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Friday, February 09, 2007


jeffrey hart, again

as profiled:

“Like the Whig gentry who were the Founders, I loathe populism,” Hart explains. “Most especially in the form of populist religion, i.e., the current pestiferous bible-banging evangelicals, whom I regard as organized ignorance, a menace to public health, to science, to medicine, to serious Western religion, to intellect and indeed to sanity. Evangelicalism, driven by emotion, and not creedal, is thoroughly erratic and by its nature cannot be conservative. My conservatism is aristocratic in spirit, anti-populist and rooted in the Northeast. It is Burke brought up to date. A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around, but an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense. He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

i think one can legitimately argue the last sentence in detail and in concept, but the contrast to the slovenly wild-eyed ridiculousness of populism is the point.

from "the conservative mind":

Drawing on Pascal’s statement that “man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the brute,” Hart wrote: “The Conservative Mind, most of the time, has shown a healthy resistance to utopianism and its various informed ideologies. Ideology is always wrong because it edits reality and paralyzes thought.”

from "the evangelical effect"

One thing everyone can agree upon about Bush is that as president he has brought religion into politics in a way unknown to recent memory. And he has owed both of his electoral victories to his Evangelical Christian base. This indispensable base has profoundly affected his policies, foreign and domestic.

The Bush presidency often is called conservative. That is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.

... Traditional Christianity sees the Resurrection as linking our familiar world of empirical fact with the realm of the beyond-time: Jesus inhabits both. Therefore Jesus is the crux (not to make a pun) of Christianity. To quote Paul again, "Unless Christ is risen, our preaching is groundless."

On that point, supported by other evidence in the four narratives, the entire structure of Christian theology rests, and its representation of such theology in language, such as the Apostles' Creed, in ritual, in art, in music. The linguistic formulations in the creed took about 1,000 years to reach finished form, but their origins can be traced back to the generation of the apostles themselves. No individual can push ahead alone in such an effort of thought and representation as this exhibits. Populism falls on its face, trusting in emotion. Nor is Scripture enough, unless you know how to read these ancient texts.

Because Evangelicalism is sustained by no structure of ideas, and, beyond that, has no institutional support in a continuing church, it flares up in repeated "Awakenings," and then subsides as the emotion dissipates. Because it is populist and homemade, its assertions tend often to be ridiculous, the easy targets for the latest version of H.L. Mencken.

If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.

Except for that major qualification, Evangelicalism would not matter much if it were a private superstition, a sort of hobby, except that the Evangelicalism of the Bush variety has real and often dangerous effects on the world in which the rest of us, and even they, live.

i previously noted one of hart's many books -- but clearly need to read the man. this is a titanic conservative, unlike so many, the vast majority who pass themselves off duplicitously under that rubric because they were too ridiculous to either find a loud voice in the democratic party or to build a trotskyite party of any consequence.

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I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on some of the recent blog debates on the definition of conservatism. Ross Douthat's effort has received a fair amount of criticism, but I found Austin Bramwell's discussion far more interesting. Bramwell is not a typical vulgar Republican yet I wondered if you found his attempt to link conservatism to Weberian legitimacy to be too akin to the majoritarianism that you have often criticized.

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