The Alt-Right Isn’t Right

I would like to gently—okay, forcefully—make a point today about a mischaracterization being promulgated in the media. It’s also prevalent in academia. It has to do with how the political spectrum is explained.

We all know, since the Charlottesville episode, that the so-called Alt-Right has come under greater scrutiny. This is a group that, although it claims not to be Neo-Nazi or part of the KKK, nevertheless finds ideological companions in those detestable movements. In reality, the Alt-Right is just as much an extremist, fringe group as those, and let’s not forget one of their counterparts on the Left.

What I object to is the term itself, somehow aligning the Alt-Right with genuine conservatism. This is an error that shows up constantly, and it didn’t begin with this Alt-Right fiasco. The typical way the political spectrum is displayed by liberals is something like this:

Notice in this diagram how conservatism is positioned on the spectrum as a step toward the Nazis and other political parties considered by liberals to be “right-wing” fanatics. And what do we find in the center of this line as the “perfect” place to be? Why, liberal Democrats, of course, who apparently have no real connection to socialism/communism.

How one draws a line like this is dependent on the assumptions one starts with.

From my own assumptions, I would redraw the line this way:

Why do I consider this more accurate? First, the spectrum is based on how much control government has over the lives of its citizens, which I believe is a better way of approaching an explanation of beliefs.

As you can see, on the extreme Left of the spectrum one finds not only socialism/communism, where they truly belong as totalitarian systems, but also the Nazis. Historical fact bears this out. We’re so used to using Nazi as a shortcut for the full name that some may not be aware that it was the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Why, then, some may ask, did they oust the communists in Germany if they were so close in beliefs? That’s easily explained. First, Hitler saw the communists as competitors politically; they had to be excised so he could achieve complete authority. Second, communist ranks were filled with Jews, and Hitler’s socialist movement was centered on racial purity—no Jews allowed.

What liberals love to do is associate conservatism with the desire to control other people’s lives through government. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in American conservatism.

I’ve been a political conservative all my adult life. I teach a course on the development of modern American conservatism and have examined all aspects of it. Even though there are different types of American conservatives, there are threads of belief that all hold in common:

  • Limited government control over the lives of citizens—personal liberty to be safeguarded by government.
  • Deep respect for the rule of law—not only are everyday citizens held to the law (legislated by their own chosen representatives) but government officials are as well, thereby guaranteeing that government doesn’t trample on anyone.
  • Individual rights that come from God, not government—in America, that’s why we have a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
  • Freedom of political speech, so that no one can be prosecuted for disagreeing with the government’s policies.
  • Religious liberty, because it’s not the government’s job to tell us what to believe; we all must answer to God directly for that.
  • Free market capitalism based on principles of right conduct toward others, which leads to economic prosperity.
  • Abhorrence of all forms of totalitarian government because such governments violate everything I’ve detailed above.

Genuine American conservatives have nothing in common with the Alt-Right digression from reality. To lump that group in with conservatism is a gross deception gleefully promoted by those on the Left. It serves their purpose nicely: undermine the credibility of conservatism by linking it to racism.

That’s dishonest. It’s a distortion of what conservatives actually believe. It needs to be called out for its dishonesty.

The only real remedy for extremism in all forms is a society based on Biblical principles and an attachment to constitutional concepts that flow from that Biblical basis.

Don’t be misled by those who have an ideological ax to grind. True conservatism in America is the bedrock of liberty.

Reagan: The Principled & the History Makers

Yesterday, I wrote about my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. Both men are as relevant to our day as they were to theirs.

As we near the end of another year, and as we consider the challenges that loom, some select quotes from Reagan may help us focus on our responsibilities. There are some quotes from Reagan with which many people are familiar, but I’ve chosen to pull out some that are less well known, yet just as insightful.

Just two months into his presidency, right before the assassination attempt, he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference dinner:

We’ve heard in our century far too much of the sounds of anguish from those who live under totalitarian rule. We’ve seen too many monuments made not out of marble or stone but out of barbed wire and terror.

But from these terrible places have come survivors, witnesses to the triumph of the human spirit over the mystique of state power, prisoners whose spiritual values made them the rulers of their guards. With their survival, they brought us “the secret of the camps,” a lesson for our time and for any age: Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

That last line is the key. As we think of the battles ahead, we need to believe that. At a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Heritage Foundation, he exhorted his audience that they had to face the reality of the world situation:

We must never be inhibited by those who say telling the truth about the Soviet empire is an act of belligerence on our part. To the contrary, we must continue to remind the world that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, that whatever the imperfections of the democratic nations, the struggle now going on in the world is essentially the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, between what is right and what is wrong.

This is not a simplistic or unsophisticated observation. Rather, it’s the beginning of wisdom about the world we live in, the perils we face, and the great opportunity we have in the years ahead to broaden the frontiers of freedom and to build a durable, meaningful peace.

When laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Reagan spoke of principles and common sense:

Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our Republic is based on firm principles, principles that have real meaning, that with them, we are the last, best hope of man on Earth; without them, we’re little more than the crust of a continent. Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first intellectual gift to man: common sense.

Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first.

I added the emphasis at the end.

I’ll conclude today with a pithy, yet valuable, Reagan perspective—one we would do well to remember:

History is no captive of some inevitable force. History is made by men and women of vision and courage.

Let’s go out and make some history.

Lewis & the Omnicompetent State (Part 4)

This will be the final installment of my paper on “That Hideous Strength’s Omnicompetent State.” In this segment, Lewis points to developments in the Britain of his day that showed a drift toward the belief that government can solve all things.

Lewis Letters Volume 3Lewis’s concern about societal planners reveals itself in letters he wrote to Americans. After WWII, Britain ousted the Conservatives and installed the Labour party in power. Rationing continued unabated despite the war’s end. The national government began to insert itself into everyday life in a manner that Lewis abhorred.

In one of his first letters to longtime American correspondent Vera Mathews (Gebbert), he referred to the Labour government as “Mr. Atlee’s Iron Curtain.” Writing to Mathews again two years later, he explained the situation in Britain: “Try living in ‘free’ England for a bit, and you would realize what government interference can mean! And not only interference, but interference in a ‘school marm’ form which is maddening.”

He had an example: “For instance, one of our rulers the other day defended rationing, not on the only possible grounds, i.e. the economic, but on the ground that in the old days housewives bought the food which they knew their husbands and families liked: whereas now, thanks to rationing, they are forced to provide their households with ‘a properly balanced diet.’”

Then he added this quip: “There are times when one feels that a minister or two dangling from a lamp post in Whitehall would be an attraction that would draw a hard worked man up to London!”

Lewis tells Mary Van Deusen, another of his regular correspondents, “Where benevolent planning, armed with political or economic power, can become wicked is when it tramples on people’s rights for the sake of their good.”

By 1954, the new Conservative government had ended rationing and Lewis informed his American friends that they didn’t have to send any more food or other supplies to help out. But he offered this bit of sarcastic “hopeful” advice to Vera Gebbert: “But cheer up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!”

SocialismAgain to Gebbert, this time in 1959: “We live under the constant threat of a Socialist government, which would finish us off completely.” And to Mrs. Frank Jones, just one week before his death, Lewis sounds the same note: “Our papers at the moment are filled with nothing but politics, a subject in which I cannot take any great interest. My brother tells me gloomily that it is an absolute certainty that we shall have a Labour government within a few months, with all the regimentation, austerity, and meddling which they so enjoy.”

Lewis’s 1958 essay, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” may be his final formal denunciation of the omnicompetent state. In it, he reiterates his earlier warnings from The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength. “If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.”

He complains that two wars led to “vast curtailments of liberty” and that his fellow countrymen “have grown, though grumblingly, accustomed to our chains.” Government, he notes, has now taken over “many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance.”

Natural law, the rights of man, and the inherent value of the individual, he asserts, have died. “The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. . . . We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.”

Then he offers this poignant commentary:

Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend.

Lewis was more than a Christian apologist and a writer of surpassing fiction. He also understood the times he lived in and offered us very specific warnings about our future. So much of what he feared has come to pass.

Lewis & the Omnicompetent State (Part 1)

C. S. Lewis 13C. S. Lewis often protested that he had no interest in or taste for politics. What he really meant by that was the type of politics he imbibed growing up in a Belfast suburb, listening to his father discuss with friends the nature of the local and national politics of his Irish/English homeland. Was it the pettiness that turned him against political discussion or the boredom he suffered from those overheard conversations? Whatever the cause, he normally abhorred purely political discussions.

Yet there is a clear distinction that must be drawn between politics per se and the principles of governing a civil society. That second topic interested Lewis considerably, and he commented often, both in his published works and in letters, particularly to Americans, on the subject of government. He was quite direct in his statements on the tendency of civil government to take upon itself too much power over individuals’ lives.

Lewis’s 1937 novel, Out of the Silent Planet, is arguably his first foray into commentary on an elite that seeks to use science and government to attain absolute control over a society, but it’s not until the 1940s that he begins to stress that theme more frequently.

For instance, in his 1943 essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” he takes aim at a self-appointed societal leadership that wants to plan everyone’s lives minutely. “Many a popular ‘planner’ on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means,” Lewis opined. “He believes that ‘good’ means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education and mass propaganda.”

In that same essay, he critiques the qualities voters are beginning to look for in political leaders: vision, dynamism, and creativity. Instead, he urges that we turn from a government-created “good” and return to God’s absolutes. In doing so, we would then value more highly “virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.” He concludes, “Give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.”

The preceding comments come from the paper I presented at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s retreat last weekend. For the next few Saturdays I’ll continue to share thoughts from that paper.

The Smiley Face of Totalitarian Experts: A Hideous Strength

My C. S. Lewis course is now concentrating on Lewis’s deep concern over the direction he saw society going during WWII and what he feared would happen in the future: a totalitarian government ruled by scientists, psychologists, sociologists, educationalists, and other “experts” who would tell everyone what to do.

This concern revealed itself in his essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” was more fully explicated in The Abolition of Man, and then put in story form through That Hideous Strength. I can also heartily endorse a video entitled The Magician’s Twin, a graphic exposé of this same theme, a video of stellar quality.

That Hideous StrengthAs we discussed the first four chapters of That Hideous Strength this week, I read a number of passages out loud to the class, including one that introduced the evil organization that sought to overthrow all traditional morality and to create a quasi-scientific, quasi-occult regime:

The most controversial business before the College Meeting was the question of selling Bragdon Wood. The purchaser was the N.I.C.E., the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments. They wanted a site for the building  which would worthily house this remarkable organisation.

The N.I.C.E. was the first-fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints—“red tape” was the word its supporters used—which have hitherto hampered research in this country.

It was also largely free from the restraints of economy, for, as it was argued, a nation which can spend so many millions a day on a war can surely afford a few millions a month on productive research in peacetime.

I’ve always appreciated Lewis’s wry humor as exhibited by the name of the organization. When totalitarianism arrives, it will of course wear a smiley face. It will present itself as a boon to humanity. Lewis also uses sarcasm effectively, calling it a “constructive fusion” between the expert scientists and the politicians they will control, the hope of so many “thoughtful people” who are convinced this will lead to a glorious future.

Later, in 1958, Lewis penned another insightful essay, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” that carried this theme forward once again. At the C. S. Lewis Foundation Retreat later this month, I will be reading a paper on this very subject, drawing on all of these writings.

As we ponder what Lewis foresaw, can we identify any of his fears coming to the forefront of society today? Aren’t we in awe of the presumed wisdom of the scientific elite who tell us climate change is real and the government must save us? Aren’t the educationalists telling us we need a “Common Core”? Don’t we rely more than ever on experts to guide our public policy in all realms? Aren’t the majority of our politicians mere ciphers who follow the lead of their “betters”?

Worth thinking about, don’t you “think”?

Tocqueville’s Prophetic Word

Alexis de TocquevilleAlexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who visited America in 1831. He traveled extensively, made many notes of what he experienced, and wrote them down in a massive tome called Democracy in America. It is a classic, and is still being used today in university political science courses. It points out both the strengths and potential weaknesses he saw in this new nation. If you saw Dinesh D’Souza’s movie America, you saw also his depiction of Tocqueville in the film.

It is obvious Tocqueville liked much of what he witnessed in this country, but he also wrote of the dangers that could arise from too much emphasis on equality, when taken to the extreme. He predicted that it could eventually turn America into a totalitarian state if handled wrongly.

There are countless spurious quotes by Tocqueville floating around the Internet, but I can vouch for this one. It’s found in a chapter called “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.” The first paragraph, if read carefully, is startling in its predictive nature:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate.

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the troubles of living?

What Tocqueville warns against is an all-powerful state that becomes all powerful by promising to take care of every need. It will provide anything and everything a people wants. The last line is particularly sobering.

He continues,

Thus, it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

In other words, we don’t need to choose; the government will do that for us. Don’t bother yourself with making key decisions in life; that’s too hard for you—the government knows best, so trust us.

Tocqueville concludes with this chilling thought:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

We are seeing this prophetic word come to pass in our time. Are we too far gone to reverse course? I’m not sure, but neither am I going to stop trying to undo the damage.

A Prediction

Are Indiana Republicans getting ready to cave on religious liberty? While I always like to wait and see, the signs are ominous. The law passed by Indiana is not only innocuous, it doesn’t even guarantee religious liberty—it only provides a basis for making an argument for it if one is being pressured to violate one’s conscience. Yet, because of all the artificial furor stirred up by homosexual activists, it appears that Governor Mike Pence and the legislature are prepared to water it down further. If that happens, it’s a victory for the New Totalitarians.

Burning at Stake

This is a sad time for religious liberty.

I’m going to make a prediction. No matter what happens in Indiana, the hysterical New Totalitarians won’t be mollified. This is a well-orchestrated strategy that goes beyond a demand for acceptance in society; it won’t stop until everyone who disagrees with them is punished. No one will be allowed to say homosexuality is wrong, sinful (the worst word imaginable), or even misguided.

First, the Supreme Court will come out in favor of same-sex marriage as constitutional. Never mind that the Constitution doesn’t give credence to any such idea; it’s the trendy new thing, and the New Totalitarians will win this one, wiping out all state laws that reject the progressive wisdom.

Second, their guns will be trained on institutions that seek to retain Biblical morality. They will begin by reopening their case against Hobby Lobby and other businesses run by Christians. They won’t stop until legislation is passed that declares they must bow to laws deceptively labeled as “anti-discriminatory.” At that point, Christian businessmen will have to decide where they stand with respect to their integrity and devotion to God.

Third, they will demand that pastors of churches perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or lose tax-exempt status. How many churches will refuse to do so and remain faithful to the One they profess to worship and obey?

Then the New Totalitarians will come at the educational institutions that proclaim Christian faith. They will be told they must change their beliefs and policies on homosexuality or lose their participation in the student loan program. How many of those institutions of higher learning will decide to go with the flow of the culture and deny their Lord? They will frame it as necessary to be able to continue their mission. At that point, I will question whether they have any mission left to fulfill.

Have you noticed that all the anger and venom is being directed against Christians, and not Muslims? Why might that be? Perhaps they know Christians won’t rise up and behead them. It’s safer to attack the Christians.

Is there any silver lining to this? I see one. If all this transpires as I am predicting, it will certainly separate the true believers from those who have only a superficial attachment to Christian doctrine and practice. We will be able to see more clearly who is on the Lord’s side and who is faking it. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, we need to prepare ourselves. If you still cling to the belief that America remains a Christian nation, it’s time to rethink that. We were founded on Christian beliefs, to be sure, but Christian faith is now a distinct minority point of view, and we have to understand that. We are now counter-cultural and must adjust our approach to our culture and our government accordingly. We can no longer assume we hold majority views.

Pray that we proceed in God’s wisdom and in His strength.