The freedom movement provides a better home than the Religious Right for Christian conservatives.
2010 / George Hawley / Young Americans For Liberty - Eight years of the Bush administration (add eight years of the Obama Administration as well) have made it abundantly clear that to many conservatives “strong national defense” really means “unnecessary wars.” Yet the best traditions of conservatism are antithetical to militarism. An unbiased observer should have no trouble at all figuring out which of these things is not like the others: family values, pro-life, limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise and ... war. Nonetheless, foreign policy remains the least examined plank of the conservative manifesto, and conservative Christians—whose faith enjoins them to value peace—unfortunately remain the most loyal supporters of America’s wars. Those believers who associate with the Religious Right have been led astray, for their interests are actually best served by an antiwar, pro-liberty agenda.
Young Christian conservatives rarely seem to question the notion that their conservative instincts necessarily require them to support militaristic political platforms. Unfortunately, politically aware young conservatives tend to gravitate toward bloodthirsty (but ostensibly Christian) commentators like Sean Hannity. Making matters worse are the so-called conservative Christian lobbying groups such as the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. The latter organization, in its 2008 voter guide, declared: “We are engaged in a war against Islamo-Fascist terrorism. And there is no substitute for victory because the alternative is unthinkable. The fight for freedom is never over.” These groups give the impression that “voting your values” means giving the government a blank check for war.
Much of the Religious Right’s leadership is happy to lend the politicians they support moral sanction for dropping bombs on other nations. In some cases, they actively encourage it. In 2007, Pat Robertson, host of “The 700 Club,” called on the United States to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying, “we have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come to exercise that ability.” Apparently, the Bible’s clear injunction against murder does not apply to those foreigners who prove inconvenient to the U.S. government.
Robertson is hardly the only Religious Right leader to embrace military adventurism on shaky theological grounds. In 2003, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell penned an article titled, “God is Pro-War,” in which he explained why Christians should support American militarism. To make his point, Falwell argued that in the Bible, “there are frequent references to God-ordained war.” True enough. But is there any evidence that our invasion of Iraq was “God ordained”? Did Falwell really believe American presidents receive their policy initiatives from God Himself? If so, how could Falwell or anyone else on the Religious Right have ever believed in any limitation on government? Such rhetoric provides theological cover for tyranny, and all freedom-loving Christians would be wise to reject it.
Christianity does not necessarily demand pacifism. The book of Ecclesiastes, after all, explicitly says there is “a time of war.” Nonetheless, the church has always seen violence as a final resort. Yet many conservative Christian leaders are happy to serve as cheerleaders for the American war machine. What makes this especially distressing is the fact that most of the Religious Right’s domestic political platform is theologically sound and worthy of support. Rejecting Republican warmongering does not require that Christian conservatives abandon their principles in domestic politics. Far from it: to truly vote their values, young conservative Christians should embrace a political philosophy of peace such as that championed by Ron Paul.
The liberty movement, for its part, must reach out to the grassroots Religious Right. To a significant extent, libertarians have ignored culturally conservative Christians, rejecting them as potential political allies. Lew Rockwell and Jeffrey Tucker, in a 1990 article for National Review, attributed this phenomenon to the influence of Ayn Rand and her militantly atheist followers, noting that “Miss Rand asserted undying war between faith and freedom.” Now, with Rand long gone and her movement all but forgotten, the stage may be set for a rapprochement between antiwar libertarians and conservative Christians.
Differing dispositions are another hurdle in the way of a Christian-libertarian alliance. Antiwar libertarian activists think of themselves as radical figures and embrace the rhetoric of revolution. And to be sure, the Ron Paul supporters who rallied behind his message of peace and constitutionally restrained government were calling for revolutionary change. Yet in some ways the Ron Paul Republicans were downright reactionary in comparison to either John McCain or Barack Obama.
Most conservative Christians believe our culture has changed for the worse in recent decades. But the cultural revolutions that swept the United States and the rest of Christendom over the pastcentury were not instigated by libertarians. To a great extent, they were precipitated by wars. War is the ultimate revolutionary force. During armed conflict between states, traditional ways of life are in constant danger of annihilation, even for communities that do not experience the fighting directly. During America’s many war years, any excuse at all was sufficient for the state to forget about traditional protections on civil liberties—and those civil liberties had a curious tendency to remain forgotten even after those wars ended. In order to maximize production, old ways of doing things were sacrificed on the altar of efficiency. Wars tore men from their communities, causing entire generations of children to spend formative years without their fathers. Regional diversity gave way to cultural homogeneity, and political power further centralized in Washington. Service to the state, especially if that service involved killing people, was elevated to a great and noble calling.
Is it any wonder that the postwar “Baby Boom” generation seemed remarkably uninterested in its cultural inheritance? Is it really a shock that, after the tragedy of two World Wars, European culture was completely exhausted and easily conquered by cultural Marxists bent on civilizational suicide? Is there any reason to believe the never-ending “War on Terror” will not have similar consequences?
Conservatives who criticize the decline of traditional families and gender roles are quick to point their fingers at the left-wing radicalism of the 1960s. They never bother to note the influence of war. During World War II, as American men were busy fighting on the other side of the globe, women who would have otherwise looked after their families were shuffled into armament factories. The female work force grew by 50 percent as six million women plugged the labor gap. Examining this record, the great conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet noted that there is a causal relationship between the “breakdown in moral standards in all spheres—economic, educational, and political, as well as in family life—[and] the effects of two major wars—celebrated wars!—in this century.” Indeed, the conflicts most conservatives celebrate were far more destructive to American families than Betty Friedan.
The real radical of the 2008 presidential election was not Ron Paul. The radicals were all those who accepted the premise that America should remain engaged in perpetual conflict and nation-building across the globe. That included both John McCain and Barack Obama. The pro-foreign-intervention platform offered by both major parties would inevitably bring drastic, permanent changes to our politics and culture. As the Patriot Act demonstrates, the road to an American police state is being slowly paved by our political class’s stated intention to “defend freedom.” Antiwar libertarianism is the appropriate political philosophy for religious conservatives and others who wish to hold fast to what little remains of our traditional ways of life. Mainstream Republicans have long pandered to Christians by proclaiming their devotion to family values, yet Christians have received nothing in return for their support beyond deficit spending, sons in body bags, and an increasingly intrusive state. The cultural trends that the Religious Right long assailed did not reverse even as Republicans continued to win national office; attempts to use the government to bring about culturally conservative ends have failed. It is time for conservative Christians to recognize that the state is, and always will be, their enemy.
The antiwar movement, furthermore, has a stronger conservative pedigree than Rush Limbaugh or the editors of the Weekly Standard care to admit. The late Russell Kirk, a devout Christian considered a founding father of American conservatism, is often at the top of the list of authors young men and women of the Right are told to read. The hawkishness of most conservatives is a testament to how rarely they do so.
Long before MoveOn.org and other leftist groups attacked the current Iraq War, Kirk decried the first Persian Gulf Conflict as a “war for an oil can.” Conservative Catholics should remember that Pope John Paul II—who was also beloved by many conservative Protestants—indicated that the Iraq War did not meet the standards of a just war.
The antiwar, pro-liberty movement cannot expect a huge influx of culturally conservative Christians anytime soon. Reverend Hagee, for example, is not about to endorse any peace-loving candidate. Nor will the more theologically immature dispensationalists—who seemingly manage to discover a biblical prophecy fulfilled by every newspaper headline—abandon their belief that the U.S. government has some divine sanction to hasten Armageddon. Nonetheless, there are surely many conservative Christians receptive to the notion that, despite what they’ve been told by their leaders, they have no religious or patriotic duty to sacrifice their children as cannon fodder for the state.
At present, the political spectrum does not give politically aware Christians with anti-state instincts much of a choice. The Religious Left is not really a viable alternative. Although liberal Christians are often sincerely antiwar, they are certainly not anti-state. The Religious Left’s constant prattling about “social justice,” the avarice of corporations, the supreme importance of “diversity,” and the need for ever more government intervention in our lives will keep most conservative Christians from embracing the Left’s theology or political agenda. Mistakenly convinced that they do not have any better options, they will stay where they are.
Nevertheless, the mainstream Right is not a natural home for culturally conservative believers. Saber-rattling is not a traditional Christian value and, despite the best efforts of the mainstream conservative media to prove otherwise, there is no biblical justification for wars of choice. Christian conservatives will see their values best advanced by an antiwar, anti-state political movement. As Laurence Vance, a Christian libertarian writer, noted, “There is nothing ‘liberal’ about opposition to war. There is nothing ‘anti-American’ about opposition to militarism. And what could be more Christian than standing firmly against aggression, violence, and bloodshed?”
It is in the antiwar, pro-liberty movement’s best interest to reach out to conservative Christians. The men and women who currently associate with the Religious Right represent the largest possible base for a freedom movement. If not from them, where else will pro-liberty candidates find votes? What other large group has even vague anti-state instincts? If libertarians do not make a successful appeal to conservative Christians, they will remain nothing more than an intellectual curiosity, and Christian conservatives will remain unaware that they have a better option.