Historian Nancy MacLean: We’re under attack “by a right-wing machine”

By Chauncey DeVega, salon.com 10.10.2017

Nancy MacLean on her hot book “Democracy in Chains” and the evil genius of the Koch brothers’ donor network https://www.salon.com/2017/10/10/historian-nancy-maclean-were-under-attack-by-a-right-wing-machine/

Excerpt

American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people.

Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen?

One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages.

There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy.

What does this network look like? Who are the personalities and groups involved in this plan? In what ways has this extreme right-wing ideology influenced the Republican Party and Trump’s administration? What are the origins of this political and intellectual tradition? How have Charles and David Koch, and other leaders on the radical right, twisted the country’s laws and regulations to their advantage while hurting the American people? What can be done to stop this onslaught?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book.

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?

There are many elements to his victory. One very important element is how Trump was the only Republican front-runner in the primaries who appeared to not be carrying the Koch brothers’ agenda. Every other front-runner had signed off on the Koch demands, in terms of radical changes to Social Security and Medicare. Trump, in contrast to the other Republican candidates, said that he would defend Social Security. He called the other front-runners puppets of the Kochs and said he didn’t need the money of these donors. Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda.

And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent history.

 You have also studied and written extensively about white supremacy in America. How does the color line factor into Trump’s election?

I would take it back to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. There’s no way that Barry Goldwater gets to be the candidate without the architects of that campaign making a conscious pivot to the white segregationist South to get voters who were enraged by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. There were bitter fights between moderate and liberal Republicans on the Republican National Committee and these newcomers from the South who were really, really aggressively racist and pro-states’ rights. So the idea that Trump is bringing something fundamentally new to the Republican Party is, I think, at the very least an overstatement and really misleading in some other ways.

Who are some of the key figures in the story about how the Koch brothers and other elements of the radical right are working to undermine American democracy?

Some people that we know from earlier political history appear in a new light in my story, through their connection to this history.

For example, [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey — of the so-called Republican revolution — is a crucial player in the Koch brothers’ assault on American democracy. Phil Gramm [a former Texas senator] as well. He is an economist from Texas who ended up in the Senate and first betrayed his Democratic colleagues by assisting Ronald Reagan, then changed parties and became a loyalist of the radical right’s effort to change the country. It is worth pointing out it was Gramm who helped push through financial deregulation, which would prove to be disastrous later on.

Grover Norquist would certainly be one of these individuals as well. Then there are people who are more connected to the academic and the intellectual wing of the extreme right-wing libertarian effort to subvert American democracy.

Tyler Cowen of George Mason University is one. Charles Koch has been directing an academic operation at George Mason called the Mercatus Center. And then there are all the people who come out of the Koch operations who are staffing up the Trump administration. The key senior figures include Mike Pence, Scott Pruitt, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos. I would say it’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.

What is the radical right’s vision for America?  

The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty.” They actually call themselves “the liberty movement” or sometimes “the freedom movement,” and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

Full text 

Historian Nancy MacLean: We’re under attack “by a right-wing machine” by Chauncey DeVega, .salon.com 10.10.2017 https://www.salon.com/2017/10/10/historian-nancy-maclean-were-under-attack-by-a-right-wing-machine/

Nancy MacLean on her hot book “Democracy in Chains” and the evil genius of the Koch brothers’ donor network – American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people. Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen? One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages. There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy. What does this network look like? In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book. Q – As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda. A – And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent historyit’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.  Q -What is the radical right’s vision for America?  A – The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty… and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

Report Ad

The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

 

American democracy is in crisis. Across almost every issue, from the environment to the economy to gun control, the policies advocated by Donald Trump and the Republican Party are widely unpopular with the American people.

Yet Republicans now enjoy a near-monopoly on political power, with control of the White House, both houses of Congress and a large majority of state legislatures and governorships. How did this happen?

One part of the answer is that Republican voters are very obedient. Today’s version of conservatism functions almost as a religion, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is a right-wing media machine that is without peer in its ability to distort reality by disseminating lies and disinformation. The Republican Party has used gerrymandering, voter suppression, and — now, apparently — aid from a hostile foreign country to manipulate the outcome of elections. By comparison, the Democratic Party in particular, and liberals and progressives more generally, possess no such competitive advantages.

There is another explanation as to why the Republican Party and movement conservatives have been able to sustain and expand their power. An extremely well-funded and highly organized network of right-wing interest groups, financiers, think tanks, lobbyists, media personalities, journalists, educators, activists, public relations firms and politicians has been working for decades to undermine American democracy.

What does this network look like? Who are the personalities and groups involved in this plan? In what ways has this extreme right-wing ideology influenced the Republican Party and Trump’s administration? What are the origins of this political and intellectual tradition? How have Charles and David Koch, and other leaders on the radical right, twisted the country’s laws and regulations to their advantage while hurting the American people? What can be done to stop this onslaught?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean. She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Last year she published the explosive and controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” which is now a nominee for the National Book Award. It has come under sustained criticism from libertarian academics and intellectuals, many of them funded by the right-wing network MacLean discusses in the book.

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

As a historian who has studied the philosophy and origins of the radical right in today’s America, how do you explain Donald Trump’s election?

There are many elements to his victory. One very important element is how Trump was the only Republican front-runner in the primaries who appeared to not be carrying the Koch brothers’ agenda. Every other front-runner had signed off on the Koch demands, in terms of radical changes to Social Security and Medicare. Trump, in contrast to the other Republican candidates, said that he would defend Social Security. He called the other front-runners puppets of the Kochs and said he didn’t need the money of these donors. Trump seemed like the only way for the Republican voters who would never vote for a Democrat. He was the only way they could vote for the Republican Party and not swallow the Koch agenda.

And of course, obviously the racism and so much of the ugliness that we’re seeing now were there before. It’s not like it came out of thin air. But Trump is channeling that behavior in ways that we have not seen before from a mainstream politician in recent history.

 You have also studied and written extensively about white supremacy in America. How does the color line factor into Trump’s election?

I would take it back to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. There’s no way that Barry Goldwater gets to be the candidate without the architects of that campaign making a conscious pivot to the white segregationist South to get voters who were enraged by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. There were bitter fights between moderate and liberal Republicans on the Republican National Committee and these newcomers from the South who were really, really aggressively racist and pro-states’ rights. So the idea that Trump is bringing something fundamentally new to the Republican Party is, I think, at the very least an overstatement and really misleading in some other ways.

Who are some of the key figures in the story about how the Koch brothers and other elements of the radical right are working to undermine American democracy?

Some people that we know from earlier political history appear in a new light in my story, through their connection to this history.

For example, [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey — of the so-called Republican revolution — is a crucial player in the Koch brothers’ assault on American democracy. Phil Gramm [a former Texas senator] as well. He is an economist from Texas who ended up in the Senate and first betrayed his Democratic colleagues by assisting Ronald Reagan, then changed parties and became a loyalist of the radical right’s effort to change the country. It is worth pointing out it was Gramm who helped push through financial deregulation, which would prove to be disastrous later on.

Grover Norquist would certainly be one of these individuals as well. Then there are people who are more connected to the academic and the intellectual wing of the extreme right-wing libertarian effort to subvert American democracy.

Tyler Cowen of George Mason University is one. Charles Koch has been directing an academic operation at George Mason called the Mercatus Center. And then there are all the people who come out of the Koch operations who are staffing up the Trump administration. The key senior figures include Mike Pence, Scott Pruitt, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos. I would say it’s almost impossible to overstate how much the Kochs have gotten from this Trump administration and expect to get in the future.

What is the radical right’s vision for America?  

The Koch network and their allies claim they want “liberty.” They actually call themselves “the liberty movement” or sometimes “the freedom movement,” and speak in this very anodyne language about how they want to have limited government and freedom and lower taxes. For older white conservatives this language is very appealing. But what really bothered me in writing “Democracy in Chains” is that they’re not being honest. As libertarians they believe that there are only three functions for a legitimate government: To provide for the national defense, to ensure the rule of law and to maintain social order. Other than that, everything is illegitimate because other functions of government depend on taxing people — and particularly better-off people, in a system with progressive taxation. For this type of libertarian thinking, taxing people to provide for programs, services and resources with which they may not agree is illegitimate coercion and therefore must stop.

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right.

In the present, this takes the form of the extreme gangster capitalism that the Republican Party advocates for and is literally embodied by Donald Trump.

One of the key thinkers in this type of extreme right-wing thought is the economist James Buchanan. I detail in my book how he preached, from the late 1960s forward, that it was time to stop focusing on who rules and start to focus laser-like on the rules. So he said, in a sense, that it doesn’t really matter who is elected, right? The question is, “What are the rules that are going to constrain their behavior?”

This is something that the Koch donor network is applying with a vengeance. They did not care who among those empty suits was going to be the Republican candidate in 2016, as long as they followed the Koch agenda.

They’re so much smarter than liberals and progressives in that way. The Koch brothers and their allies are thinking in really strategic ways about how to rig the game so it benefits capital and corporations and it restricts the rights and powers of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, women and retirees.

The radical right-wing movement has to operate in this stealth manner because they fully understand that they are a permanent minority who will never persuade a majority. I don’t think that these Koch-type libertarian thinkers could ever get above 10 percent of the American people to agree to their ideas, if the public actually knew what they were really advocating and working towards.

This also speaks to how many Americans confuse democracy with capitalism, as if they were one and the same thing. In reality, unregulated capitalism results in extreme wealth and income inequality, which in turn undermines democracy.

Actually, I think that more people are increasingly aware how America is an oligarchy where capitalism is swallowing up our democratic institutions. Bernie Sanders and his surprising success point to the fact that the American people no longer see a direct link between capitalism and democracy.

Conservatives, especially right-wing libertarians, have been enraged by your book. 

Well, I clearly have agitated some libertarians on the right, many of whom are affiliated with the organizations about which I’ve written in the book. They have made various charges against “Democracy in Chains,” most of which have been refuted by people who’ve actually read it.

These critics don’t read very closely. Most of them are either economists by training or legal scholars or just libertarian journalists. They do not seem to understand what historians actually do, which is close reading of documents and interpreting them in context with what we know about the author.

What is really impressive to me is the number of historians in particular who have taken on these allegations and refuted them brilliantly point by point. I do not know those people. But what’s been interesting to see is that those refutations make absolutely no difference to the people living the charges.

Ultimately, I think the attack on my work is also part of a larger effort to undermine the legitimacy of higher education more generally, and scholarly research in particular, that might disapprove or stand against the policies and ideas advocated for by the radical right wing. I do not think it’s coincidental that these critics are getting so frenzied at a time when the Koch donor network is expanding the number of implants it has around in schools around the country.

To them, it seems like you have violated the tenets of their political religion.

They’ve certainly never had an outsider research and write about their movement. So what I have done, in effect, is create a mirror to this cause and its history, and I believe these critics are looking at that mirror and they don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s deeply disturbing to them. Emotion is a huge part of what is driving the response.

Report Ad

The right wing’s effort to subvert democracy by rigging the system and working against the common good and the American people is so well-funded and expansive, as you have documented. I can imagine readers of “Democracy in Chains” feeling powerless when they finish it. What has the reaction by readers been like so far?

What you’re describing was part of my fear as I was writing the book because, frankly, I too was getting nauseated by what I discovered. As I started to put some of these pieces together and see how big and well-funded it was, yes, I did fear that reaction.

I am really gratified by the people who are writing to me about my book. It is amazing. What they’re feeling empowered by, and what they’re saying to me, is that they felt like they knew something was going really wrong in the country. That there were all these different ways in which things had gone haywire — the phrase they keep using is that my book is connecting the dots for them in a way, and in helping them to see, to understand. Almost like an X-ray.

What are some concrete things that the American people can do to resist the Koch brothers, as well as the radical right more generally?

Rebuild civil society. Protect our existing organizations such as labor unions, public teachers unions and other groups that defend American democracy. Stand up for civil rights groups. Fight voter suppression.

It is also important to get out of the silos that we’ve been in for a long time. For example, it is crucial for the AARP to understand that they need to care about what’s happening to African-Americans, whether it’s voter suppression or police brutality.

It’s crucial for environmentalists to understand that these attacks on Planned Parenthood are also an attack on the model of government on which environmentalists depend. We’re finally in a position where the connections between all these progressive causes are becoming clear — and they’re becoming clear because we’re all being attacked by a right-wing machine that wants to destroy everything.

The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement

The Yurica Report obtained a copy of the original Eric Heubeck essay, “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement” that was published on the Free Congress Foundation’s website in 2001. For an abbreviated version go to: Paul Weyrich’s Teaching Manual  posted on the Yurica Report

by Eric Heubeck

This essay is based on the belief that the truth of an idea is not the primary reason for its acceptance. Far more important is the energy and dedication of the idea’s promoters–in other words, the individuals composing a social or political movement…

We must, as Mr. Weyrich has suggested, develop a network of parallel cultural institutions existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions. The building and promotion of these institutions will require the development of a movement that will not merely reform the existing post-war conservative movement, but will in fact be forced to supersede it–if it is to succeed at all–because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society….

There will be three main stages in the unfolding of this movement. The first stage will be devoted to the development of a highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities. The second stage will be devoted to the development of institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses. The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture….

Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions….

We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American.  We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today’s American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Traditionalist movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously.

We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime…

We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Left at intimidating people and institutions that are used as tools of left-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as Hollywood celebrities, multinational corporations, and university administrators. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths…

We will be results-oriented rather than good intentions-oriented. Making a good-faith effort and being ideologically sound will be less important than advancing the goals of the movement…

There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium. A skillfully produced motion picture or television documentary has tremendous persuasive power…Rational arguments simply do not have this power, and all arguments made in print tend to appeal to the rational, critical faculties of the mind to a greater or lesser degree…

The visual image allows us to illustrate our beliefs and arguments to our members and others in highly compelling terms–we will be able to show all the examples of cultural decadence, irrationality and disingenuousness in public debate, combined with our commentary, selectively edited and arranged for maximum impact…

We need more people with fire in the belly, and we need a message that attracts those kinds of people….We must reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between good and evil. And we must be prepared to explain why this is so. We must provide the evidence needed to prove this using images and simple terms….

Some will argue that “conservatives” do not believe in apocalyptic fervor. The reader should simply ask himself, is he happy with the state of cultural conservatism in this country? If not, does he think it likely that conditions will improve in the future by operating according to the current rules? And if not, is he willing to witness the death of true civilization in this country so that conservatism will not suffer the ungentlemanly taint of “fervor”? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, this movement will not appeal to the reader.

[Emphasis was added by the Yurica Report.]

http://www.freecongress.org

http://www.freecongress.org/centers/conservatism/traditionalist.htm

Read the whole thing here:

The Integration of Theory and Practice:
A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement

http://www.yuricareport.com/Dominionism/WeyrichManual.html

Right wing’s unholy alliance/vast right wing conspiracy

most recent update: 2/3/18

In Leaked Tape Mitch McConnell Admits The Koch Brothers Are Running The Republican Party By Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA, August, 27, 2014

Neocon ‘Chaos Promotion’ in the Mideast By Ray McGovern, Common Dreams, April 14, 2015 …shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran…Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries…Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington… Wolfowitz… is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser,

As It Turns Out, There Still Is a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy – The Many Friends of ALEC By Ellen Dannin, Truthout  Op-Ed, 12 December 2013

How the GOP Bought, Rigged, Stole and Lynched the 2014 Election by BOB FITRAKIS AND HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, November 12, 2014 excerpt: Since the Bush-Cheney-Rove theft of the 2000 election in Florida, the right of millions of American citizens to vote and have that vote counted has been under constant assault. In 2014, that systematic disenfranchisement may well have delivered the US Senate to the Republican Party. If nothing significant is done about it by 2016, we can expect the GOP to take the White House and much more. The primary victims of this GOP-led purge have been young, elderly, poor and citizens of color who tend to vote Democratic. The denial of their votes has changed the face of our government, and is deepening corporate control of our lives and planet.

Army of Rightwing Groups Plan Assault on State Laws in 2014 by Jon Queally, staff writer, CommonDreams, December 5, 2013  Internal documents show how state-level affiliates serve national interests of corporations and wealthy, conservative ideologues.

The Five Strands of Conservatism: Why the GOP is Unraveling by Drew Westen, HuffingtonPost.com, April 16, 2009

Why Karl Rove Uses Dirty Tricks: They Work By Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, May 2014… He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career…Why does Rove allegedly smear his opponents this way? Because it works… he’s now planted questions…that will lurk in journalists’ minds as they do that reporting… Once you kindle public suspicion about your opponent, it’s easy to keep throwing logs on the fire…

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program, June 5, 2014 The “vast right-wing conspiracy” machine is alive and well in America today…ever since President Obama was first elected president back in 2007, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” machine that Hillary Clinton first pointed out way back in 1998, has been churning out conspiracy after conspiracy, no matter how bizarre or outlandish they may be, all intended to take down President Obama. The folks over at Mother Jones have compiled an amazing list of just about every conspiracy about President Obama that’s ever hit the Internet…When it comes to all of these conspiracy theories that have been floated around over the past six years, what we really need to be asking ourselves is, “Who benefits from these outlandish and absurd beliefs? Where is the money behind these ideas coming from?” The answer, of course, is that it’s coming from the billionaires and economic royalists who are in control of our country. By floating around anti-Obama conspiracy theories, and by using Republicans in Washington to do their dirty work, America’s billionaires and economic royalists know that they’re weakening and disempowering the Democratic Party. And while a weak and disempowered Democratic Party is bad news for you and me, it’s great news for the billionaires and economic royalists. It means they can stay in power a lot easier…

Bible barons: How the GOP uses religion to keep voters captive to corporate ideology by CJ Werleman, Salon.com, Mar 4, 2014

Conquering by Stealth and Deception — How the Dominionists Are Succeeding in Their Quest for National Control and World Power by Katherine Yurica, September 14, 2004

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World By Andrew Gavin Marshall, Andrewgavinmarshall.com, Alternet.org June 19, 2013  The large foundations of America’s industrial giants have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society….The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders… William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski 

How a Shadowy Network of Corporate Front Groups Distorts the Marketplace of Ideas, BillMoyers.com

The Oligarchy Doesn’t Care About Democracy, Just Rigged Markets By Mark Karlin, Truthout, April 7, 2014

How Sleazy Christian Con Artists Took Over the GOP Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 23, 2013  Conservative politicians are exploiting their voters the same way Christian fundamentalist charlatans exploit the true believers.

Conservative Christianity’s Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, July 10, 2012

The Radical Right Roadmap – Paul Weyrich and his disciple, Eric Heubeck, Voter Legislative Transparency Project, Oct 14, 2012

The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement was an American conservative political activism call to action published in 2001 by the Free Congress Foundation. It was written by Eric Heubeck with guidance from Free Congress Foundation founder Paul Weyrich. It urges conservatives to reassess their position in American society and to consolidate their position by focusing on building conservative institutions with the goal of “taking over political structures.” …the essay describes as “hopeless and self-delusional” the political activism efforts of conservatives to “compensate for their weakness in the non-political sectors of society.” Instead it called for fostering an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of conservatism in American society which would in turn convince the American people that conservatives can be trusted to take over political structures: “to do that we must win the people over culturally — by defining how man ought to act, how he ought to perceive the world around him, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered.” Weyrich’s 1999 A moral minority? An open letter to conservatives from Paul Weyrich is cited for its call for “a tactical retreat from political battle” for conservatives to regroup and reorganize. Again citing Weyrich, it suggests that “a network of parallel cultural institutions” be developed, “existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions” and that the these institutions will supersede “the existing … conservative movement … because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integration_of_Theory_and_Practice

How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change DenialThe Guardian By Katherine Stewart posted on Alternet, November 5, 2012   Radical religious activists promote anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolutionwhy do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?… how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax? Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America’s religious landscape. Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars… the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of “skeptics” whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry. Who is behind these programs of de-education? The group writing much of the legislation is the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a “nonpartisan” consortium of state legislators and business interests that gets plenty of money from the usual suspects. But the legislation has also received vital support from groups associated with the religious right.…What does religion have to do with climate science? Radical religious activists promote the anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolution – another issue that supposedly has “two sides”, so schools should “teach the controversy”.…It also tells us – on the firm foundation of Holy Scriptures – that policies intended to slow the pace of climate change represent a “dangerous expansion of government control over private life”. It also alerts us that the environmental movement is “un-Biblical” – indeed, a new and false religion…Now, this isn’t the theology of every religion in America, or of every strain of Christianity; not by a long stretch. Most Christians accept climate science and believe in protecting the environment, and many of them do so for religious as well as scientific reasons. But theirs is not the theology that holds sway in the upper reaches of the Republican party,…Why does this theology of science denial have such power? For one thing, it gives its adherents something to throw back in the face of all those obnoxious “elites”, which they think are telling them what to do with their lives. There’s no need to master the facts if all you need is to learn a few words of scripture.…  to disguise the extraordinary selfishness of his position in a cloak of sanctimony.There is a choice. And even if you don’t think it matters, your grandkids will.

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’ By CJ Werleman, Dangerous Little Books, published by Alternet.org, November 8, 2013  Atheist groups, associations, and networks have literally sprung up in every town and city in America…The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over zealousness of the Christian Right…atheists are the fastest growing minority in the U.S. today. More significantly, we make for being one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country, at least potentially. We now have the required critical mass to shape elections, laws, and leaders…We [free thinkers] are winning the cultural war, but the Christian Right is winning in the race to control the levers of power…atheists are wasting far too much intellectual and emotional energy on battles that lack real political gain or consequence…While we are busy playing the role of the nation’s police force for political correctness, they are gerrymandering voting districts to ensure they regain and maintain control of the levers of congressional and gubernatorial power…Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans favor liberal policies, but our courts and legislatures are increasingly becoming controlled and driven by the Christian Right…on January 21, 2010… the Supreme Court … ruled that money equals free speech, and corporations equal people. That was the moment that whatever chance we had of righting the wrongs that have led to growing social inequalities in this country was lost. That was the moment that all but guarantees a continuation of the shrinking of the middle class. That was the moment that presented billionaires and the wealthiest corporations an opportunity to partner with the Christian Right, so that a new era of pro-business and anti-government policies could be enacted in this country.

 

If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came From

by Ira Chernus, AlterNet, November 12, 2013

mini-excerpts

Right wing political landscape

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod…the evangelical Christian religious right?…what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government…the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right…Tea Partiers align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

History

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

Progressive movement – strategy

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy. A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback. That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

Communications/message

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language…The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals…moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.

Full Excerpt

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be…

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.       

Full text

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be.

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them. And Tea Party politicians have been equally happy to talk the religious right talk because it wins them votes.

Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American. The more the Tea Party weakens the government, the more it deprives the religious right of its most potent tool. That should be easy enough for most conservative evangelicals to see.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical [4], not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards.  

As early as the 1820s, the evangelical style of Christianity was beginning to dominate American political life. It didn’t stop dominating until the 19th century was over.

Looking back across the history of that century you’ll find evangelicals, demanding strong government intervention in everyone’s life, popping up in all sorts of places. And most of those places are well to the left of where you might expect them, if your view of evangelical politics is shaped only by the era of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell.

Most famously, evangelical Christians led and filled the ranks of the movement to abolish slavery. Some (though far too few) even took the lead in treating African Americans as genuine equals. The best recent writing on the causes of the Civil War shows that evangelicalism was a crucial factor creating widespread popular resistance to the “peculiar institution.”

Without the spur of evangelical fervor there probably would have been no Republican Party, no President Lincoln, and no secession of the South. Slavery would not only have continued in the United States; it probably would have spread throughout the territories that became the new states of the Southwest, making it that much harder ever to abolish.

Antebellum evangelical reformers also took the lead in demanding that government provide free public education for all, more humane treatment of prisoners and the disabled, and more equality for women. Of course, most of their specific policy prescriptions seem too conservative by today’s progressive standards. But in their own day they were out on the cutting left edge of political life. And one of their demands—that government renounce war as an instrument of national policy—still sounds as radical as ever.

You’ll find all of these examples, and more, if you pick up any good book on 19th-century U.S. history.

I picked up one such book at random, just as I was beginning to write this column: Alan Trachtenberg’s The Incorporation of America [5], one of the most insightful histories of the Gilded Age, from the 1870s to the 1890s. When historians go looking for evangelicals supporting left-leaning government policies, they almost always look at the era of reform before the Civil War, not the Gilded Age that followed it. Yet just thumbing through Trachtenberg’s book I easily found evidence that the pattern lasted right through the 19th century.

Trachtenberg points out the powerful evangelical impulse in two of the era’s greatest political bestsellers, Henry George’s Progress and Poverty and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. George wrote glowingly of “the noble dreams of socialism.” Bellamy advocated “the religion of solidarity… a system of public ownership… to realize the idea of the nation … as a family, a vital union, a common life.”

Both denounced the injustices of the emerging corporate system with “evangelical fervor,” says Trachtenberg, sustained by “religious emotions of ‘solidarity.’”

But there was more going on than just utopian words. There were workers organizing in the factories and the streets, dominated in the 1870s and 1880s by the Knights of Labor. The Knights intended to use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems.

And they built their movement upon “an unmistakable fusion of republicanism and evangelical Protestantism,” in Trachtenberg’s words. “Workers found in Protestantism a profound ‘notion of right’ for their struggles.” They made “’the religion of solidarity’ proclaimed by Edward Bellamy and other Protestant reformers … a living experience within labor.” Obviously they saw no conflict between evangelical Christianity and a strong central government enforcing laws to create economic justice.

By the 1890s the Knights’ leading role in labor movement had been eclipsed by the American Federation of Labor. But as the Knights declined, the spirit that moved them was being picked up by an eclectic mix of movements that came to be grouped under the umbrella term, Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”

That declaration was “composed in evangelical accents” and “rang with echoes of revivalism” as well as “backwoods democracy and grassroots outrage,” as Trachtenberg writes. “Populist spokesmen clothed themselves in the garb of righteous evangels.”

Like the Knights, the Populists were on a crusade to eliminate sin. But their political ideas also “drew from the movement’s roots in native radicalism, in a secular rhetoric of ‘equal rights’ and ‘anti-monopoly.’” And the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement.

Like most historians, Trachtenberg traces the decline of the Populists to their fateful decision, in1896, to join with the Democrats in making William Jennings Bryan their joint candidate for president. Bryan ran three times for the top job and lost all three times. Today, on the left, he’s most remembered as the evangelical Christian zealot who decried the teaching of evolution in the 1924 Scopes trial. But the infamous trial came near the end of his long life.

For most of that life he, more than any other American, carried the banner of radical reform in the name of God. It’s worth reading the details in Michael Kazin’s recent biography of Bryan [6]. Kazin, a leading authority on Populism and an important progressive intellectual in his own right, makes it clear that in the late 19th century, and on into the early 20th, millions of evangelical Protestants saw it as a religious duty to demand that a strong government right the economic wrongs of the corporate capitalist system. The left in that era could not have emerged as a significant force without the tremendous boost it got from evangelical faith.

All this history should be more than mere curiosity to us. The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.    

See more stories tagged with:

gop [8],

republican party [9],

libertarian [10],

christian [11],

evangelical [12],

religious [13],

right-wing [14],

tea party [15]


Source URL: http://admin.alternet.org/belief/if-only-right-wing-christian-evangelicals-knew-where-their-ideas-came

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://admin.alternet.org/authors/ira-chernus
[3] http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/just-enough-city/2013/apr/22/how-religious-right-and-libertarians-buried-hatche/
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/if-only-tea-party-crowd-knew-where-their-ideas-came
[5] http://us.macmillan.com/theincorporationofamerica/AlanTrachtenberg
[6] http://www.randomhouse.com/book/90625/a-godly-hero-by-michael-kazin
[7] http://www.christianpost.com/news/author-new-evangelical-left-pushing-bounds-of-christianity-49287/
[8] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/gop
[9] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[10] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/libertarian-0
[11] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[12] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/evangelical
[13] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/religious
[14] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/right-wing
[15] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[16] http://admin.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B