I keep intending to get around to that series - "Twelve Central Questions about Theology in an Age of Science." But politics keeps rearing its ugly head.
Seriously, I'd rather be talking about anything else. But the issues are only getting worse and the peril for our civilization more evident. Take the "Nehemia Scudder" scenario, that is meaningful to science fiction fans, though woefully unfamiliar to everybody else. The thing that ought to be frightening us far more than Osama bin Laden. (Though in fact, these forces are allies against modernity.)
I have spoken before of the blatant... and yet never-reported... pattern shown by more than a hundred members of the United States Congress, appointing young cadets to the US Military Academies according to one criterion above all others -- their depth of religious zealotry. This infusion of young officers who believe in a coming apocalypse is discreetly worrisome at West Point and Annapolis, but it has already had newsworthy effects at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs. A town that is also now known as a main locus and training center for fanatics bent on dominating American civilization. (see: Solders of Christ in Harper's.) This coincidence... one of many that simply cannot be coincidence... should be tallied and noted.
One other thing has triggered this latest smasm (or rant) on my part. A recent "call for new ideas" from a liberal activist group. One of the few to actually ask for fresh notions, instead of relying on failed nostrums of the past.
Taking them at their word, I've launched a new screed. Comments are welcome. Also CITOKATE. Only be warned, what follows may come across as more partisan than previous articles. Oh, I have plenty of sharp criticism aimed at the left. But the main focus is the long road that American conservatism has taken, to reach its present state. And what may be necessary in order to save its soul.
==Ideas For Rescuing Modernity==
At least, that is the philosophy promoted by one liberal interest group, the Service Employees International Union, in setting up a new contest at the web site SinceSlicedBread.com. The notion -- offering a $100,000 prize for ideas that might help bring about a Democratic Party victory -- is in part a grudging tribute to successful Republicans who, over the course of several patient decades, reversed their fortunes from political impotence to mastery over nearly all American levers of power.
Republicans began their own long journey of re-appraisal in the wake of Barry Goldwater’s crushing defeat in 1964, then intensified their efforts after the debacle of Watergate. William F. Buckley, during the 1964 campaign, recognized the dominance of liberalism at that time. He urged that conservatives see themselves as “well-planted seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future, if there is a future.” And there were many other centers of patient determination on the right. For example, at the University of Chicago, followers of the emigre platonist, Leo Strauss, busily networked while looking far ahead, toward an era when America might be transformed into a true imperium, led by an aristocracy of reason.
Not even glory days under Ronald Reagan slaked this increasingly adversarial hunger for ever-greater influence over the direction of American life. For example, the lesson learned from the Iran-Contra scandal was not that open accountability is a good and desirable corrective force in American life. No, it was that genuine power must encompass all branches of government. When the opposing party controls even one house of Congress, their investigative committees and subpoenas can prove irksome, impudent. Accountability is best when it can be served in only one direction.
Elements of this prolonged campaign spanned a broad front, ranging from honest disputation and cogent criticism all the way to tactics that were downright disreputable... from endowing vigorous new conservative think tanks, dedicated to exploring and explaining fresh ideas, all the way to blatant and spectacularly successful endeavors in manipulating the electoral process. (e.g. gradually, the companies that manufacture most of the nation’s voting apparatus and software came to be controlled by dedicated right-wing activists; this correlation, piled upon hundreds more, puts shame to any protest of coincidence.)
This surge of fresh Republican thinking merits grudging respect, for its determination, innovation and relentless focus on achieving tangible goals. Indeed, some conservative policy moves must be acknowledged as good for America. Take the bipartisan consensus to reform Welfare, with great success, in the early nineties. It does not hurt liberals to concede that conservatism can offer good ideas, from time to time. Indeed, nothing could better help to improve liberal credibility.
Equally impressive has been the GOP’s adept willingness to take advantage of liberal mistakes. For example, it was never necessary for the left to alienate members of the military, or the nation’s churches, demonizing groups that had once been allies in the battle for desegregation and civil rights. Nor was it somehow required that rural America be written off from the Democratic Agenda. Even worse, a growing battery of left-wing ideological litmus tests -- e.g. excluding anyone who sincerely disagrees with abortion -- fostered an ever narrowing definition of liberalism. Anyone who failed to measure up in even one category might face ejection from the movement.
These self-indulgences were gifts that conservatives felt happy to exploit.
next time... the insanely self-defeating left-wing attitude toward coalition-building...