The Republican party, once the home of liberals, conservationists,
internationalists, and moderate Christians, is now dominated by an improbable
alliance of libertarians, free market absolutists, greedy plutocrats, and
Christian fundamentalists. The first three, "the secular right," clearly
gain a great deal from their alliance. But how have some fundamentalist Christians, "the
religious right," been persuaded to cast their lot with the Republican party?
How does one convince millions of devout Christians to accept a secular
political-economic philosophy developed and articulated, in large part, by
atheists? How does one, in addition, enable this same multitude of Christians to disregard how their political
“allies” are taking cash out of their pockets and redistributing it “upward”
from the middle class and the poor to the already wealthy, at the cost, in
addition, of impoverishing essential social services, aid to the poor, and
placing a crushing debt upon future generations? And finally, how are these
Christians persuaded that the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are somehow
consistent with aggressive foreign wars, the increased enrichment of the wealthy, the
denial of relief to the poor, comfort to the afflicted, education for the young,
and employment for the jobless.?
No small accomplishment. But the political geniuses of the Radical Right who
have captured the Republican party, have brought it off. They had to. For
without the inclusion of the Religious Right in their coalition, they would
lack the “foot soldiers” – the votes – that are essential to their political
Here are the “players:”
The libertarians are champions of “limited government,” believing that
the only legitimate functions of government are the protection of life,
liberty and property – by means of the military (defense against foreign
enemies), the police (defense against domestic enemies), and the courts
(protection of property). Taxes in support of anything else -- schools, the
arts, environmental protection – are regarded by the libertarians as
unwarranted seizures of private property, in a word, “theft.” Of
course many libertarians have either left the Republican Party
or have never joined, due to basic incompatibilities with the religious right
and other factions. (For more
about libertarian doctrine, see my
“With Liberty for Some”
Justice and ‘Shared Fate’”).
The Free Market Absolutists.
(The phrase is from George Soros).
This faction embraces and promotes the economic program of the libertarians.
The FMAs believe that all social problems and government functions can best be
dealt with if all national assets are privatized, and if the free market
exchange of goods, services and investment assets is allowed to proceed
without impediment. In other words, the FMAs believe that the optimum social
order is obtained, “as if by an invisible hand” (Adam Smith), through the
summation of individual self-enhancing “capitalist acts between consenting
adults.” (Robert Nozick). (See my
“The New Alchemy”).
The Plutocrats’ governing “ideology” can be distilled down to a single
word: More! Like George Bush, they “don’t do nuance.”
Plutocrats hate governments because governments impose taxes and because they
regulate the plutocrats’ enterprises. Plutocrats recognize no “public
interest.” As Commodore Vanderbilt famously proclaimed, “the public be damned
– I work for my stockholders.” Plutocrats defend and promote free enterprise
and competition – among their rivals. For themselves, they much prefer
monopolies. Despite their proclaimed enmity toward government, they seek
control of government as an instrument of their personal wealth-enhancement.
(There are still other components of the Radical Right alliance, such as the
neo-conservative imperialists, the adopted southern segregationists, and the “paranoid right” of militias and
skin-heads. But for the sake of simplicity, we will leave them aside).
Together these factions plus the religious right constitute a formidable
The plutocrats supply the money, the libertarians and free marketeers
articulate the political dogma, and the fundamentalists provide the votes. (Kevin
Phillips writes that “according to national polls in 2000, evangelicals
and fundamentalists cast fully 40 percent of Bush’s vote, and his 84 percent
support among committed evangelicals was higher than any previous Republican
nominee:). Without those votes, the political clout of the right-wing
regressives would collapse, and the right would be appropriately relegated the
fringes of the body politic.
This is a very agreeable arrangement for “the secular Right” -- the
libertarians, the free-marketeers, and the plutocrats, who have little to
dispute amongst themselves. But the alliance of the secular right with the
religious right is a marriage of convenience – convenient for the secular
right, which prefers to keep its pious “partners” barefoot, ignorant and
pregnant. “Barefoot” in the sense of impoverished, ignorant of
how they are being exploited, and “pregnant” in the sense being
productive of votes.
For close inspection reveals that the secular and religious right have little
in common, and because this is so the secularists are anxious that the
religious right refrain from such “close inspection.”
Consider the contrasts:
Many of the most prominent promoters of libertarianism during the past forty
years have been avowed atheists; among them Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Brandon, John
Hospers and Robert Nozick. Yet this appears not to bother the evangelicals.
In addition, libertarians share with many liberals a determined opposition to
government interference in the private lives of individuals. Accordingly, the
libertarians endorse the legalization of marijuana, pornography and
prostitution, and they oppose anti-drug laws, restrictions on abortion and
discrimination against homosexuals. Strange, isn’t it, that the
fundamentalists appear not to notice this agenda of their libertarian
Furthermore, the secularists are, of course, generally well-educated and
scientifically sophisticated, and thus they accept evolution and reject
biblical literalism. They may, however, occasionally pretend otherwise in
order to mollify the fundamentalists.
Next, there is the issue of economic justice. It is a safe bet that the
socio-economic-educational status of the average fundamentalist is markedly
below that of average American citizens. This means that many fundamentalist
families are one paycheck or one serious family illness away from financial
disaster. Can they not appreciate that their wealthy “allies” on the Right are
not “their brothers’ keepers”? Under the right-wing economic policies, the
rich get richer while the middle class and the poor hold their ground if they
are lucky, and lose ground if they are not. And there is the ever-growing
threat of unemployment. For the vast majority of our fellow citizens, the
pittance of Bush’s federal tax refunds are more than offset by the necessary
increases in state and local taxes and in the loss of government services –
fire and police protection, health care, public schooling, financial aid for
We all know the sorry economic conditions brought on by right-wing policies.
Why then do the victims, who happen to adhere to “the old-time religion,”
meekly support their oppressors? And why does Jesus’ admonition to the rich
man – “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the
poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
(Matt. 19:21) – not apply to their political leaders, or, for that matter,
their “spiritual leaders”?
The most jarring disconnect, however, is between the morality of secular-right
policies and behavior on the one hand, and the clear message of the ethics of
Jesus on the other hand. For those who need reminding, read once more The
Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: (Matt. 5)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
Fundamentalists like to ask: “What would Jesus do?” Good
question! So let’s ask them:
Would Jesus launch a “war of choice” against a
Would Jesus cut back on school lunches for poor children?
Would Jesus decline to comfort “those who mourn” as the
soldiers’ caskets arrive at Dover Air Force Base?
Would Jesus sign 155 death warrants, giving the clemency
appeals only a cursory glance?
George Bush wants to tell the world that he’s been “born
again.” But “born again” to what? To pacifism, humility, compassion, mercy,
forgiveness, frugality? The Bible teaches that “By their fruits shall ye
know them.” (Matt: 7:20) It seems that Mr. Bush has not learned
very much from his “favorite philosopher.” (See my
“What Would Jesus Do?).
Why, then, do religious fundamentalists follow, and vote for, wealthy and
powerful individuals who openly violate the basic moral teachings of their
“Lord and Savior”? True, there are bloody and brutal chapters in the
Bible, and the millennial (“rapture”) fundamentalists often preach as if the
Book of Revelation were the only book in the Bible. But the fundamentalists
also believe that the recorded words of Jesus in the Gospels are the words of
God Himself. And the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that contains it,
are the central foundation of Christian ethics. What fundamentalist Christian
would deny that Jesus said, and meant, “Blessed are the Peacemakers?” If they
believe this, then if they would "do what Jesus would do," they must come to
terms with its full implications.
Given these clear and unyielding foundations of Christian morality, how has
the secular right managed to seduce the fundamentalists so completely?
Surely this must stand as one of the most amazing accomplishments in the
history of marketing!
The tacticians of the Right began, as all good salesmen begin, by identifying
the “hot buttons” of "the mark” (customer), and proceeding to push those
Fundamentalists crave strong and charismatic leadership. So such leaders were
sought out, and then lavishly funded, enabling them to establish colleges,
publishing houses and broadcasting networks. Hence the spectacular growth of
such subsidiaries of “Jesus, Inc.” as Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Pat
Robertson’s Regent University, and, before they were busted, Jim and Tammy
Bakker’s “PTL Club” (“Pass the Loot”).
Fundamentalists are most comfortable with a Manichean world view – a concept
of the world as a battleground between unalloyed good (us) and evil (them).
(“You are either with us or against us.” GWB). For several decades, Communism
fit the bill supremely well. But with the fall of communism, new evils had to
be identified, and so they were: Islam abroad, and Liberalism at home.
The demonization of Liberalism is a text-book example of “branding” – piling
emotions and attitudes onto a label. Until recently, “liberalism” was a
honorific term, as indicated by its dictionary definition: “favoring reform or
progress ... specifically favoring political reform tending toward democracy
and personal freedom for the individual.” (Websters Unabridged, 2nd ed.) And,
in fact, when a cross-section of the American public is asked about such
liberal advancements as the minimum wage, social security, Medicare, racial
integration, environmental protection, etc., a large majority approves. But
the word “liberal” itself has been so besmirched by the Right that in
self-identification polls, “liberal” generally comes in a poor third to
“conservative” and “moderate.”
The Right has, in effect, established a separate and distinct definition of
“liberal,” so that it is effectively equated with “libertinism” – sex, drugs
and rock ‘n roll. In addition, the Right’s use of “liberal” connotes the
stifling of religion, welfare cheating, profligate government spending (as in
“tax-and-spend-liberals”) and even, in the hands of such uninhibited ranters
as Ann Coulter, treason.
In short, this redefined “liberalism” serves well as an embodiment of “evil”
to the religious right. And when this sense of “liberalism” is associated,
through constant repetitions, with the Democratic Party – well, you know the
Finally, the tacticians of the Right have learned that fundamentalists are
typically much more sensitive to personal immorality (“sin”) than they are to
social immorality (injustice). Thus when, for example, George Bush speaks to
the religious right, his themes are “right to life” (anti-abortion),
opposition to gay marriage, but rarely economic injustice, ethnic
discrimination or civil liberties. Recall that on the contrary, secular
libertarians are very tolerant about private personal conduct, provided that
it is “victimless.” But the libertarians also take care not to make a point of
this in the company of their allies of the religious right.
It follows from the preceding account that if the Democrats are looking for a
“wedge” that might disable the political clout of the regressives, then here
it is. The Fundamentalist Christians have been “had” – suckered – by the
libertarians and oligarchs. Thus the fundamentalists have worked diligently
and faithfully toward their own disadvantage and undoing.
If the rank and file of fundamentalist Christians in the “religious right” can
somehow be shown that they are being used to further the interests not of
themselves but of their oppressors, and that by so doing they are violating
the central moral precepts of their “Lord and Savior,” then the political power
of the radical right will collapse. (Assuming that our public offices continue
to be founded on the consent of the governed, through free and open elections.
If not, then all bets are off).
Accordingly, Christian conservatives should be prime recruitment targets of
progressive political movements, including “the Democratic wing of the
How might the fundamentalists, the “foot soldiers of the radical right,” be
persuaded to abandon their service in behalf of their exploiters on the Right?
First of all, moderate and liberal religious leaders must shed their
reluctance to involve themselves in politics. Normally, such reluctance is
justified, for it is responsive to our tradition of the separation of church
and state. But these are not normal times, for there is no such reluctance on
the part of the religious right to throw themselves into the midst of our
politics. Thus, when the field of political contention and debate is abandoned
by one side, the other side prevails, and much of the public comes to believe
that the fundamentalists must be right because no religious leaders see fit to
And so, it is past time for liberal and progressive religious leaders to speak
out – and to act out, by participation in peace protests, by personal
involvement with and assistance to the poor, and with active support of
progressive candidates and participation in the political process. In
particular, liberal evangelicals should, like Jimmy Carter, take the lead in
“preaching” and demonstrating by example, the Christian virtues of compassion,
charity, humility and passivism.
The hypocrisy and venality of prominent leaders of the religious right must be
exposed. The fall of Jimmy Swaggert and the Bakkers threw cold water on the
over-heated fanaticism of their followers. It is past time to expose
Pat Robertson’s investments in
African diamond mines and his dealings with African despots like Liberia’s
Finally, constant attention and exposure must be given to the unchristian
behavior of the plutocrats, and the unchristian implications of their
policies. Cruelty, callousness, greed and aggressive warfare are not Christian
Some readers will no doubt have additional and better ideas about how to
pry the fundamentalist Christians away from the radical right alliance. We
invite you to send these ideas to us at
email@example.com , so
that we might continue this discussion.
Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge