Michael Lind has an interesting political analysis up at Salon.com on the three fundamentalisms that nowadays mark the Republican right: Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism. I think this is a way of putting things that is largely correct. The Republican Party is now so far removed from any other political party in the Western world that it can only be described in these terms.
It does not explain, however, the seeming contradictions in this fundamentalist philosophy; for example, how can you adhere to a hardcore market fundamentalism along the lines of Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, and at the same time claim to be a Bible-following Christian? After all, the teachings of Christ have nothing to do with considering selfishness a virtue. Rand, who along with God and the Founding Fathers is always named the greatest inspiration for every Republican presidential candidate, herself proclaimed to be anti-Christian in her ‘thinking’.
Lind also shows how the intellectual project of re-constituting a moderate conservatism as a political ideology in the 1960s led, by and large propelled by the rise of evangelical Protestantism and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, to the extremist fundamentalism that nowadays marks the Republican Party. All of the hallmarks of Biblical, constitutional and market fundamentalism can be found, for example, in the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
What I’m worried about (as if the adherence to a triple fundamentalism by one of the world’s two most important political parties is not frightening enough) is the emergence of a similar kind of orthodoxy emerging in the Netherlands today. Whereas the Dutch polity used to be marked by agreement across the political spectrum on such issues as the multicultural society (in hindsight perhaps a bit too much consensus in that respect), political equality, tolerance for differences and care for weaker groups in society, the governing coalition nowadays seems to converge ideologically to adherence to a monocultural society, treating people with non-Dutch backgrounds as second-class citizens, and implementing a by European standards pretty hardcore market fundamentalism.
In other words: rightwing orthodoxy in Europe, at least in the Netherlands, is intensifying and growing more extreme just like it has in the US. The question is how those still believing in political equality, a rights-based citizenship, and a market tempered by government interference can defend themselves in an increasingly hostile climate, in which such very basic and once universally accepted notions are painted ‘elitist’.
Anyway, here’s Lind’s piece:
In contradiction to the hostility to Darwinism shared by many of its constituents, the American right is evolving rapidly before our eyes. The project of creating an American version of Burkean conservatism has collapsed. What has replaced it is best described as triple fundamentalism — a synthesis of Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
Following World War II, the American right was a miscellany of marginal, embittered subcultures — anti-New Dealers, isolationists, paranoid anticommunists, anti-semites and white supremacists. Russell Kirk and others associated with William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review sought to Americanize a version of high-toned British Burkean conservatism. While the eighteenth century British parliamentarian was embraced by conservatives for his opposition to the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, a champion of the rights of Britain’s Indian, Irish and American subjects, could also be claimed by liberals like Yale Law School’s Alexander Bickel, who preferred gradual, cautious reform to radical social experimentation. In its liberal as in its conservative forms, Burkeanism disdains reaction and radicalism alike, and favors change in lesser things when necessary to maintain the continuity of more fundamental institutions and values.
The religious equivalent of Burkean politics is orthodoxy, not fundamentalism. Orthodoxy means the continuity of a tradition, as interpreted by an authoritative body of experts, such as priests, rabbis or mullahs. The term “fundamentalism” originated in the early twentieth century as a description of reactionary evangelical Protestants in the U.S. who rejected liberal Protestantism and modern evolutionary science and insisted on the inerrancy of the Bible. The phrase is nowadays applied indiscriminately and often inaccurately to various religious movements, some of which, in the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions are better described as ultra-orthodox.
The increasingly-Southernized American Right has transferred the fundamentalist Protestant mentality from the sphere of religion to the spheres of law and the economy. Protestant fundamentalism is now joined by constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
In all three cases, the pattern is the same. There is the eternal Truth that never varies — the will of God, the principles of the Founding Fathers, the so-called laws of the free market. There are the scriptures which explain the eternal truths — the King James Bible, in the case of religious fundamentalism, the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, in the case of constitutional fundamentalism, and Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in the case of market fundamentalism (The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand can be substituted for Hayek, on request).
“There’s only one book you ever need to read,” a Bible-believin’ Texan Baptist once assured me. He was two books short of a populist conservative bookshelf. But in the age of post-intellectual, fundamentalist conservatism, three books are sufficient to make anyone the equal of the most erudite intellectual. The books need not actually be read, and for the most part probably are not; it is enough, in argument, to thump the Bible, and to thump “The Road to Serfdom” and “Atlas Shrugged,” too.
Modern American market fundamentalism, too, is recognizably modeled on the fundamentalist Protestant version of church history, even though market fundamentalists need not be Christian conservatives. Ignoring the long history of tariffs, land grants, military procurement and mixed public-private corporations in the United States, the market fundamentalists pretend that the U.S. was governed by the laws of the market until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal replaced capitalism with socialism (or statism, or fascism, or whatever Amity Shlaes or Jonah Goldberg want to call it). Russell Kirk wrote that any true conservative would be a socialist before he would be a libertarian. But then he was a Burkean High Church conservative.
The rise of triple fundamentalism on the American right creates a crisis of political discourse in the United States. Back when conservatism was orthodox and traditional, rather than fundamentalist and counter-revolutionary, conservatives could engage in friendly debates with liberals, and minds on both sides could now and then be changed. But if your sect alone understands the True Religion and the True Constitution and the Laws of the Market, then there is no point in debate. All those who disagree with you are heretics, to be defeated, whether or not they are converted.
For their part, progressives have no idea of how to respond to the emergent right’s triple fundamentalism. Today it is the left, not the right, that is Burkean in America. Modern American liberalism is disillusioned, to the point of defeatism, by the frustration of the utopian hopes of 1960s liberalism in the Age of Reagan that followed and has not yet ended. Today it is liberals, not conservatives, who tend to be cautious and incremental and skeptical to a fault about the prospects for reform, while it is the right that wants to blow up the U.S. economy and start all over, on the basis of the doctrines of two Austrian professors and a Russian émigré novelist.