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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Are Fiscal and Religious Conservatives Divorcing?

Recently, I wrote about the gap between libertarians and religious conservatives in the Republican Party ("The Koch Brothers and the Future of the Republican Party"). I noted that while religious conservatives, for the most part, remain opposed to same-sex marriage, libertarians do not. In fact, earlier this Spring David Koch and 378 other businesses and business leaders added their name to an amicus brief that urges the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage.

More recently, writing in The New Republic (May 14th) Elizabeth Bruenig notes that Mike Huckabee’s opposition to overhauling social security and other criticisms of big business has turned many conservative leaders and media against his campaign. “What the conservative media machine’s destruction of Huckabee demonstrates is that the free market, anti-egalitarian wing of the GOP establishment has less patience for the Christian wing than it used to.” Similarly, the sociologist of religion, Peter Berger, reflecting on the battle over Indiana's religious freedom rights act (RFRA)  ("Virtue and Vice in Indiana"), notes that "something was new at the skirmish between virtue and vice in Walkerton, Indiana: The participation of important elements of the business community in the pro-gay campaign."
The cultural elite and the business elite are in process of merging. It is probably misleading to think of this in terms of “co-optation”—if anything, the two cultures are co-opting each other. Looked at from the viewpoints of progressive and conservative ideologues, one or the other co-optation can be viewed as “corruption”: The cultural elite (a.k.a. intelligentsia) has been “corrupted” by giving up its socialist ideals, thinking of itself as a hereditary aristocracy entitled to rule (like all aristocrats they seek to pass their privileges on to their children), and accepting greed and snobbery as acceptable personal values. Conversely, the business elite has been “corrupted” by opening itself up to previously excluded ethnic and racial groups, combining its old Protestant work ethic with a very un-Protestant liberality in all matters south of the navel.
As I noted in my earlier post, this trend could have some interesting implications for American politics. If fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party emerge victorious, where will the religious conservatives go? We may return to a time when religious belief and practice (or the lack thereof) are not as closely aligned with political parties as they are today. As Robert Putnam and David Campbell note (American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us) this was the situation in America prior to the 1960s and 70s. Such a return may not be a bad thing.

Note: Much of what appears above was brought to my attention in the June 2015 issue of Religion Watch, which requires a subscription to access.

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