Saturday, January 14, 2012

A short overview of D. G. Hart's From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin

Hart's book is short and easy to read, well, it's easier to read if you haven't had the reading interrupted by cataract removal surgery but you could have guessed that.  I wrapped up the book a week ago and found it a helpful discourse on the history of conservative thought in American politics in the 20th century and how evangelicals who, despite imagining they have played a significant role in conservative thought and policy since the Reagan administration, have an overall history of not being conservative in any meaningful way.  An enjoyable polemic for me, not because I don't consider myself conservative but because I've come to realize that if I have leaned toward traditionalist conservative ideas and I'm around anti-communists then that could explain some things.

More to the point, Hart's book has helped me understand a bit better how certain conservative relatives have reacted to me as though I were another college-educated flaming liberal and maybe not even a Christian because I didn't back Bush 2 in the 2000 election and thought Sarah Palin was a miserable excuse for a Hail Mary last-minute electoral move on the part of the McCain campaign back in 2008.  That post World War 2 conservatives have included traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists may be the work of Captain Obvious but as a choir director used to tell some of us in the college choir days, never underestimate the obvious.

So to suggest at some length that the Reagan coallition ultimately has been unable to last since the end of the Cold War may "seem" obvious but it is a point that evangelicals, particularly, can seem to have overlooked.  Reagan happened to galvanize a trio of interests that have since demonstrated they would not have fit together otherwise.  Neo-conservatives with their committments to foreign policy and traditionalists will not agree with libertarians.  Anti-communists who have shifted their anti-communism to anti-Islamo-fascism will commit to the kind of powerful government force that works against a libertarian impulse to keep big government out of my business.  How could big government legitimately not wire tap you if your business involves import and export?  It becomes a matter of potential national security.  If liberals happen to have a problem of clinging to policies that conservatives consider damaging and radical liberals have, despite this, embraced ideas that are intenrally consistent even if they have a history of crashing and burning in the real world and even of being deployed in hegemonic and imperialistic ventures as much as they claim conservative ideas have.

I admit my interest in the book has been personal even more than academic.  I have wanted to know how it could be that a man who has not voted for a Democrat and has even read The New Criterion at any point in his life could still be called by a family member a college-educated flaming liberal.  Hart's book has helped me get a better sense of the historical, theological, and social movements within conservative politics and evangelicalism that have helped me get some idea how this paradoxical denigration can happen within a family.

Hat tip to Mere Orthodoxy for mentioning Hart's book and for the recent book title reference in a comment about marriage in Western Christendom.  It has been a very pleasant surprise that there are books getting mentioned that are in my local city library.  I may be unemployed but it's nice that city librarys in big secular liberal states still have such books available for check-out ... libraries that might not exsit if certain types of self-described conservatives had their way.  As a fellow conservative friend of mine joked, some people may consider city libraries to just be another brand of socialism.  I consider it to be an alternative to consumerism.  I don't need to buy thousands of books if I can check them out from city libraries.

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