In the religious conservative Michael Novak's endorsement of Mitt Romney, one sentence jumped out at me:
I remember his father's campaigns and what an upright man he was — and no one even breathed a word against him because of his religion.
Mitt's father was George Romney.
George Wilcken Romney (July 8, 1907 – July 26, 1995) was an American businessman and a politician. He was chairman of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962. He then served as the 43rd governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969.
Romney was a candidate for President in 1968, ultimately losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. He is the father of former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Romney is famous for making one of the greatest blunders in the history of Presidential campaigns when he said, "When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." (Apparently, "I've been brainwashed by communists" is not the most effective campaign slogan.)
George Romney was a "Rockefeller Republican," the type of moderate that conservatives used to sneer at. It is interesting to note that his son Mitt is at least as moderate as the father, but the Republicans have become a big government party, so he is considered a mainstream conservative today. A Goldwater Republican, if there were any left, would be marginalized as an "extremist."
But to get back to Novak's statement, it raises the obvious question: why? Why was George Romney not attacked for being a Mormon, but his son Mitt is?
I've considered several closely related answers. Politics is dirtier and character attacks are more common now than they were 40 years ago. With the rise of the Religious Right, religion is a bigger factor in politics today. With the dumbing down of America, voters can't understand abstract issues anymore.
I've come to a broader explanation. 40 years ago religion was not taken seriously. Nobody thought to attack George Romney for his Mormonism because nobody thought it was important. Religion was relegated to "church on Sunday" and was not a factor in the rest of life.
Religion was not taken seriously in philosophy departments. Nietzsche's famous line, "God is dead," was a profound statement of the place of religion in the modern mind.
The last 40 years have seen a sea change in our culture. Philosophy has collapsed into the black hole of postmodernism and people are turning away from such nihilism to religion, mistaking its answers for values and ideals they can live by. Most people cannot tolerate the void of values they find in contemporary philosophy.
Today religion is taken seriously. Christian fundamentalists think Romney's Mormonism is of the utmost importance, and some might not vote for him because of his religion alone. Even the secular MSM discuss Romney's religion (although as the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party, there might be some cynicism in this as they work to destroy a Republican front runner).
The change in our culture that Leonard Peikoff warns us of is real and dangerous.
Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.
We have seen a massive cultural change in the last few decades with the rise of religion. Unless this trend is reversed, freedom will continue to suffer. If you want an example of how religion and big government are allies, just look at the current presidency. Under "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based initiatives" state power has grown and individual rights have eroded. (No one uses the banner of "compassionate conservatism" to dismantle the welfare state and ensure the rights of individuals.)
UPDATE: Minor style edit.