More on Republican Disarray
19 November 2008
During a previous election cycle I heard religious conservatives begin to refer to themselves as “people of faith”. Now, you must understand that “people of faith” was a code word introduced for the express purpose of grouping politically conservative fundamentalist Christians together. What is the significance of this? This term, eo ipso, marks a turn. It makes of the conservative Christian vote simply another interest group. And in American politics, being just another interest group, albeit a powerful one, is a world away from representing Nixon’s “silent majority”. An interest group is, by definition, a self-defined minority, that is to say, a minority that defines itself by excluding others. No one wins elections by exclusivity. Elections are won by inclusivity.
“People of faith” is precisely analogous to “people of color”, but whereas the evolution of the world is on the side of the increased influence of so-called “people of color”, self-identifying “people of faith” do not represent the direction that the world is moving, nor the direction that the US is going. Yes, I am well aware that the vast majority of Americans self-identify as being religious, thus, in a sense, as being “people of faith”. But a recent poll revealed interesting complexity behind the apparent monolithic facade of organized religion. Because in the US social disapproval is mobilized against the tiny fraction of the population that does not self-identify with any religious tradition, very few people bother to take this stand. Few people care enough to pay the price for such non-conformity. However, since any kind of religious affiliation is judged better than no religious affiliation at all, that is exactly what we have: people by and large self-identify with some “faith tradition”, indeed with any faith tradition, but these traditions are many and various, and they are not well represented by those who self-identify as “people of faith”. As the Pew Forum put the matter, “…religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.”
It was one of the lasting insights of Marx that certain kinds of societies produce certain kinds of people. Institutions (economic and otherwise) shape individuals. Or we could say that individuals recapitulate institutions. We need not follow the details of Marxist theory in order to see the validity of this idea (and if you are uncomfortable in presence of a Marxist idea, just think of it as one of the fundamental insights of structuralism, of which Marx was an early representative). We cannot escape our institutions, and our institutions are democratic. The free market of ideas has also yielded a free market in faiths, and since religious toleration is taken seriously in the US, competing denominations find themselves in free-for-all competition for souls. This may sound unseemly, but it is a fact of American life. This is the direction that the world, especially US society, is heading, and this is not the direction that the Republican Party is heading, and that is why the Republican Party is heading toward marginalization even in the face of regional strength.
The change that the world is experiencing in the large, and which US society is experiencing at a slightly smaller scale, is toward the diversity and fluidity of the Zeitgeist. That is to say, today’s change is toward change itself. Thus to return to our principles enunciated above, the change that the Republicans have made that is contrary to the direction in which other change is moving, is to increasingly identify themselves with an exclusive interest group of self-identified “people of faith” that excludes the diversity and fluidity identified by recent Pew Forum research. The change that the Republicans have failed to make is to develop an inclusive mechanism for accommodating diversity and fluidity. This can still be done, but there is no sign yet that it is being done or will be done The question is not, “Can the Republicans reinvent themselves?” but rather, “Are the Republicans willing to reinvent themselves?”
. . . . .
. . . . .
. . . . .