the rise and fall of the webzine Culture11. If you’re not familiar with the journal, it’s worth poking around the archives. C11 sold itself as an outside voice of conservatism, one not afraid to challenge the reigning orthodoxy or talking points of movement conservatism. However, the autumn 2008 release of the new journal could not have been timed worse, economically speaking, and it closed up shop in January. Prior to its demise, C11 made practice of leveling scattershot attacks at both the liberal and conservative establishment. Sarah Palin was dissed right along side John Maynard Keynes. But the diverse range of the editorials was my favorite part of Culture11. Besides old-liners like Bill Bennett, you had crunchy cons like Rod Dreher, localists like John Schwenkler, and libertarians like Peter Suderman. 

After C11 failed, the general diaspora of talent extended into other blogs: Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, et al. And perhaps that’s for the best. But part of me still hopes (with self-defeating irony) for a central hub of anti-movement thought. The conservative monolith — represented by Fox News, talk radio, and a host of establishment journals — could use a strong outside voice.

With that in mind, I wonder sometimes about the legitimacy of conservatism as a movement. Movements tends to value unity over debate, whereas it seems to me that the primary value of political conservatism is its ability to provide a dose of social skepticism. Conservatism counters utopianism. Perhaps it’s better to view conservatism as a disposition, rather than an ideology.



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Alasdair Macintyre, the astute Roman Catholic philosopher, got off one of the better quips about the difficulty of feeling loyalty for the modern nation-state when he wrote that being asked to die for one’s country is like “being asked to die for the telephone company.” Whether it’s AT&T or Verizon, it’s just too big, too abstract, too bureaucratic for people to be willing to sacrifice anything meaningful. It’s even hard to imagine wearing a phone company t-shirt.

This is the way contemporary evangelicalism feels and it confounds me that so many Reformed Christians continue to show allegiance to a religious phenomenon that is as big, remote, and weightless as the phone company. A number of blogs recently have taken up the subject, Lee Irons’, Scott Clark’s, Ref 21, and the Confessional Outhouse among them. Also at Greenbaggins the posting of recent statements from administrators at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) on the schools relationship to evangelicalism was the occasion for reflections on the relations between evangelical and Reformed Protestantism.

Typically, Reformed types will concede that evangelicalism has its problems – theological especially – but the garden variety evangelical’s devotion to the Bible, sincere religious experience, belief in Christ as savior, and general zeal are all worthy of Reformed respect. So deep is this respect that many Reformed believers will speak of the fellowship they have with evangelicals.

Fellowship? How exactly is such fellowship manifest? Is it like being listed in the Yellow Pages? Where does this fellowship happen other than when American Protestants answer pollsters questions a certain way, when journalists lump everyone from Rick Warren to James Dobson under the heading of evangelical, or when a university press releases yet another book about evangelicalism in the United States?

The way Christians are supposed to consider fellowship is through the prism of the church – not the warm and fuzzy invisible church that incorporates believers the way Verizon sends out direct mail. It is rather the visible church that sets the terms of fellowship and these bodies have definite views about doctrine, worship, and polity. That’s why Orthodox Presbyterians may have great respect for Missouri Synod Lutherans but don’t exchange pulpits with Lutheran pastors. And yet, certain Reformed Protestants, who are supposed to know better because they have actually taken vows that circumscribe their ministry and membership within a specific communion, will speak of the fellowship and unity they have with Christians who are in communions not even within the Rolodex of the chairmen of their denomination’s committee on ecumenicity.

To speak of fellowship with evangelicals is really like speaking of oneness with fellow Americans who favor marriage. I do support marriage and am glad for as many citizens of this republic who value it as we can find. But what I share with pro-marriage Americans is hardly the same as the real fellowship I have, by virtue of marriage, with my wife. I wonder when Reformed Protestants will consider that their membership and ordination vows may be as serious as their marriage vows, and may even trump their identity as evangelicals.

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Running on a “Little America” theme, Caleb Stegall scored a 30-point romp over the incumbent DA in yesterday’s election. Good news for all populists, crunchy cons, and reactionary radicals!

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Just War

As Charles Brown already notes in his summary of chapter 2 of The Revolution, Ron Paul raises the interesting issue of Christian just war theory. Citing Christian thinkers from Ambrose to Suarez Paul concludes that the war in Iraq fails to live up to the standards of just war theory.

Paul (Ron not Apostle) lays out three foundational principles:

1. An initial act of aggression in response to which a just war may be waged

2. All diplomatic solutions have been exhausted

3. War is undertaken by the proper authority

Paul’s book is short so he spends few words making his case how the Iraqi conflict fails to meet Christian standards. I am left with a number of questions.

1. Is a ever justified in the case when the act of aggression was against a third party? This was common within Christendom. Christian just war theory traditionally recognizes the possibility of a nation coming to the aid of other Christian peoples, nation, ect.

2. How has the age of mass terrorism impact our idea of just war? Augustine could not envision the consequence of a single terrorist carrying a dirty bomb killing thousands or even tens of thousands? How does this change how we look at preemptive wars? Does it?

3. Does Paul’s account fail to give a charitable reading to the motivations of the pro-war party?

I have great sympathy with the case Paul is making but finding it imprudent is different from declaring it a sin. Thoughts?

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Walter Jones not only survived his Republican Party primary challenge but won decisively.

Here is an short editorial by Christopher Check.

If we had lost Jones or Jimmy Duncan what hope could still be found in the Republican Party? Cheers the Old School.

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In 1965 the Conservative Party was looking for a candidate to run for Mayor of New York City. The Republican’s were running the ultra-liberal “Silk Stocking” district Congressman John Lindsey and the Democrats were rallying to the banner of Abraham Beame.

What a candidate they found! On June 24th William F. Buckley, Jr. announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York. He would seek the nomination of the Conservative Party.

Buckley declared:

“I am a Republican. And I intend, for so long as I find it possible to do so– which is into the visible future– to remain a Republican. I seek the honorable designation of the Conservative Party, because the Republican designation is not, in New York, available nowadays to anyone in the mainstream of Republican opinion.”

What followed is New York political legend. A heroic campaign of ideas waged by a man of authentic thoughtfulness. No glad-handing. No false familiarity. No kissing babies. When asked if he planned to “campaign”, Buckley said, “No, I will not, primarily because I don’t have time. I will spend what time I have to develop as carefully and responsibly as I can those positions that I want to project and will project them wherever opportunity lies.”

When ask what the first thing he would do if elected mayor, Buckley famously replied, “ask for a recount.” He had nothing to worry about. Lindsey was elected Mayor.

Still, the Buckley campaign helped give life to the Conservative Party. He gave NY Conservatives a vision of what could be and what they should work toward. Would that the Conservative Party could find such a candidate, and wage such a campaign, again.

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