Thursday, October 11, 2007

Will the Big Tent Collapse?

The grumbles from the religious right about leaving the party if the pro-choice Giuliani is the nominee remind us that the Republican Party is a "Big Tent" of various factions -- neoconservatives, social and religious conservatives, free market Republicans -- who are united for little else than that they are not Democrats. To be more accurate, they are united in not being socialists.

The Republican Party is a union riddled with contradictions. Some Republicans want open borders; others want jackbooted police raids of illegal immigrants. Some Republicans think it's fine if gays marry; others quote the Bible and condemn homosexuals as immoral. Some Republicans want to withdraw to Fortress America; others want to pursue neoconservative nation building to spread "democracy" while a few others would like America to assert its national interest and destroy states that sponsor terrorism. A few Republican dinosaurs still long for the Goldwater days when the party seemed to be for laissez-faire capitalism; most are happy with the welfare state, they just want a bit less than the Democrats in order to pretend they're for freedom.

Compared to this the Democrats are united and orderly. All Democrats know what they want: more government. All Democrats adhere to the ideologies of the New Left -- multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism. When a Dem such as Joseph Lieberman goes off the reservation, he is scorned as a pariah. When a Democrat gently criticizes his own side, he is rebuked for giving the Republicans ammunition.

The conventional wisdom has it that the Republicans are the party with strict discipline, whereas the Democrats are chaotic. The old line goes, "I don't belong to an organized political party -- I'm a Democrat." This might be true in superficial ways, but at root the Republicans are a party full of ideological conflict and the Democrats are a party of ideological conformity. Political correctness comes from the left and is inescapable on the left. A politically incorrect Democrat is not long a Democrat; soon he becomes a neoconservative.

The Republican Big Tent is, I believe, a reaction to Marxism. When the Industrial Revolution was young, the conservatives hated it. They romanticized the middle ages and despised factories, smoke stacks, the division of labor, etc. They longed for the old order, in which everyone knew his place, when God was on his throne in Heaven and all was right in the world. J.R.R. Tolkien was such a conservative; his Shire is a happy, pre-capitalist English town, whereas Mordor is a twisted view of an industrial nation with regimentation and belching smoke stacks. The conservatives were the first enemies of capitalism.

Then came along one Karl Marx, who secularized the conservatives' arguments against capitalism and created dialectical materialism and communism. Marxism was a tremendous success that spread like wildfire through the west. The conservatives had no choice but to band together with their enemy, the pro-capitalist liberals, against their greater enemy the socialists. In America the anti-socialist party accepted the term conservative and gave up liberal, which was immediately claimed by the socialists.

By the mid-20th century it was obvious to all but those blinded by Marxist ideology that capitalism worked and communism did not. The 20th century was a long series of laboratory experiments demonstrating capitalism's productiveness: where people were free, they thrived; where people were not free, they were poor.

Capitalism's productivity presented a problem to the anti-capitalist left. The Old Left's claims of outperforming capitalism because the communists had a planned economy were nothing but a joke by mid-century. They solved the problem by finding an ideology that held productivity itself to be bad. Thus was environmentalism born. Scientific socialism could be thrown overboard -- or at least put on the back burner -- as long as the left could continue pursuing the destruction of capitalism. The left is essentially nihilist: what replaces capitalism is not as important as its destruction.

Capitalism also presents a problem to the religious conservatives -- a problem they are still struggling with and have yet to resolve. Religion upholds the morality of altruism, the idea that the strong must sacrifice for the weak. Capitalism is plainly based on selfishness and greed, what Jefferson called the pursuit of happiness. If one adheres to the morality of altruism consistently, one is led to support the welfare state with the Democrats. This is a contradiction the religious right must resolve.

But the contradictions between capitalism and mysticism go even deeper. If Augustine could be resurrected and set down in midtown Manhattan, his mind would be horrified once he understood what he saw. He would be repulsed by a civilization that is focused on pursuing happiness in this Satanic realm of existence instead of focusing on the Kingdom of God that one enters after death. He would hate a civilization that values science and reason more than blind faith. Modern Christians have been able to evade or plaster over these contradictions so far, but crises have a way of forcing one to act in accordance with what he really believes. Will future crises tear the Republican Big Tent apart?

It might be a testament to the Republicans' vaunted party discipline that the coalition of religionists, individualists, country clubbers and others has held together so well. Or perhaps it is the way a two-party system works: factions are forced by their greater enemy to come together with lesser enemies. Currently, there are calls for James Dobson and the religious conservatives to support Giuliani in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in '08.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the Republicans' Big Tent will be the spread of Objectivism in American culture. At some point, when a large enough percentage of Americans believes that selfishness is a virtue, the religious right will be galvanized into choosing what they really believe. They will have to decide between religion and capitalism. I believe they will choose religion and forge an alliance with the anti-capitalist left. The mystics will be happier then without having to pretend they value freedom. For the first time in several centuries the conservatives will be home again where they should be -- on the side that opposes capitalism.


Anonymous said...

Holy crap Myhraf! Your commentary is on another level. You're making awesome philosophical and historical identifications and integrations not too far from what Ayn Rand did in For The New Intellectual. I'm blown away by this. And I agree with every word of it.

Oh and by the way here is something I posted about Ann Coulter in the comments to Spark a Synapse:

Here is something disgusting as well.,2933,301216,00.html

Its Ann Coulter declaring that "Jews need to be perfected by Becoming Christians." What's more repulsive is that so many Conservatives make excuses for her. For example:

Jewish Conservative Debbie Schlussel:

And if you have time check out the comments on LGF, one of the premiere Rightist websites, very few seem to disagree:

Yes the Muslims are the greatest immediate religious threat we face. But Christianity is still a potential menace and always will be.

John Kim

Inspector said...


Well... Unlike John, I honestly don't think that you're saying anything new, at least from an Objectivist standpoint. But don't me wrong: the way you are saying it may well be onto something.

Something big.

If you revised it just slightly to further optimize it for a mainstream audience, I think you have the kind of piece there that could really make a difference. This could make a lot of fence-sitters and religious conservatives very uncomfortable and might even have a few people checking their core premises.

And that is what we most drastically need right now. The most dreadful ideologies out there are only successful because there is so little clarity as to what each side ultimately wants. Even if some conservatives read your article and decide that they really do hate capitalism, then all the better. Because if they go around saying that out loud this early in the game, they might lose a lot of support. Let them be consistent - whether they choose reason or unreason, let them at least be consistent so this horrible confusion can end! Because sooner or later they will be consistent, and if that happens too late, we could be in big trouble.

I think you should finalize this so that the parts that are an aside to Objectivists instead say a brief word introducing Objectivism. Then start spreading it through all the channels you know how. I really think it's the kind of thing that could make a big, and positive, difference.

So in short, really good job, Myrhaf.

P.S. Minor changes I'd suggest?

1) "United in not being socialists" should read "explicit socialists," as many neocons are no longer distinguishable from socialists.

2) "Others quote the Bible and condemn homosexuals as immoral," could be, "and want to outlaw homosexuality with anti-sodomy laws," since lots of people don't exactly think homosexuality is moral for them, but the heinous idea is that the law should have something to say about it.

Myrhaf said...

Thanks both for your interesting comments. To turn a post into something that gets more publicity would mean expanding it into a book. I'd have to give more examples to back up everything and do a lot more reading. The subject doesn't interest me that much to do all that work. You would have to be a historian to do the subject justice. This is just a blog and must be taken for what it is.

Much of what I've learned on the subject of conservatives comes from listening to tapes by Ralph Raico, a libertarian historian. I disagree with him about war, but he makes interesting points about the opposition to capitalism in the 19th century.

Henry Hazlitt thought America would be better off with a parliamentary form of government, in which many smaller parties compete, instead of the two-party system we have. There is no question that if it were not for the Democrats the Republican Party would splinter into smaller parties. Many people who are called conservative are welfare statists, such as David Brook, the Weekly Standard and neoconservatives.

Jim May said...

This is an interesting additional angle to what I wrote on my own blog (which I considered mainly an exercise and therefore never publicized) on this topic.

You are right that the pro-capitalist union of turn of the century American conservatism and liberalism was strong enough to keep socialism out of American politics so long as it was identified as such.

What I wrote about is how the Left solved that problem. They took advantage of American liberalism's primary vulnerabilities -- its philosophical dependence upon European philosophy and moral dependence upon altruism -- and co-opted it, subverting it from within.

America never took to socialism so long as it was openly called that. But when it started coming from liberals like Herbert Croly under the liberal banner, they could not recognize it for what it was, and drank deeply. The Progressives were the first manifestation of this process; the 1960's hippies were its completion. All "liberals" who are Baby Boomers and younger are now effectively socialists.

This subterfuge was necessitated in America by the fact that the core principle of the Enlightenment -- the moral sovereignty of the individual -- never "took" in Europe, but was able to put down some roots here because of how this nation was founded. In Europe, the Left did not need to subvert liberalism; it was already dying on its own, and was effectively dead by the end of the nineteenth century. THAT is why "liberalism" still means free markets and small government in other countries... but not here.

As American liberalism fell, it cast off the remnants of Enlightenment politics one by one, and is now its own opposite. It sells racism under the anti-racist banner, turns men against each other in the name of peace, and strangles liberty in the name of license.

It is against that backdrop that American conservatism adopted the orphaned (and now badly distorted and misunderstood) Enlightenment ideals of limited government and free markets. But there is a big, big problem here: conservatism is at root anti-Enlightenment!

THAT is why you are right; the Big Tent must fall, because Enlightenment ideals cannot survive on an anti-Enlightenment base; Americanism is at root a *liberal* worldview, in the original meaning of that term. Conservatives themselves, in particular their intellectual core -- such as Russell Kirk -- have explicitly said so.

For me, the question is whether those orphaned ideals will be cast aside again, hopefully to be picked up by a pro-American movement -- or whether they will be warped into theocratic unrecognizability and lost forever.

I need to dig up the URL to my original essay when I get home (I'm at work now).

Jim May said...

One minor correction:

What Russell Kirk et al have explicitly stated is emphatically NOT that Americanism is a liberal worldview, but that conservatism is anti-Enlightenment and anti-reason.

Instead, they attempt to paint America as a "conservative revolution" against "royal innovation"! I am not kidding.

Conservative intellectuals willfully aid and abet the Left's subversion of liberalism, because it serves the one goal that they both have in common -- the utter and complete discrediting and abandonment of the Enlightenment.

Anonymous said...


Could you link to your blog?

John Kim

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Two tasty posts - this and Atlas Shrugged.

Inspector said...


No, you misunderstand. I don't mean a formal paper - I mean this could be influential in the blogosphere.

Don't sell yourself short - I really think you have something here.

Jim May said...

John K and others:

Here are some links to my old blog. Please note that I have not maintained it or written anything since 2005, and some of the links are broken. If and when I decide to start up a blog or site again, I plan to refine and update the better essays and repost them.

Seerak Colony

Essays relevant to this post:

The Europeanization of American Politics

Rumbles on the Right

Rumbles on the Right II: Evicting Liberty

Tribula Rasa

Myrhaf said...

Jim, there's some great stuff in your blog.

Patrick, thanks.

Inspector, thanks. I wouldn't mind getting more notice in the Blogosphere.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much. Your blog is filled with awesome stuff. I intend to read every word.

John Kim

Myrhaf said...


Regarding Ann Coulter's comments, what is outrageous, Ann Coulter or Christianity? I've read one Christian commenter on another blog say that she is saying what Paul said in various letters in the New Testement. Are people shocked because Ann Coulter is a consistent, honest Christian?

Anonymous said...

"Regarding Ann Coulter's comments, what is outrageous, Ann Coulter or Christianity? I've read one Christian commenter on another blog say that she is saying what Paul said in various letters in the New Testement. Are people shocked because Ann Coulter is a consistent, honest Christian?"

You're absolutely right. Coulter is being entirely loyal to Christian doctrine. And other religious conservatives recognize this and are not offended by it as they believe in their own version of the flying spaghetti monster.

What shocked me was two things. I didn't know that Coulter was a religious literalist (I knew she was a Christian but not that much of a devout one). Also, I was shocked that she would be so open about the crazy elements of her religion (all religions are crazy but some of their doctrines are just so over the top that most religious people try to hide them). To openly say that Jews need to be "perfected" is so overtly irrational that it took me by surprise. Did conservatives talk like that 50 years ago? It really does seem like Peikoff is right.

John Kim

Adrian Hester said...

"What shocked me was two things. I didn't know that Coulter was a religious literalist (I knew she was a Christian but not that much of a devout one). Also, I was shocked that she would be so open about the crazy elements of her religion (all religions are crazy but some of their doctrines are just so over the top that most religious people try to hide them)."

Just try reading her book Godless, especially her attacks on evolution. She made a name for herself as the frothing rabid attack bitch of the cultural conservatives; while she might have been entertaining because of some of her enemies, Godless shows that her enemies aren't yours--her enemies include you and me and anyone else who doesn't kow-tow to that big bully in the sky who speaks with a still soft voice and carries a big club.

Adrian Hester said...

"Also, I was shocked that she would be so open about the crazy elements of her religion..."

Oh yeah, that reminds me. To see how sickening Coulter really is, read her eulogy for Jerry Falwell. This should suffice: "Let me be the first to say: I ALWAYS agreed with the Rev. Falwell."

Myrhaf said...

50 years ago, I would guess, the fundamentalists in rural areas, especially down south, where they have snake charmers and speaking in tongues, might have talked like Ann Coulter. But sophisticated, urban Christians would not have said such things about Jews. I vaguely remember hearing that kind of talk from Christian relatives who grew up in Oklahoma and Kansas, but I didn't pay much attention to it as I was an atheist.