On Conservatism:
Sullivanism

On Conservatism — By on January 17, 2008 at 12:01 am

[Note: This post is part of the “On Conservatism” series.]
Because the purpose of this series is to explore the “the contours of conservatism” the majority of the posts will focus on the ideas and perspective of the past. But it is also useful to be aware of the trends that conservative thought are more current and are shaping the future direction of the movement. One of the most disturbing trends is the direction exemplified by Andrew Sullivan.
We tend to discount the impact of our contemporaries, particularly when we disagree with them. Not surprisingly, most conservatives scoff at the notion that Sullivan is all that influential. I too once underestimated his importance as a thinker. Although I have always considered him an entertaining blogger, for many years I failed to recognize his transpositive genius.
I had failed to recognize that like many profound theorists, Sullivan doesn’t always use words in their generally accepted usage, choosing instead to imbue them with his own nuance. Take, for example, his use of the term “conservatism.” In a post in 2005, Sullivan quotes Glenn Reynolds, “coming to terms with what the religious right is doing to conservative principles.” Sullivan adds,

The important point is that religious zealotry cannot be incorporated into conservatism. It is the nemesis of conservatism. And it has to be purged in order for conservatism to be revived.

While it might not be an ideal, there is, of course, nothing incompatible about “religious zealotry” and conservatism. In fact, as Russell Kirk noted, one of the first principles of conservatism is a belief “that there exists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to conform the ways of society. A divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.” Taken at face value, such a comment by a man with a doctorate in Political Science from Harvard would be worthy of nothing more than ridicule. But Sullivan should not be so easily dismissed.
Obviously, his use of the term in no way resembles the philosophy of Russell Kirk or Edmund Burke. When Sullivan talks about conservatism, particularly when he uses the label in reference to his own beliefs, he is redefining the term to apply to his own odd mix of radical individualism and Oakeshottism, a philosophy that could best be described as Sullivanism


Sullivanism attempts to provide an intellectual foundation for peculiar pseudo-ideologies, the bastard children of Michael Oakeshott and the free-love culture, that have sprung up over the past few decades — the South Park Republicans, Republican Party Reptiles, and Maxim-cons. Before Andrew Sullivan came along, there didn’t appear, as Jonah Goldberg claimed, to be “any such thing as a unifying set of beliefs among them.” But Sullivan is providing formal structure to this form of cafeteria-libertarianism. He is providing a framework for people who aren’t really conservative but would still prefer to be associated with William F. Buckley, Jr. rather than with Michael Badnarik.
Conservatism tends to believes that old fogies like Tradition, Prudence, and Religion have something to tell us about how to live and build an orderly society. Adhering to the ideals of Burke and Kirk, though, make it difficult to argue in favor of gay marriage or against profanity on the public airwaves. That is why South Park Republicans and other Sullivanites reject the core principles of conservatism; Maxim-cons simply don’t trust any political philosophy over thirty.
Sullivanism is also an ideal compromise for those who can’t quite risk the social stigma of becoming full-fledged libertarians. “Libertarians,” as the Christian Libertarian John Coleman admits, “are crazy.”

Most became Libertarians because they have some social quirk that disallows them from participation in normal society — picture excessive drug use, Dungeons and Dragons play or fascination with the word “metrosexual,” for instance. They are strange. You can’t take them home to your parents, unless, of course, your parents are members of some druid cult. They frighten small children.

Sullivanites, by contrast, crave acceptance. They don’t want to be lumped in with the radical Paulites who argue that we can immanentize the Eschaton by banning fiat money and repudiating the 9/11 Commission Report. They prefer to use libertarian as an adjective, rather than as a noun because pure, uncut libertarianism skirts the edges of extremism.
But while public acceptance is important, the core of Sullivanism is the idea that conservative ideals can be unmoored from the past. Whereas true conservatism relies on the wisdom of our ancestors to guide us into the future, Sullivanism relies only on the quasi-omnipotence of the autonomous individual. Like Wiccans, their highest ideal can be summed up in the aphorism, “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”
Although disconnected from the past, Sullivanites can still embrace religion and tradition to salve their existential angst. But because these institutions often rely on objective moral norms, they cannot be allowed to impose their views on politics. As long as no one gets hurt — at least under the Sullivanites definition of harm — the individual remains free to pursue their own bliss. Sullivan sums up this point in his exposition on the “pursuit of happiness”:

Here [in America], happiness is an end in itself. Its content is up to each of us. Some may believe, as American Muslims or Christians do, that happiness is still indeed only possible when allied to virtue. But just as importantly, others may not. And the important thing is that the government of the United States takes no profound interest in how any of these people define their own happiness. All that matters is that no-one is coerced into a form of happiness he hasn’t chosen for himself – by others or by the state. Think of this for a moment. What America means is that no-one can forcibly impose a form of happiness on anyone else – even if it means that some people are going to hell in a hand basket. [Emphasis Added]

Like his use of the term conservative, Sullivan has redefined happiness to make it mean whatever a person chooses. Happiness is no longer a matter of human flourishing but rather a subjective state defined by the autonomous individual. Such a notion would have been deemed the height of absurdity by our ancestors — including the man who penned the Declaration. But it rings true for the Sullivanites, a group whose “conservatism” is more likely to reflect the views of Eric Cartman than of Edmund Burke.
We will be tempted to dismiss Sullivanism as a niche heresy that will have a short shelf life. Indeed, that may very well be the case (I certainly hope so). But what if it is not just an intellectual fad but a “third way” libertarian offshoot that outlasts its creator?



  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    http://www.liberalland.com/2008/01/huck-defends-his-quest-to-change.html
    You say you’ll change the constitution
    Well you know
    We all want to change your head
    You tell me it’s the institution
    Well you know
    You better free your mind instead.
    But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
    You ain’t gonna make with anyone anyhow.
    John Lennon only got the Chairman’s name wrong…

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    I find it ironic that anti-Christian bigot Neal Boortz has turned Huckabee booster. I have heard Boortz more than once proclaim that, for the Republican Party to be successful, it must “divorce itself from the religious right” and the anti-abortion “Taliban Christians.” Boortz denies the role of Christianity in our nations founding. Now Huckabee and Boortz are allies. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Joe,
    The men who penned the Declaration of Independence would have found the excessive force that conservatives are often willing to employ to stop even small vices such as smoking pot or having $5 poker nights in your own home to be worse than the vice themselves. I’ve never seen you actually admit that the lengths that many conservatives will go to enforce these prohibitions are often themselves as odious or more so than the vice itself. Armed home invasions by police over these things, which is quite normal today, would have sent our founding fathers into a blind rage; government agents were tarred and feathered for less than that in their day! So, I think when you include our founding fathers in that, you are really reaching.
    Happiness is indeed subjective. It is absurd to suggest that there is an objective standard for it, since it is something that varies from person to person. Sometimes the greatest mass misery is felt when we are flourishing; the greatest happiness when we are poor, but free.

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    MikeT:
    The conservative boogey man is not to blame. Oftentimes the concerns of society at large outweigh particular freedoms desired by a minority. Pot is legal in Alaska because the people want it legal there. It is not legal in TN because we do not want it to be legal. The same goes for prostitution and gambpling. Opposition to these things crosses political boundaries.
    If you want legal pot, then endure the slow process of changing hearts and minds. That’s how it works.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I suspect Joe is somewhat jealous of Sullivan and as a result he both idolizes and demonizes him. Sullivan is a highly original thinker who is willing to change his mind, admit he was wrong and cares more about getting it right than loyalty to an agenda. Joe should appreciate that last one a bit more as he has had to endure many conservative pundits going after his pick for President for reasons that seem to be less about principles and more about agendas.
    While it might not be an ideal, there is, of course, nothing incompatible about “religious zealotry” and conservatism. In fact, as Russell Kirk noted, one of the first principles of conservatism is a belief “that there exists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to conform the ways of society. A divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”
    Joe may not realize it but he is playing a bait and switch game here. Kirk is talking about religion, not religious zealotry. Sullivan is highly religious and keenly aware of the importance of tradition in religion. While you may not agree with his conclusions about religion, it’s quite deceptive to try to assert he is a relativist or radical on the matter. (In fact, you may be surprised to know that he has opposed demands that the Catholic Church adopt SSM despite his support of it in civil life).
    What type of zealot ‘dimly descries’ his transcendent moral order? Zealotry is usually used in a negative sense to mean someone who is too sure of himself, too confident that his answers are the right ones and everyone else who disagrees is wrong and must be corrected.
    In that way Sullivan is dead center in the conservative intellectual tradition. Burke’s argument can basically be summarized as no individual human is smart enough to know more than the collected wisdom of many generations passing down their knowledge. Therefore change should come slowly and with a skeptical eye. That would out of hand reject any zealot claiming that radical changes must be made right now because he has the right answers (whether they come from a religious argument or from a philosophical school of thought or even from a scientific theory).
    Like his use of the term conservative, Sullivan has redefined happiness to make it mean whatever a person chooses. Happiness is no longer a matter of human flourishing but rather a subjective state defined by the autonomous individual.
    On the contrary, read your Sullivan quote again more carefully:

    And the important thing is that the government of the United States takes no profound interest in how any of these people define their own happiness. All that matters is that no-one is coerced into a form of happiness he hasn’t chosen for himself – by others or by the state. Think of this for a moment. What America means is that no-one can forcibly impose a form of happiness on anyone else – even if it means that some people are going to hell in a hand basket.

    Sullivan isn’t saying happiness is subjective as much as he is saying that even if happiness is objective and you have the path to it you have no right to force anyone on that path unwillingly. You have no right to do that EVEN IF it means that others will make choices that result in them being unhappy or even choices that literally send them to hell! This would stand in direct opposition to a religious zealot who may argue we stop people who put their lives in danger by trying to committ suicide but since one’s soul is much more important than one’s life the right decisions must be forced for one’s own good.

  • DaveD

    I have to agree with MikeT for the most part. While I respect Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family, the push by that wing of Christendom to use the power of government to FORCE people to live “moral” lives really bothers me.
    First, I don’t believe it’s Biblical. My job, as a Christian, is to follow Christ and to warn others of the judgement to come/grace available. It is not my job to force them to live as I do.
    Second, Christians can’t even agree on whether to baptize babies or which version of the Bible to read. Now, we want to add the power of law to that arguement. Nothing good comes from that. 1500’s Geneva and burning people at the stake for doctrinal differences shows that.
    Third, if we invest the government with the power to declare what is right and wrong, sooner or later that gun will be pointed at our head. Then we will have no one to complain too.
    Now, all this is thrown out at the local level. If the neighborhood doesn’t want a strip club there, they should have the right to keep it out; or welcome it in if they so choose. The federal government, however, should not be able to make that decision for them.
    DD

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Wow, Andrew Sullivan must really be kicking ass, if guys like you feel such a burning need to distort reality in order to trash him.
    I’ve read Sullivan off and on for years, and the short answer is: he’s right, you’re wrong, and your quote-mining distortions of what he actually has said, over a period of years, are so blatant as to sink your credibility forever. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” remember?
    Here’s the longer answer…
    While it might not be an ideal, there is, of course, nothing incompatible about “religious zealotry” and conservatism.
    This is just plain wrong: whenever any sort of zealot — Christian, Muslim, Pagan, socialist, fascist, libertarian, whatever — gets going with his proposals to change the world, the “conservative” is the guy saying “Hang on there, are you sure you know what consequences all this will have? Who’s gonna pay the price of all this?” That’s what Edmund Burke’s commentary on the aftermath of the French Revolution amounted to: not attacking the Revolution’s objectives, nor opposing any changes, but discussing the real-world consequences of what the revolutionaries did, and warning about the unanticipated results of zealotry and radical social change. So yes, conservatism really is incompatible with zealotry, even when said zealotry is for a good cause.
    When the zealot tries to throw out the bathwater, the conservative questions how much is really being thrown out, and reminds us that there may still be a baby in there.
    In fact, as Russell Kirk noted, one of the first principles of conservatism is a belief “that there exists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to conform the ways of society. A divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”
    This is a non-sequitur: the principle of a “transcendent moral order” does not, in itself, justify zealotry of any sort; so it is possible for a conservative to believe in such a moral order and still oppose zealotry, if he sees the zealotry as contrary to the order.
    Conservatism tends to believes that old fogies like Tradition, Prudence, and Religion have something to tell us about how to live and build an orderly society.
    And Sullivan believes this too. I have seen nothing in Sullivan’s writings that contradicts this notion. Nor have you provided any quotes from Sullivan that contradict this notion. Sullivan also understands that zealots, by nature, seek to overthrow Tradition, lack Prudence, and tend to get a bit irrational with the Religion.
    Here’s why you’re so eager to discredit Sullivan: your own religious zealotry is contrary to our Tradition of free speech and tolerance; the policies you advocate are the opposite of Prudence; and your Religion is not the majority Religion. And when Sullivan points all this out, you know you’ve been caught out, so you have to trash and discredit him in order to maintain the pretense that you, not he, are the real “conservative.”
    Sullivan has done an excellent job of pointing out the bigotry, hypocricy, irrationality and insanity of your version of Christianity; and your attack on him — too lame, too late — proves you know how vulnerable your position is. (I notice you don’t actually try to prove Sullivan wrong on any particular issue. Case closed, eh?)

  • http://boundedirrationality.blogspot.com econ grad stud

    Such a philosophy is built upon post-modernism.
    It seeks to forestall relativistic anarchy by an appeal to individual self-interest. Such a philosophy is devoid of hope.
    I suspect it will grow in influence because of the moral weakness of our citizens.

  • ex-preacher

    A relevant quote from Huckabee from a couple days ago:
    “I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”
    I cannot imagine any of the founding fathers agreeing with such a chilling statement.
    HT: Christianity Today

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    ex-preacher I cannot imagine any of the founding fathers agreeing with such a chilling
    statement.

    Oh? How is that so different from:
    “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” — John Adams, October 11, 1798.
    Whenever someone says they cannot imagine the founding fathers would agree its usually a sign that they have not idea what the founding fathers really said.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Joe: John Adams may have said that, but given the tendency of many in the “Christian” “right” to fabricate quotes from the Founders, I, for one, am a little skeptical. And I would counter it with a certain Virginia law written by Thomas Jefferson and championed to passage by James Madison:
    VIRGINIA STATUTE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
    [Sec. 1] Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
    [Sec. 2] Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
    [Sec. 3] And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Joe,
    You’re response to ex indicates you just don’t get it. While both quotes should probably be read in context, just look at them as presented. Huckabee’s quote reeks of zealotry. A zealot being defined as “someone who is too sure of himself, too confident that his answers are the right ones and everyone else who disagrees is wrong and must be corrected. ”
    Implicit in Huckabee’s quote is perfect knowledge of what God wants and an urgent need to change the Constitution to fit God’s desires (as known, of course, by Huckabee). That is a chilling quote (again I suspect its full context might make it somewhat less so).
    In contrast you put up a quote by Adams saying that the Constituiton is “made only for a moral and religious people” and then try to pretend these two quotes are exactly the same. In reality they are night and day. Adams is indeed praising morality and religion but he is not impling that he or the Constitution has any special divine knowledge of ‘what God wants’. There is plenty of room for freedom in Adams’s quote because there he leaves plenty of room for those ‘moral and religious people’ to disagree. Huckabee in contrast leaves no room at all. Gods word is Gods word and we need to just change the Constitution to reflect that.
    That is hardly a conservative idea.

  • Chris

    I think the use of the term “zealotry” is causing some unnecessary confusion. Looking up the word “zeal”, I got:
    “fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor. ”
    Whereas, the word “zealotry” gives us:
    “undue or excessive zeal; fanaticism”
    I think it goes without saying that conservatism is by definition opposed to excessiveness of any kind, religious or otherwise. When Christians talk about zeal, they are simply referring to having a passion for their faith or their God. Those of you jumping all over Joe on this point are attributing an excessiveness to him which simply doesn’t apply.

  • Chris

    I think the use of the term “zealotry” is causing some unnecessary confusion. Looking up the word “zeal”, I got:
    “fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor. ”
    Whereas, the word “zealotry” gives us:
    “undue or excessive zeal; fanaticism”
    I think it goes without saying that conservatism is by definition opposed to excessiveness of any kind, religious or otherwise. When Christians talk about zeal, they are simply referring to having a passion for their faith or their God. Those of you jumping all over Joe on this point are attributing an excessiveness to him which simply doesn’t apply.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/ Collin Brendemuehl

    Raging Bee, et al,
    Nobody is forcing Anyone to become a Christian in any sense.
    Huckabee’s statements were nowhere near tehocratic despite their misrepresentation on places like C&L & T2A.
    We expect behavior which is either Christian or compatible with it — including adherence to traffic laws, no o committing murder, not stealing, etc. And ALL morality has a religious basis, but the legal system of the west has a Christian foundation. Even our traffic laws have a component which is very Christian — yielding rights (right of way) to others. We all behave in a far more Christian manner than we might expect.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/

  • Raging Bee

    And ALL morality has a religious basis, but the legal system of the west has a Christian foundation.
    It also has input from Jewish, Muslim, Norse and Roman Pagan “foundations” — as does Christianity itself. (So where in the Bible do we find freedom of religion and freedom of speech? And why have so many “Christians” opposed these legal traditions ever since the 1700s?)
    Even our traffic laws have a component which is very Christian — yielding rights (right of way) to others.
    And no one ever obeys traffic lights in the Muslim world? Those Shintoists in Japan seem to have a pretty good grasp of the concept.
    And what about the people who TAKE the right-of-way when they get it? Are they less Christian than those who yield?

  • http://www.dailyduck.blogspot.com Robert Duquette

    Conservatism tends to believes that old fogies like Tradition, Prudence, and Religion have something to tell us about how to live and build an orderly society.
    There is another flaw among conservatives who too strongly identify with the wisdom of the past. Paleocons commit the opposite error of the Sullivan-cons. It is one thing to learn from the past, it is another to worship it. Many of the traditions we hold onto today were revolutionary innovations in their own day. Like I said in an earlier post, you can’t define conservatism in some eternal, objective, non-contingent form. American conservatism is explicitly non-monarchical, but it sprang from, and was a heresy of, a conservatism that was.
    Sullivan’s point on religious zealotry has some merit, if you ignore for a moment how to define what zealotry means to Sullivan. The American compromise on religion, that it be removed from state control, was a radical innovation from what at the time constituted the conservative legal/social tradition. Roger Williams, who was the original proponent of religious liberty and church/state separation in America, described his policy as a “lively experiment” in the Rhode Island colonial charter. This was not in order to weaken religion or mute its influence in society, but to preserve it. His experiment has been proven successful by history. America, with its separation of church and state, is religious, while Europe, where established churches were retained and in many cases maintained to this day, is largely secular. So a conservative who wants to conserve the importance of religion should also be committed to conserving the American style separation of church & state.
    Now, if we define religious zealots as those people who are so devoted to their religious views that they want to break down the wall of separation in order to spread it through the auspices of the government, then we can say that they are not conservative. They are not listening to the wisdom of the past.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Chris
    I think it goes without saying that conservatism is by definition opposed to excessiveness of any kind, religious or otherwise. When Christians talk about zeal, they are simply referring to having a passion for their faith or their God. Those of you jumping all over Joe on this point are attributing an excessiveness to him which simply doesn’t apply.
    Your defense of Joe falls short. Joe jumped all over Sullivan for saying religious zealotry is incompatitable with conservatism…a statement you just accepted in your post. Joe countered Sullivan with a tepid quote from Kirk which was essentially supportive of religion. As you just pointed out, one can be religious….indeed even religious with zeal…without being a zealot.
    In order to bash Sullivan, Joe’s been playing a shell game with words….trying to fool us into thinking Kirk endorsed zealtory when in fact he simply endorsed religion (or to use his phrase “A divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”). As I said, Sullivan, yourself and I seem to know that “dimly descried transcendance” is not the same thing as religious zealotry….Joe does not.

  • Raging Bee

    The American compromise on religion, that it be removed from state control, was a radical innovation from what at the time constituted the conservative legal/social tradition.
    It was also, at the same time, a very conservative alternative to the bitter, bloody, nasty, no-holds-barred sectarian civil wars, and irrational tyrannies, that tore huge parts of Europe apart from the Reformation onward; and, in many cases, blocked social, educational, scientific and technological progress in the name of preserving sacrosanct ideas.

  • ex-preacher

    How sad for you Joe, if you can’t see the stark difference between Huckabee’s quote and Adams’s. Huckabee is calling for God’s standard (Huckabee’s interpretation of God’s will) to be written into the Constitution. Adams is saying that our laws do not (and by implication, cannot) create moral people, but rather presume a “moral and religious people.” As much and as often as some founders praised moral and religious values, they were united in the determination that the Constitution would not promote or impede any religious doctrines.
    You can read “Miracle at Philadelphia” to see how the writers of the Constitution shot down a proposal to write something into the preamble about God. The only thing about religion in the Constitution itself comes in Article Six: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”
    John Adams also signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797 which states:
    “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] … it is declared … that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries….
    “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”
    Another quote from Mr. Adams:
    “We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”
    — letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785
    Despite your gratuitous insult, Joe, in the course of getting a PhD in American History I actually have read quite a bit of what the founders wrote and said.

  • Chris

    Boonton sez:
    “Your defense of Joe falls short. Joe jumped all over Sullivan for saying religious zealotry is incompatitable with conservatism…a statement you just accepted in your post. Joe countered Sullivan with a tepid quote from Kirk which was essentially supportive of religion.”
    Come now, sir, it seems you are being willfully obtuse – or at least didn’t understand my point. Again, my point was that when Joe was responding to Andrew’s criticism of zealotry, which you & I understand to mean refer to fanaticism, obviously, Joe was thinking in terms of zeal, as Christians commonly refer to mere passion or enthusiasm and which falls far short of fanaticism.
    I tend to agree with Joe that Andrew, as with many of religious conservatism’s harshest critics, tend to fling the fanaticism accusation about anytime they disagree with their view. The religious conservative rightly responds “bigot” to such tactics. It’s a shameful practice.

  • Chris

    Boonton sez:
    “Your defense of Joe falls short. Joe jumped all over Sullivan for saying religious zealotry is incompatitable with conservatism…a statement you just accepted in your post. Joe countered Sullivan with a tepid quote from Kirk which was essentially supportive of religion.”
    Come now, sir, it seems you are being willfully obtuse – or at least didn’t understand my point. Again, my point was that when Joe was responding to Andrew’s criticism of zealotry, which you & I understand to mean refer to fanaticism, obviously, Joe was thinking in terms of zeal, as Christians commonly refer to mere passion or enthusiasm and which falls far short of fanaticism.
    I tend to agree with Joe that Andrew, as with many of religious conservatism’s harshest critics, tend to fling the fanaticism accusation about anytime they disagree with their view. The religious conservative rightly responds “bigot” to such tactics. It’s a shameful practice.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    So Joe just thought Sullivan meant conservatism is incompatible with people who are ‘religious with zeal’? That defies the common useage of zealot, which is almost always has a negative connotation.

  • Chris

    Boonton:
    Yes, that is the only logical reading of Joe’s response, in my opinion. He can correct me if I’m wrong…..

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    So this quote Joe cited:

    The important point is that religious zealotry cannot be incorporated into conservatism. It is the nemesis of conservatism. And it has to be purged in order for conservatism to be revived.

    Was read by you to mean that Sullivan was advocating urging people who are religious ‘with zeal’ from conservatism? That indeed would be quite a radical idea for a conservative to advocate. If Joe lead you to believe that’s what Sullivan was advocating then he was deceptive with his post.

  • http://www.gryphmon.com Patrick Gryph

    “Was read by you to mean that Sullivan was advocating urging people who are religious ‘with zeal’ from conservatism? That indeed would be quite a radical idea for a conservative to advocate. If Joe lead you to believe that’s what Sullivan was advocating then he was deceptive with his post.”
    Yes, Joe is being deceptive. Actually his critique is one of the most rambling messes I’ve seen from him in a long time. Usually he is at least more coherent.
    Sullivan’s beef is with extremesim and zealotry, not religion. He has equally condemed excess on left and right, in both the athiest and religious fanatic.
    He also puts forward as a virtue the practice of being informed by tradition. But that doesn’t mean being bound to it hand and foot.
    Get real Joe. If you respected “tradition” so much, then you would be in a polygamous marriage, as was the norm for most of human history. That would be your tradition.

  • Raging Bee

    …Andrew, as with many of religious conservatism’s harshest critics, tend to fling the fanaticism accusation about anytime they disagree with their view.
    Well, yeah, when Andrew disagrees with a fanatic’s view, and demonstrates how irrational it is, then the “fanaticism accusation” kinda follows from that.
    The religious conservative rightly responds “bigot” to such tactics. It’s a shameful practice.
    In other words, when the evil, ignorance, or insanity of a fanatic’s position is exposed, the “religious conservative” cries “bigotry” rather than addressing the actual issue or admitting the fanatic is wrong.

  • Chris

    Boonton:
    I’ve already established that you and I read Sullivan’s use of the word zealotry in the same way. Do you have any other questions?
    Patrick sez:
    “Sullivan’s beef is with extremesim and zealotry, not religion. He has equally condemed excess on left and right, in both the athiest and religious fanatic.”
    Well, so he says, but I dispute his claims. For Andrew, it all comes down to gay marriage – and anyone who disagrees with him on releigious grounds is a “zealot”. Look, I think reasonable people can disagree on that & Andrew doesn’t – so who’s the zealot?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Well, so he says, but I dispute his claims. For Andrew, it all comes down to gay marriage – and anyone who disagrees with him on releigious grounds is a “zealot”.
    That must make for a difficult life since Sullivan himself has come out against the Catholic Church adopting gay marriage. Many of the times he criticizes “Christianism” it isn’t even about gay marriage. Yes he does support civil marriage for gays and he does take on critics. Clearly it is a ‘pet issue’ for him but I think it’s pretty simplistic to say that it’s the only thing behind his thinking.

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    All this talk of “chilling statements” and “religious zealotry” is moot anyway. A constitutional amendment is not an achievable goal for the foreseeable future. Our time is better spent reforming a corrupt judiciary constantly employed by the left as a tool for forced cultural change. You want to talk dogmatism? It’s coming from the left.

  • phasespace

    You want to talk dogmatism? It’s coming from the left.

    Pot, meet kettle. You better take a long look in the mirror. I’m not suggesting that “left” wing judges don’t have certain viewpoints that color their decisions and that such positions might even be legitimately called an agenda. But to claim that such dogma is only coming from the left only indicates the extreme blindness the right has to its own agenda. The current conservative agenda is every bit as dogmatic if not more so than the people you accuse of being dogmatic. If it weren’t you wouldn’t be so concerned about getting “conservative” judges appointed.

    Authoritarianism is living brightly on both the right and the left right now. You should both be careful of what you wish for.

  • Raging Bee

    For Andrew, it all comes down to gay marriage – and anyone who disagrees with him on releigious grounds is a “zealot”.
    In defending civil marriage for same-sex couples, Andrew has repeatedtly demonstrated that the arguments against such marriage are uninformed at best, and willfully ignorant, dishonest, bigoted, laughably ridiculous, and sometimes downright demented at worst. If he calls his opponents on this issue “zealots,” it’s because he’s observed, and proven, that the term fits.
    Oh, and before we go off on “a corrupt judiciary constantly employed by the left as a tool for forced cultural change,” let’s take a moment to remember that one of the biggest smackdowns the “Christian” “right” got recently — the debunking of ID/creationism — came from conservative, Republican, Lutheran, Bush-Jr.-appointee Judge Jones.

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    phasespace:
    Conservative judges don’t go around setting aside state laws. Leftists do that. As for POT/Kettle – that is my point exactly. I wasn’t the one who started pointing the finger.
    Hopefully, someone will knock on your door one day to announce they are taking your property under the guise of Kelo V. New London so you can get a little taste.
    The call for a constitutional amendment relative to abortion would not be happening without the Supreme’s “discovery” of a constitutional right to abortion hidden in “emanations of penumbras.”
    Go look in the mirror yourself.

  • ucfengr

    You know, Raging Bee, you could save yourself a lot of time and energy if just wrote a macro to type “you disagree with me, therefore you are stupid or a liar”.

  • smmtheory

    In defending civil marriage for same-sex couples, Andrew has repeatedtly demonstrated that the arguments against such marriage are uninformed at best, and willfully ignorant, dishonest, bigoted, laughably ridiculous, and sometimes downright demented at worst. If he calls his opponents on this issue “zealots,” it’s because he’s observed, and proven, that the term fits.

    Be careful, you are starting to sound like a zealot yourself.

  • RonH

    Conservatives and religious people begin with shared principles: START WITH THE CONCLUSION AND STICK TO IT.
    (Yes, other groups do this too.)
    The human race makes progress to the extent that:
    1) not everyone thinks this way
    2) those who do take time off once in a while
    3) those who do compromise while pretending not to
    Question your assumptions everybody!

  • Chris

    Raging bee sez:
    “In defending civil marriage for same-sex couples, Andrew has repeatedtly demonstrated that the arguments against such marriage are uninformed at best, and willfully ignorant, dishonest, bigoted, laughably ridiculous, and sometimes downright demented at worst. If he calls his opponents on this issue “zealots,” it’s because he’s observed, and proven, that the term fits.”
    Andrew certainly argues that point (ad nauseum) with passion and intelligence, and you, obviously are convinced. But he’s proven nothing, and there is no shortage of intelligent argument in opposition. I should remind you that your cascade of insults does not strengthen your argument. Or did you actually make one?

  • JohnW

    Jeff Blogworthy,
    Re Post No. 30,
    Let me come at this from a different angle-if you care about the constitution take a look at recent abuses and expansion of executive power (for example signing statements, warrantless wire taping, and the whole idea of stripping rights from citizens and naturalized aliens merely because the President deems them to be “unlawful illegal aliens”.
    The Supreme Court is pretty balanced (for now). Instead of worrying about the Supreme Court “legislating from the bench”, I’d worry more about the Presidents legislating with his “signing statement” pen.

  • Dude

    John Adams was a Unitarian.
    Enough said.

  • Brian in Idaho

    Joe,
    the problem with the Sullivan’s is their immunity from inspection. They commonly align Christians with the crusades and fundamentalists with Islam. They however reject any connection with Mao or Stalin. If their rebuttal is they are not socialist I would align them with the nobels of the past who promoted their brand of economics for pure gain over their lessers. They are secular fundamentalist!
    If my pursuit of happiness involves religion am I to be disqualified? He is on a secular jihad.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    . Our time is better spent reforming a corrupt judiciary constantly employed by the left as a tool for forced cultural change.
    Amazing how that happens when you let Republican Presidents appoint justices.
    Conservative judges don’t go around setting aside state laws. Leftists do that.
    Unless they are state abortion laws (see partial birth abortion), or state laws experimenting with using pot for medical use…. Pot Kettle Blacker
    Chris
    Andrew certainly argues that point (ad nauseum) with passion and intelligence, and you, obviously are convinced. But he’s proven nothing, and there is no shortage of intelligent argument in opposition. I should remind you that your cascade of insults does not strengthen your argument. Or did you actually make one?
    I’m not sure what the criticism is here. Simply spending a lot of time on an argument does not make one a zealot. In debating whether or not Sullivan is a conservative, it’s interesting to note that he constructs his argument using conservative principles. Rather than arguing for gay marriage as an identity issue, or as an equality issue he carefully mounts his argument beginning with a respect for conservative values of tradition and reluctance (but not absolute prohibition of) change. You may argue that he fails to make his case but if we try to stay on the topic of this post, I doubt you can honsestly say he is either a zealot or not conservative.
    A bit off topic; there is quite a shortage of intelligent argument in opposition to Sullivan on gay marriage.

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    Boonton,
    Unless they are state abortion laws (see partial birth abortion), or state laws experimenting with using pot for medical use…. Pot Kettle Blacker
    Specific examples of what you are talking about please.
    If you are referring to action by the legislature, that is a far cry from judicial fiat.

  • ucfengr

    A bit off topic; there is quite a shortage of intelligent argument in opposition to Sullivan on gay marriage.
    Even less in support.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Specific examples of what you are talking about please.
    Partial birth abortion ban – How do you figure abortion is ‘interstate commerce’ under regulation by Congress?
    The assisted suicide law in (forget where) – it’s all state law unless a conservative administration doesn’t like what a state decides to do…then it’s federal.
    Legalized pot for medical use – another area where ‘interstate commerce’ seems to mean everything and anything.
    It seems that when it’s a matter of conservative policies, conservative justices are just as creative in finding legal theories to give them their blessing.

  • Eric R. Ashley

    To reply to the Japanese driving laws….I’ve heard from a missionary who worked in that field that Japanese base their driving on Who’s Biggest, and He Who is in Front Ignores Everyone Else.
    In America Semi drivers are very polite, but not in Japan as they are biggest.
    The missionary also said once you realized that the guy in front of you would brake whenever he felt like it, then things smoothed out.
    The system worked even if it was based on very different principles than American driving.
    And its a commonplace among missionaries to talk about the driving in many foreign countries where the lines in the middle of the road are totally ignored, and the like.
    As to Sullivan–he’s not a Conservative. Neither is Insty. Insty has the virtue of being generally polite and reasonable which Sullivan might not have so much of that.

  • ucfengr

    Partial birth abortion ban – How do you figure abortion is ‘interstate commerce’ under regulation by Congress?
    I don’t know that anybody is actually arguing that under interstate commerce. Most people opposed see it as a 5th amendment issue.
    The assisted suicide law in (forget where) – it’s all state law unless a conservative administration doesn’t like what a state decides to do…then it’s federal.
    What federal judge has overturned a state assisted suicide law? In the only case I can find, the Supreme Court upheld the Oregon assisted suicide law. Do you have another case in mind?
    Legalized pot for medical use – another area where ‘interstate commerce’ seems to mean everything and anything.
    In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that Congress may ban use of medical marijuana. What’s interesting is that the majority included Ginsburg (appointed by Clinton), Breyer (appointed by Clinton), Souter (appointed by Bush I, but usually votes with the more liberal wing of the court), Kennedy (appointed by Reagan, but considered a swing vote). On the dissent were Thomas (Bush I appointee, very conservative), Rehnquist (Nixon appointee, conservative), and O’Connor (Reagan appointee, generally considered a swing vote). So, the more liberal the justice, the more likely they were to favor an expansive reading of the commerce clause in this case.

  • ucfengr

    Partial birth abortion ban – How do you figure abortion is ‘interstate commerce’ under regulation by Congress?
    Just for fun, I looked up Gonzales v. Carhart (the Supreme Court Case where they ruled on the Partial Birth Abortion Law). In Thomas’ dissent, he noted that whether or not the Partial Birth Abortion Ban was permissible under the Commerce Clause was not before the Court; neither party raised the issue.
    Gee Boonton, you look like a bit of a boob here. It might behoove you to actually have a passing knowledge of the court cases you reference before you start spouting off.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    In reverse order:
    Gonzales.v.Raich – YOu left out Scalia who sided with the majority (although in a concurring opinion). You also left out the Justice Dept under Bush, which presumably should have a ‘conservative’ judicial philosophy.
    Suicide – Again see the Justice Dept’s position
    Partial Birth Abortion – Note that over and over again pro-lifers & critics of Roe have argued that the states should have been left to decide their own abortion law. Except, it would seem, when Congress wants too….either way the case you’re thinking of is Gonzales.v.Carhart and as wikipedia says:
    The Commerce Clause was also mentioned in the opinion of the Court, and was the only clause of the Constitution mentioned explicitly by the opinions in this case.

  • ucfengr

    Gonzales.v.Raich – YOu left out Scalia who sided with the majority (although in a concurring opinion).
    So Scalia whiffed one, that doesn’t change the fact that it was the liberal justices who ruled Congress may ban medicinal marijuana under the Commerce Clause. You should also note that Scalia’s concurrence favored a stricter reading of the Commerce Clause than the liberal justices who voted for the ruling.
    You also left out the Justice Dept under Bush, which presumably should have a ‘conservative’ judicial philosophy.
    That’s what we call “moving the goal posts”. The Bush Justice Dept. is not made up of “conservative justices”.
    Partial Birth Abortion – Note that over and over again pro-lifers & critics of Roe have argued that the states should have been left to decide their own abortion law.
    That’s not true. Many (maybe most) “pro-lifers & critics of Rowe” have argued that the 5th amendment prohibition against the deprivation of life without due process and the 14th amendment applying it to the states is pertinent here.
    Except, it would seem, when Congress wants too….either way the case you’re thinking of is Gonzales.v.Carhart and as wikipedia says:
    Since I cited the case, it’s pretty safe to assume that it is the one I am thinking of. Also, note that the Commerce Clause is mentioned exactly twice in the opinion. One is by Thomas to note that neither side (including the Bush Justice Department) made arguments on the clause. The other:
    “This is too exacting a standard to impose on the legislative power, exercised in this instance under the Commerce Clause, to regulate the medical profession. Considerations of marginal safety, including the balance of risks, are within the legislative competence when the regulation is rational and in pursuit of legitimate ends. When standard medical options are available, mere convenience does not suffice to displace them; and if some procedures have different risks than others, it does not follow that the State is altogether barred from imposing reasonable regulations.”
    appears to note that the Commerce Clause does allow Congress limited authority to regulate the medical profession. Do you want to make the case that this is an unreasonable position? Also note that the dissent did not mention the Commerce Clause at all. That seems to me to confirm that they agree that the Commerce Clause does allow some limited Congressional control of the medical profession. Again, who favors the expansive reading of the Commerce Clause? It is your guys that do.

  • Jeff Blogworthy

    Boonton:
    Again, you apparently forget – or ignore – that abortion (PBA or otherwise) is an issue addressed by the legislature because it is the only recourse left to the people after the corrupt supreme court struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states.
    When was the last time the people of America clamored for partially birthing babies in order to kill them? But please go ahead. Defend the practice. To thine own self be true.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Jeff,
    You seem to be unaware that there is more than one legislature in the US. See, each state has one legislature just like the Federal Gov’t. Come back and play after you’ve done at least a little homework.
    Ucfengr,
    Perhaps Scalia favored a stronger reading but the fact still remains it’s a pretty expansive reading when it is being called into service for a policy many conservatives were supporting (hint: it wasn’t CA republicans that enacted the medicinal marijuana law). And as for the Bush administration, recall this began with Jeff’s assertion that a Republican President is needed to reign in all those rogue liberal justices. It’s kind of strange, then, to say that part of that shouldn’t be actually taking the correct sides in the various cases that come before the courts.
    That’s not true. Many (maybe most) “pro-lifers & critics of Rowe” have argued that the 5th amendment prohibition against the deprivation of life without due process and the 14th amendment applying it to the states is pertinent here.
    This argument wasn’t used in the case because it would be irrelevant. The 5th and 14th applies to government. You may be able to use such a case if you were arguing against a law mandating abortion (such as in China) but it wouldn’t work if you were trying to argue against a state that failed to pass an anti-abortion law that you wanted.
    appears to note that the Commerce Clause does allow Congress limited authority to regulate the medical profession. Do you want to make the case that this is an unreasonable position?
    Exactly how is this authority limited? The ability to regulate is in regards to interstate commerce. For example, the DEA allows doctors to prescribe narcotics. This comes from the authority to regulate interstate commerce in nacotics. It would be a stretch, though, to argue that a law requiring doctors to use a particular brand of gloves in their exam rooms would be acceptable as ‘limited regulation’.

  • http://alexlsilva.blogspot.com Alex

    Joe,
    For what it’s worth, I read every post that both you and Sullivan have written over the past two years. I like and listen to both of your thoughts and have been influenced by both. I think he’s a great thinker and I think the same of you. And I recommend all readers of Joe’s blog to Andrew’s blog.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Brian in Idaho blithered thusly:
    the problem with the Sullivan’s is their immunity from inspection.
    Say what? Sullivan’s blog is available to everyone, and he even responds to emails from people who disagree with him. How can a high-profile blogger be “immune from inspection?”
    They commonly align Christians with the crusades and fundamentalists with Islam.
    Sullivan does no such thing. In fact, he has explicitly acknowledged that not all Christians are bigoted Crusaders and not all Muslims support terrorism or any other act of intolerance. Are you sure you’re not confusing Andrew with some other Sullivan?
    They however reject any connection with Mao or Stalin.
    That’s because they’re not Maoists or Stalinists — they’re pro-democracy and want to preserve republican forms of government.
    If their rebuttal is they are not socialist I would align them with the nobels of the past who promoted their brand of economics for pure gain over their lessers. They are secular fundamentalist!
    Do they always talk in non-sequiturs in Idaho? The above sentences make absolutely no sense at all, and aren’t even logically connected to each other.

  • Raging Bee

    PS: sorry for my hiatus here. I was busy celebrating a certain holiday to commemorate a certain REAL Christian: Martin Luther King Jr.
    Soeaking of King, y’all might want to check out this paper he wrote around 1950, titled The Influence of the Mystery Religions on Christianity.

  • Raging Bee

    PS: sorry for my hiatus here. I was busy celebrating a certain holiday to commemorate a certain REAL Christian: Martin Luther King Jr.
    Soeaking of King, y’all might want to check out this paper he wrote around 1950, titled The Influence of the Mystery Religions on Christianity.

  • http://www.nietzschesghost.blogspot.com/ Michael Gardner

    Your “transcendent truths” are nothing more than ecstatically derived rationalizations to justify your existence. If there is a “transcendent being”, he/she/it doesn’t care about you, in your desperate anxietous NEED for he/she/it.
    Sullivan is right in his initial premise that conservatism begins with a primordial Doubt of all human constructs. This is what started the Enlightenment, this Doubt. “God” is a belief as Kierkegaard shows (and therefore a human construct). Awaken to the true transcendence: “God” doesn’t care about you; YOU care about you. Ultimately, “man” is a narcissist if he is NOT conservative in in this original manner.

  • http://johncoleman.typepad.com John

    Michael – very quickly, I don’t think Kierkegaard’s primary point was that God is a belief and therefore a mere social construct. You may be infusing him with a blend of the other existentialists. But I could be wrong.

  • http://www.nietzschesghost.blogspot.com/ Michael Gardner

    you’re right…I am. I tend to think of it more as continuing to a more logical place than perhaps SK was willing to go. My point was really that “God” as such is a human construct that fulfills a need…the need to believe.
    You’ll note, I’m not arguing against God’s existence. Just that man has interpreted that existence to meet his own needs/desires is all, his need to be fulfilled by that “transcendent truth”…which I think, ironically, happens to always be in line with the key anthropological elements of the culture that imagines them. Such “truths” then absolve us from having to accept responsbility for our own existence(s) i.e. actions. We can always rationalize them within a context of supposed “transcendence”. Personally, I think it’s all very sad.

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