Tag Archive for: ClassicalLiberalism

Weekend Read: From National Review to National Conservatism

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

American conservatism has always engaged in identity politics. We are tribal creatures and a nod to our desire for identity and belonging is part of politics. While primal identities such as race or religion can lead to division, when these are sublimated into party and ideology in an attempt to “launder” such identities, they are neutralized, becoming part of a wider frame that is racially cross-cutting and checks extremism. This is the gist of George Hawley’s fascinating new book, Conservatism in a Divided America: the Right and Identity Politics.

What ideas should form the basis of conservatism? The post-1950s Republican strategy has been to lead with classical liberalism, fiscal conservatism, and military hawkishness while subtly signaling to white and Christian voters that the party is looking out for their group interests—while doing little to advance those interests. This formula succeeded in keeping the GOP in office from Nixon to Reagan to the Bushes, and its establishment continues to get its way even during the Trump era.

Whether the Republicans can continue this balancing act is an open question. The universalist, classical liberal rhetoric of the establishment period is, for Hawley, politically irrelevant in our post-Cold War age. As he acerbically notes, “Calls for individualism built on arguments about natural rights are unlikely to persuade Americans to abandon identitarian concerns.”

Content-lite Republican tribalism, however, may do the trick. The cult-like devotion to Trump and “stop the steal,” despite his limited domestic policy wins and egotism, can look more like the relationship between fans and a pro-wrestler than that of committed idealists assessing whether their leader is delivering for them. And while there are subtle associations between white, male, and Christian identities and the Republican brand, the party has been willing to embrace egalitarian tropes and reinforce progressive taboos like “the Democrats are the real racists” to pump up the tribe and score ephemeral rhetorical points. Yet, for Hawley, this circus act may possess aspects of nobility: it keeps primal identities and emotions from breaking the surface of politics.

Hawley, a young academic with seven books to his credit, is a rising star from the infinitesimally tiny universe of American political scientists who lean culturally conservative. A University of Alabama professor who hails from Sumas, Washington, Hawley has carved out a niche as, to quote an Amazon reviewer, ”An original and idiosyncratic thinker who writes original and idiosyncratic books.” Unwilling to beat the partisan drum or champion a distinctive brand of conservatism, he toggles between the modes of detached observer and engaged moderate conservative. In so doing, he pushes back on progressive left alarmism as well as the right’s pretense that it has transcended identity to ascend the hallowed realm in which toga-clad individualists approach politics from an Archimedean point.

This book does us the service of knitting together the history of postwar American conservative thought—William F. Buckley, James Burnham, Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol, and others—with highly contemporary anti-leftist or conservative writers such as Ben Shapiro, Patrick Deneen, Jordan Peterson, Chris Rufo, Christina Hoff Sommers, Oren Cass, Bari Weiss, Yoram Hazony, Rich Lowry, and James Lindsay. Many of these figures, like their Cold War predecessors, unite behind classical liberalism, opposing identity politics and, more recently, wokeness. A garnish of religion or patriotism is occasionally applied, but for many, there is little beyond midcentury individualism. While communitarians such as Deneen, Cass, and Hazony meaningfully diverge, the most prominent conservative voices at CPAC, in Congress, and on Fox News largely recite anti-Democratic boilerplate.

For Hawley, one of the key tensions in American conservatism is how to manage the dissonance between the GOP’s individualist philosophy and the identitarian motivations lying beneath the universalist surface.

Drawing on a range of political science research that shows a correlation between measures of white, Christian, and Republican identification, Hawley argues that the progressive claim that these identities matter for Republican voters contains a large measure of truth. Where he parts company with left-liberal academics is that he believes elite conservatives are sincere in their desire to keep racists and other extremists out, and are attached to classical liberal principles. They leverage identitarian anxieties for electoral purposes without ministering to or espousing them. And while conservative intellectuals have generally opposed progressive initiatives, they have typically adjusted their views to remain respectable, adhering to shifting elite conventions and norms.

The book begins with the National Review circle in the fifties around editor William F. Buckley. These mid-century conservatives were centrally concerned with the Cold War and desperately sought to rescue the economic liberalism of pre-New Deal America. When it came to liberal cultural initiatives, the right was skeptical and instinctively opposed. Even though proportionally more Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act, this is not the case when you screen out the Dixiecrats, a largely autonomous entity by this time.

Hawley notes that an early civil rights measure, California’s Proposition 11 in 1946, which would have made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, was soundly defeated, with greater opposition in Republican areas. In a similar vein, Buckley’s 1957 editorial, “Why the South Must Prevail” made the argument that African-Americans were not “advanced” enough to deserve the vote, though in time they could be “enlightened” so as to be able to do so. This said, in the following issue of the magazine, Brent Bozell took the view that if this standard were to be applied it must hold equally for less educated whites. He argued against Buckley that the segregationist position was “dead wrong” and would harm the conservative cause. There was no single editorial line.

As the Civil Rights movement progressed, the conservative stance shifted from ambivalent resistance to the new legislation to the view that desegregation was the right approach for government and public schools, but businesses should remain free to discriminate. Freedom of association and federalism were key constitutional principles that should not be superseded by equality law. More recently, Chris Caldwell argues that the Civil Rights Act, in permitting the principle of equality to override these classical liberal cornerstones of the Constitution, has fundamentally altered the basis of American law and, by extension, culture.

Hawley asks us to imagine an alternative scenario in which conservatives and the Republican Party leaned into an explicit racial appeal. … Instead, the intellectual and political right endorsed civil rights [and] kept extremists out of the party. For this they have received no credit from liberals.

By the mid-60s, the intellectual right had, in Hawley’s estimation, “conceded the moral high ground” on Civil Rights and, in addition, became concerned that perceived American racism could damage the country’s soft power in the fight against communism. Conservatives now viewed the early Civil Rights movement as a just cause that came to be supplanted by Black Power radicalism and affirmative action in the late 60s.

Progressives often paint with a broad brush, perceiving conservative actions through the Manichaean lens of racism. This is where Hawley, who is outside the left’s echo chamber, offers a more granular perspective. He asks us to imagine an alternative scenario in which conservatives and the Republican Party leaned into an explicit racial appeal, embracing the white superiority of a Wallace or Thurmond. This would have unlocked a flood of southern votes. Instead, the intellectual and political right endorsed civil rights, kept extremists out of the party, only elliptically signaled identitarian appeals, and sought to retain elite respectability. For this, they have received no credit from liberals.

Hawley makes a similar point with regard to Trump and white nationalism. Again, Hawley has done some of the most important work on this topic because, though a critic of the alt-right’s violent and exclusive vision, he does not feel the need to tip his cap to the progressive claim that we are always just one rally away from Hitler’s Germany or Bull Connor’s Alabama. He is thus able to smudge black-white narratives into more fine-grained shades of grey to help the reader grasp the nuanced dynamics of the far right. He nicely parses the distance between the ethnostate extremism of a William Pierce and the still-violent but conventionally patriotic appeal of many January 6 rioters or Proud Boys. The Capitol Riot was neither an insurrection, (that is, ”the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War”) nor ”a normal tourist visit,” but a riot in which a small number of participants possessed insurrectionary fantasies. Much more interesting than this stale debate, observes Hawley, is the fact that the alt-right was virtually absent from the January 6 affray because doxing and lawsuits had successfully neutralized it.

Hawley winds through sections on religious conservatism, national conservatism, the Intellectual Dark Web, and wokeism, culminating in an intellectual humility that is rarely found among academics or journalists: “This book would probably be more successful and controversial if I could offer some kind of plan for conservatives. … Unfortunately, I remain as perplexed as I was at the start of this project.” He grasps the importance of identity for Republican voters, expresses frustration at the emptiness of some of the party’s mantras, yet wonders whether the “noble lie” of colorblind individualistic Americanism may in fact be the least worst option.

I applaud this kind of candor, and the nuanced, empirically-informed analytical frame that Hawley brings to bear on his subject matter. His engaging intellectual and social scientific tour de force helps the reader grasp how the new generation of conservatives and classical liberals is building on the foundations laid by previous generations.

The account focuses on the National Review circle and the post-1950s conservative movement. This is understandable, given its continuing influence on American conservatism. That said, I think the case can be made that the period from the fifties to 2015 may not last. As Hawley notes, most of the National Review clique were Catholic or Jewish, as were the neoconservatives and theocons. This, at a time when, according to the National Election Study, such groups made up only a quarter of the population and 10 percent of 1960 Republican voters. This was a very unusual group, arguably only weakly connected to the traditions of the provincial Protestant majority that supplied the vast bulk of the party’s voters and politicians.

Hawley also neglects virtually the entirety of what I elsewhere term the ”left-conservative” tradition. Prior to the twentieth century, extending into the 1920s, the opposing factions in American politics could better be described as left-conservative versus laissez-faire. Left-conservatism, springing from the post-Civil War agrarian populism of the Grange and Alliance movements and fin-de-siècle Progressivism, could best be described as restrictionist on immigration, anti-urban, and anti-Catholic, “dry” on the alcohol question, interventionist in the economy and society, and supportive of women’s suffrage. Unions like the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor came out squarely in favor of immigration restriction between the late 1880s and 1920s.

A strain of romantic nationalism is also a neglected part of the conservative story, encompassing the Anglo-Saxonism of Founders like Jefferson, nineteenth-century writers such as Emerson, historians like Francis Parkman and Teddy Roosevelt, and artists like those of the Hudson River School. This thread resurfaces with Regionalist (American Scene) art in the 1930s, sponsored by the New Deal and commercially popularized by Time-Life features and Associated American Artists lithographs. The left-modernist avant-garde around Partisan Review consciously attacked the Regionalists as fascists in the late 30s, successfully marginalizing key figures such as Thomas Hart Benton or Frank Lloyd Wright from the New York intellectual elite. Others, like Benton protégé Jackson Pollock, were induced to abandon Regionalism for abstract expressionism. This was a major defeat for this “revolt of the provinces” and its brand of American cultural nationalism.

More recently, a handful of writers—Christopher Lasch, John Judis, Michael Lind, Mickey Kaus, Nathan Glazer—have criticized both capitalism and expressive left-liberalism, defending the nation and calling for reduced immigration. They are the heirs of the Populist-Progressive and Regionalist traditions. To a large extent, the populist backlash against the Republican establishment that produced Buchanan and then Trump came from voters tired of being ignored on immigration and other cultural nationalist concerns while the expressive individualist preferences of urban coastal elites predominated.

The tension between the GOP’s classical liberal elite and its communitarian and tradition-minded base continues. While Trump has reshaped the party, Hawley correctly observes that its policy agenda has remained conventional. Commercial interests and established lobby groups continue to punch above their weight. It may be that Republican voters are only after a cheerleader who can fire up the crowds and provide a communal identity while politicians’ day-to-day business continues to concentrate on tax cuts over cultural conservatism. The identitarian anxieties this book so adeptly highlights may, once again, merely flow towards the partisan reality TV show while power continues to reside with the party’s economic liberals.

Will party politics be sufficient to keep the conservative masses content? Ronald Reagan naively delegated the setting of school history standards to a group of mainly progressive academics who swiftly subverted it. He granted amnesty before seeing any evidence of effective border control. Neither culture nor immigration were priorities in his administration, which focused on a conventional economic and foreign-policy agenda. These problems have metastasized. Large numbers continue to cross the southern border while Critical Race Theory and gender ideology consolidate their grip over schools and institutions, remaking the consciousness of future generations.

The next two years may indicate whether conservatives are genuinely able to alter the direction of American culture and institutions. If they can, it would mark a decisive break from a half-century in which movement conservatism has presided over an accelerating shift to the cultural left.

This article was published by Law and Liberty and is reproduced with permission.

Weekend Read: Adam Smith’s Liberal Path

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

The title “The Godly Path to Adam Smith’s Liberal Plan” refers to Smith’s politics. He put it this way: “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”

My topic is the Godly path. When does it begin? One answer is with what is told of in Genesis, so billions of years ago.

But I jump to 10,000 BC, when our ancestors lived in small bands of 40 people. Between then and 1776, our culture changed a great deal, but our genes did not, and still have not. Genetically and instinctually, we are still band-man.

As band-man, we—that is, our ancestors—were integrated into the band. Those 40 people were all-in-all, ethically. Naturally sympathetic and social, we had a direct sense of the good of the whole, and there was no whole higher than the band.

We have an instinct to have direct social signals that tell us what to feel and to do, in a way that is consensus-oriented and immediately observable. The band was the direct and immediate basis for meaning and validation. Interpretation was simple and common to all.

Indeed, language was primitive, so critical thought would be minimal even if tolerated. We lived an existence of common knowledge, something still yearned for, today.

The good of the band constituted the basis for the spirit or god of the band, as Emile Durkheim said. Experience was encompassing, sentiment was encompassing. Our ancestors knew what Durkheim called effervescence—a holy experience of communion with the spirit through communion among the whole.

Today, however, society is complex; knowledge is wildly disjointed. A blooming, buzzing confusion.

To us, the band seems like a cult. The word “cult” is pejorative, but, in the band context, cultishness made sense. It worked in such a small simple all-in-all society. And we still have a bent toward cultishness.

The Godly path to Adam Smith’s liberal plan is a path away from cultishness.

The next moment is the ancient world—say from Homer to Constantine. Here, I begin to crib from Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014). Siedentop’s story goes from, say, Homer to 1600.

Siedentop says that Christianity made liberalism possible. I agree.

Siedentop anchors his story in the ancient world, which was also quite thoroughly cultish.

Why do I anchor the story, earlier, in the primeval band? It is because I think that to understand ourselves, our lapsarian selves, we need to see ourselves as band-man. For one thing, band-man helps us interpret politics, as Friedrich Hayek suggested. Many would anchor the story in Genesis, and that’s fine by me: But I suggest you give a chapter to band-man.

So, Siedentop describes the cultishness of the ancient world in three chapters, “The Ancient Family,” “The Ancient City,” and “The Ancient Cosmos.”

The primary seat of religion was the family, which was a cult, the paterfamilias being its priest. The ancient world was a compound of nested cults, from the family up to the city, each level having its God corresponding to the good of the group.

Siedentop richly describes that cultishness; I highlight a few things:

  1. The ruler or the king was a top priest, if not a god.
  1. Within the polity, the unit of subjection was the group, down to the family, not the person—the vast majority of persons lacked the status of citizen.
  1. The man or woman was to the compounded group as a foot to the body, and was to conform to the cultish cues that constituted the common interpretation of the cosmos. The man or woman was not charged with thinking, really, except for learning the program. He or she was simply to get with the program, which was cultishly unequivocal and unambiguous, — ya ’know, “Follow the science.” The foot does not think.
  1. The man or woman was not expected to have a conscience, nor even a soul. It was the family that had a soul and an immortality.
  1. What about those who did not get with the program? Ya’ know, the spreaders of mis-, dys-, or mal-information? To think or talk outside the hardened compound cultishness was to be an ‘idiot.’ Looking back, we might say that it was a contest between cultists and idiots. But the idiots were also sometimes treated as traitors or domestic terrorists. Miscreancy was a kind of treason.

The next big development is universal benevolent monotheism, which was fundamentally at odds with the polytheistic hardened compound of nested cults. Following Judaism, other monotheistic trends, Socrates and Plato, and the example of willful lawmaking by the top dog in Rome, there came Christianity.

Siedentop does not claim originality. He draws heavily on a small set of authors. Many others have argued that Christianity made liberalism possible.

What’s so remarkable about Christianity?—Putting aside, that is, the Incarnation and the like.

Siedentop expounds it richly, giving special importance to Paul and Augustine, and telling of further development through the centuries. I list points about Christian ontology and associated Christian moral intuitions:

  1. God loves his creatures, who are called to become his children.
  1. Everyone is a creature made in his image, Imago Dei.
  1. God’s benevolence extends to humankind universally, including posterity. That expands the field of “the whole” far beyond your family or city or nation.
  1. To cooperate with God you must advance what he finds beautiful, the good of the whole. That sets the human to figuring out how the world works, and, indeed, what constitutes goodness.
  1. The very nature of what your well-being consists in changes fundamentally: What becomes the cardinal matter of your well-being is God’s approval of your actions. You might be stuck in the wilderness in a hailstorm with nothing to eat, but if you have been conducting yourself kindly, bravely, or otherwise virtuously, you don’t feel so bad, despite the hail and hunger.
  1. Your conscience is a representative of God—not necessarily a good representative, but a representative nonetheless.
  1. God stands separately from any temporal cult. He stands separately from Caesar. Indeed, He stands above Caesar, who, after all, is but another creature of God. The spiritual is above the temporal.
  1. Godliness may call on you to be, if not a rebel or an insurgent, at least an “idiot,” remaining true, in word and belief, to your conscience.

Much comes from these Christian moral intuitions. They turn the world upside-down. They fundamentally challenge cultishness, which is so tied up with temporal power and status.

There are some things about the Jesus story that Siedentop does not emphasize that I think significant:

  1. Jesus was not a political leader. — In fact, a carpenter.
  1. He never wielded a sword. “Prince of peace” seems fitting.
  1. He was crucified by the top political power, and not as some kind of combatant. — What better way to launch a government-skeptical outlook than to have the messiah fall victim to government and its initiation of coercion?

Siedentop explains how the ontological views and moral intuitions developed, and why it took so long to translate into social and political practice, to the extent they were translated into practice.

For a treatment of Siedentop’s entire book, let me point you to a project posted at the Institute of Intellectual History at University of St. Andrews. There is a complete set of presentation notes to follow along.

Some conceptual points deserve mention.

The title is: Inventing the Individual. Christendom would see the world as being inhabited by individuals. Such individualism was a flipside of Imago-Dei universalism.

Christianity battled the cult of family or clan. The church restricted not only polygamy but cousin-marriage and such. Today, that development is hailed by WEIRD scholars—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic. Our story is one of cultists challenged by ‘idiots,’ who spawn weirdos.

The standing of the individual before God provided a model for the standing of the individual before the sovereign. Here we take care to distinguish among three kinds of superiority, and hence three kinds of inferiority. There is the inferiority of me as I stand before Novak Djokovic in tennis. Then there is the inferiority as I stand before the sovereign or governor. Then there is the inferiority as I stand before a God-like being. The point is that the divine relationship made a model for politics: In the jural relationship the unit of subjection became the individual.

Now, emphasizing subjection may not seem very liberal. But that, in my view, is a problem with certain strains within liberalism, and not the Smithian strain. With the subjection of the individual comes, well, the individual, and hence consideration of his or her interests and rights.

Every individual is a child of God, and every individual, including the governor, bears a responsibility to advance the good of the whole. The king is a jural superior, but morally he stands equally before God and with the same kind of responsibilities. Thus, Christian moral intuitions opened a path to a liberal approach to politics, with checks, limitations, divisions, responsibilities bearing on governors. Christian moral intuitions are themselves a check on power.

What’s more, the subjection of the individual clarifies jural notions between subjects; that is, between neighbors, who are jural equals in relation to one another. That system of jural relations then serves as a baseline. The subject may say to the sovereign: Hey, my neighbor isn’t allowed to take my stuff, so if you’re going to take my stuff you ought to give us a good reason.

At the end of the book is a chapter titled “Dispensing with the Renaissance.” Renaissance means rebirth. But the so-called Renaissance was not a rebirth of ancient ways, as ancient ways were highly cultish. Thinkers of the so-called Renaissance and Enlightenment misunderstood their history and the development of their own presuppositions. Machiavelli, Montaigne, Voltaire, Paine sustained presuppositions of the individual, a legacy of Christianity. And in assailing Christianity or the Church they often were throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Other liberal thinkers, however, knew better, and it is they, like Lord Acton, who best represent liberalism.

Here, an important idea in Siedentop is that there is always the danger of the church being too submerged within the temporal powers. If the church passes into being a tool of those powers, then there is little liberal prospect. Submergence might explain why Eastern Christianity did not give rise to liberalism, and why other monotheistic regions did not. In the so-called Renaissance and Enlightenment, many thinkers saw the church as part of the problem. They looked at the Catholic church and thought: What have you done for me lately? They didn’t understand the evolution of their presuppositions, and threw the baby out with the bathwater.

In an Epilogue, Siedentop highlights two senses of the word ‘secular,’ one about religious belief, the other about separating church and state. Someone can be secular in the one sense but not the other. One who is avid both for God and for separating church and state is a theistic secularist. The point is that the liberal secularist owes a lot to Christianity, and in both senses: Both the liberal non-theist and the liberal who favors separating church and state owe a lot to Christianity.

Now I add some points to Siedentop’s story, with the period 1600 to 1776 in mind.

Deirdre McCloskey explains that in the 17th and 18th centuries there bubbled up the moral authorization of the pursuit of honest income. That moral authorization, together with the related liberal trend, invigorates economic life, bringing dynamism, innovation, and the Great Enrichment. I agree.

Now, what does it take for something to become morally authorized?

First, the moral authorization of something depends on moral authorities. Some authors with influence were not clerics, such as Pieter de la Court, John Locke, Daniel Defoe, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and David Hume.

But moral authorities based in the church especially moved society and sealed the deal. I highlight Protestants I know a bit about, and along the lines that Max Weber suggested. Luther and Calvin moved things toward that moral authorization, but, at least in Britain, especially noteworthy are such ministers as William Perkins, Richard Baxter, the Richard Steele of the 1684 The Trades-man’s Calling, Francis Hutcheson, Joseph Butler, and Josiah Tucker. Most of these men had great influence. These godly men morally authorized the pursuit of honest income.

But, second, for something to become morally authorized it is necessary, in the first instance, that that something be sufficiently clarified. Something has to be a thing before it is morally authorized. If the pursuit of honest income is to become morally authorized, people need to know what “honest income” is.

So, what is honest income?

Here I turn to jurisprudence. Hugo Grotius wrote of a basic form of justice called expletive justice; Smith called it commutative justice. It’s the duty not to mess with your neighbor’s person, property, and promises-due. Jural theorists explicated what counts as property, what counts as promises or contract, and what counts as messing with any of that. Building on Francisco Suárez and other Spanish writers, Grotius was a giant, as was Samuel Pufendorf, whose work was more utilized in Britain, flowing into Smith’s predecessors at Glasgow.

The point is that jurisprudence needed to clarify something like “honest income” in order for something like “honest income” to be morally authorized. Honest income was income flowing from activities that, at least at minimum, did not violate commutative justice.

This jurisprudence element belongs to the godly path. Grotius wrote a book titled The Truth of the Christian Religion and Pufendorf wrote of divine law. Jural theorists saw natural jurisprudence within God’s laws. Godly social life called for a social grammar, and commutative justice was a system of social rules making for a social grammar.

We see in the writings of these clerics a progression in their discussion of calling. In Luther, it is working hard, even piously, in your job. Writers suggested something like a list of the jobs that were elect callings. But there is a general movement toward greater abstraction:

  • The list was expanded to include more of the familiar jobs, now also deemed elect.
  • There is discussion of choosing your calling from those on the list.
  • And then combining callings.
  • And switching among callings.
  • And then adding wholly new callings to the list; that is, innovation.

All this drives toward reverting instead to the basic idea of honest income—that is, scrapping entirely the idea of a list. Whatever way you earn income, as long as you kept within the bounds of commutative justice (as well as other important bounds), the income was kosher, even praiseworthy. The clarification of commutative justice made possible an open, expansive, innovation-friendly idea of serving God by pursuing honest income.

The flipside of not messing with other people’s stuff is others not messing with your stuff. The sovereign not messing with people’s stuff is liberty. Liberty is a flipside of commutative justice. Thus, clarifying commutative justice meant clarifying a set of principles—or rights—that subjects could claim against their governors.

Dugald Stewart wrote that natural jurisprudence provided “the first rudiments…of liberal politics taught in modern times.” J.G.A. Pocock put the point succinctly: “The child of jurisprudence is liberalism.”

I think Adam Smith would defend the liberal plan as true to Christianity. In my remarks I have highlighted elements along the path to Smith’s liberal plan. Many of those elements are best understood in reference to a universal benevolent beholder.

Even if one stops short of theistic conviction, one should realize that this pattern of ethical thought owes everything to theism and that this pattern ought to dance with theistic interpretations.

Also, from the point of view of a parent, one should realize that a good way to impart that pattern of thought to your child is to posit God and go from there.

In closing, I raise the question: Can liberalism be sustained in a world of waning belief in God? Tocqueville said that the spirit of liberty and the spirit of religion depend on one another. Hayek ended The Fatal Conceit asking whether people in an age of waning theism will not be inclined to find meaning and validation in cultish politics.

Christianity led to the inventing of the individual, but Tocqueville and Hayek feared that resurgent cultishness would de-invent the individual by crushing liberty and instituting a new form of serfdom.

I believe liberals will do a better job of sustaining their tradition if they realize that—and I think Jordan Peterson says this—our modes of sense-making must involve formulations that are quasi-religious if not fully religious.

With theists, I find in humans a call upward. Cultists may call the miscreant an idiot. But it is only the ‘idiot’ who discovers paths upward, and he or she does so in conversation with other ‘idiots.’

People, even cultists, know, deep down, that we are called upward, and upwardness is admired.

The worse the times are, the more will ‘idiocy’ become us. So, stay hopeful; God isn’t going anywhere.

This article was published by Brownstone Institute and is reproduced with permission.