Conservative Christians have lost the public sphere by hiding behind the protective sheet of "religious liberty."
The current moment is refreshing and clarifying. Progressives are no longer pretending to neutrality, but insist on actively using government to promote their vision of human flourishing—even if it is an increasingly anti-human one. Conservatives, in response, are awakening from their dogmatic slumber and remembering that they, too, have visions of the good life, visions that cannot be protected and promoted without the use of state power.
Liberalism, democracy, individual Lockean property rights, and freedom of thought—these Joel Kotkin offers up as the elements of the lost golden age to which he hopes we may return. Indeed, he actively pours scorn on the more interdependent, organic model of society that characterized our pre-liberal past, deeming it one of the elements of “feudalism” to be shunned. Any thoughtful reading of our current cultural predicament will show that we will need something stronger than warmed-over post-war liberalism to escape the dystopian future that Kotkin so vividly portrays.
Although both were consigned to insane asylums, it was Marquis de Sade and Friedrich Nietzsche, contends Holland, who were the true prophets of reason. They, unlike so many of their contemporaries and so many self-satisfied Westerners today, actually grasped the essential difference between paganism and Christianity. As Christianity fades into the twilight, Holland tacitly warns, we should not be surprised to find monsters that we thought long since slain again stalking the darkness that lies behind the death of God.
Traditionalist conservatives today face a paradox. On the one hand, as conservatives, they have inherited a habit of healthy suspicion toward state power, a sense that much that is wrong with the world today comes from governments trying to do too much. At the same time, as traditionalists, they recognize that there are a great many goods today in desperate need of conserving, which—human nature being what it is—cannot be conserved without resolute government support.
Much as modern secular scholars have tripped over one another in their eagerness to try and complicate the historical record of the role of religion in the American Founding, clinging like drowning men to the corpse of Thomas Jefferson as their beloved apostle of reason, the verdict of history is fairly incontestable.
If true piety depends on faith, and faith is an act of understanding and will, you cannot simply compel people into piety; that would defeat the very purpose. And yet is not compulsion central to the practice of politics and the exercise of sovereignty?
As a magisterial Protestant, I warmly welcome Catholic skeptics of liberalism into a shared project of renewing the common good and the conscience, through respect for natural law and constitutional liberty; but let us call this project what it is: political Protestantism.
A Christian public culture, like a Christian person, will still be deeply sinful and deficient. But it can still be an awful lot better than the alternatives. If you’re skeptical, just consider the sex-obsessed public culture of the post-Christian West, with ubiquitous pornography and its inane celebration of gender experimentation as the pinnacle of personal heroism.
The New Right really does have a coherent critique of the current economic, cultural, and political establishment. And it really does have a coherent agenda for a new economic, cultural, and political establishment that would promote the national good and renew the traditions that used to anchor it.