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Category: American Culture
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In response to "An Okie Gardener's" excellent post, President Bush's Millennial Theology, "Tocqueville" (our contemporary BB contributor) posted a link to an article that also enhances our on-going discussion of why Reagan's conservative coalition is in danger.

The essay, "The Conservative Movement Dragged Down" (by Bruce Bartlett, an architect of the conservative jihad against President Bush), deserves a closer look, especially the following thought:

Citing Jeffrey Hart (who cites Wilfred McClay), Bartlett connects Bush's dissonance with historical conservatism to the President's evangelical Christianity, which, "by its very nature," says McClay, "has an uneasy relationship with conservatism" (McClay, from an Ethics and Public Policy Center conference, "American Culture and the Presidency," Washington, 23 February 2005).

[E]vangelism emphasizes the personal relationship between man and God, disconnected from doctrine and tradition. In short, it is diametrically opposed to the Catholic vision of Christianity, which many conservatives view as being much more compatible with the nature of philosophical conservatism because it is anchored in doctrine and tradition.

Consequently, Bush is too easily able to invoke God in support of whatever he has decided to do. To evangelicals, his understanding of God's word is as good as anyone else's, and so he is perfectly entitled to do so. They view the depth of his belief as the principal determinant of the genuineness of his vision, not whether it is well grounded in a proper understanding of biblical principles, logic and history.

FYI: I heartily recommend the McClay lecture, which is incredibly instructive on the evangelical impulse in American history and more sympathetic than Bartlett to the President, while noting that "evangelical conservatism" poses serious pitfalls as well as "political strengths."
Category: American Culture
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
For a review of the earlier Wal-Mart discussions:
"I like Wal-Mart"
and "More Wal-Mart and Crunchy Conservatism."

Hat tip to Tocqueville for sending this provocative piece from the American Spectator, by Mark Gauvreau Judge, "Right-Wingtips Revisited," which speaks to the conservative article of faith that "there are objective standards of beauty."

From the essay:

I believe that there are objective standards of beauty. Furthermore, the man who respects them respects God. As theologians from Hans Urs von Balthasar to Pope Benedict XVI have explored, there is a correlation between beauty -- objective beauty -- and the divine. Beauty causes in us a certain reaction, a quickening of the soul and senses, that make us believe that we are in the presence -- or near the presence -- of the eternal and unchanging.

Beauty is a kind of window, or rather a hint, of the hereafter. I believe that as our culture has become more secular, we have forgotten God as the inspiration to do anything. Either that, or we have so fully bought into the idea of Christ as a downtrodden, beaten, squishy soft liberal who ate with whores and beggars that we have forsaken the idea that he may have also looked, well, beautiful. Objectively beautiful.

Judge also presents the other side of the argument:
But of course, Christ transcended the traditional idea of beauty -- even as he can also embody it. Beauty was now not only an objective aesthetic standard but is represented in the love that goes "to the very end" -- through derision, humiliation, hatred and torture. This beauty, as Benedict writes, "proves to be mightier than falsehood and violence." It is the how the beautiful "received a new depth and a new realism."

But Judge concludes that:
...this did not mean that objective standards of beauty were abolished. This, sadly, is a fact that has been forgotten in our culture, and in much of conservatism.

Yes, Christ wore simple clothes -- but I'd be willing to wager that he was the most physically beautiful human who ever lived, and that He can be found more in Mozart than in rap. We on the right should not be so blinded by reverse snobbery or false ACLU populism that we shrink from being the best.

This piece, which represents a thoughtful strain of neo-traditionalist conservatism, may show the impossibility of holding together the late-twentieth century conservative coalition. American conservatism must be distinctly American to thrive.

Ronald Reagan was arguably the "most physically beautiful human" to be president of the United States, but he fails the white-glove test when it comes to this definition of high culture. Can a Medieval conservatism, with its foundation in Old World Catholicism and Renaissance art and Greek philosophy, ever be more than a minority position in the United States?

That is, can a school of thought that rejects populism, evangelicalism, democracy and Wal-Mart ever overcome the charge of "snobbery" (to use Judge's phrase) and win favor with the most democratic people on the face of the earth? Or is that the thrust of all this? Is this merely political suicide on the part of an element of conservatism that would rather be right than win elections? Would rather be clean than dirty? Would rather be voices crying in the wilderness than face the degradation of pulling levers of power in a world in which the best decision is often the lesser of two evils?

Also, Judge's original "Right-Wingtips," which begins with an attack on the artistry of Gretchen Wilson and in which Judge labels himself a "conservative metrosexual" (and coins the term "metro-con"), is well worth reading.

In the name of full disclosure: I am a big Gretchen Wilson fan.

And last but definitely not least, the reaction piece to the original Judge article from J.R. Dunn in The American Thinker is brilliant and well worth your time. Here is a brief excerpt:

The other thing that leaps from these proposals is their elitism. Both essays [refers to Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Cons" as the other one] make large play of Wal-Mart and the kind of people who shop there. I don’t think I have to explain what’s wrong with this. Conservatism emerged from cult status in the mid-60s by embracing the common values of this country. Either of these proposals would collapse it back into culthood so fast you’d never hear the bang.

Category: American Culture
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A lot of good points are being made on the Wal-Mart thread. Let me highlight a solution-oriented post from Tocqueville:

"So what do we do? Well, we must strike a balance between respect for private property rights and our other values. How? On the one hand, government should not legislate against Wal-Mart and its ilk (although Japan has sucessfully done this). On the other hand, government should certainly not subsidize Wal-Mart through zoning or tax breaks. Wal-Mart’s a big boy, so to speak, who can take care of itself. We ought to let it compete in a truly free market. And those of us with a bully pulpit ought to use it to encourage Wal-Mart to become a better neighbor and citizen."

That is a moderate and thoughtful response to what is a real and serious problem. Well done.

Also, FYI, Godspy (click here) offers a nice interview with Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons, wherein he is allowed enough space to explain the crunchy con philosophy in some depth. The site also offers a nice set of sidebars with crunchy-con related links.

Also, let me recap my two main points in re Wal-Mart:

1. Wal-Mart may be ugly on many levels, but for folks for whom a few pennies per item add up to something significant at the end of the day, Wal-Mart is a life rope. We can rail against the disease of which Wal-Mart is a symptom, but we need to acknowledge that right now Wal-Mart is extremely important to a large segment of the population whom we do not consider often or understand very well.

2. Generally, I tend to like the people shopping inside of Wal-Mart better than the ones who are outside boycotting. I enjoy meeting America in Wal-Mart.
Yes. I confess. I like Wal-Mart. Not because I reject the widely held belief that Wal-Mart is an essential element in the decay of American manufacturing, labor and popular culture. For the most part, I agree with all those assertions. Wal-Mart helped kill Marlin, Texas. Wal-Mart helps Asian despots exploit their populace. Wal-Mart is unfair to authors and artists. Yes. All those things and more (for an NPR discussion of the "Wal-Mart Effect," click here).

Perhaps old habits die hard. A few years back, when I was in the customer service business, Sam Walton was our guru and Wal-Mart was the standard. Back then you could walk into any Wal-Mart, USA and ask for the motor oil in the home and garden section and the Wal-Mart employee would smile at you and assure you that any rational person could have made that mistake and graciously lead you to the automotive section and deposit you in front of the motor oil. “Here you are, sir,” he would say, “forty-eight different brands to choose from. Give me a yell if there is anything more I can do to help.”

Also, Wal-Mart was the place to meet people in your community. In those days, if you stayed in one place in the Wal-Mart long enough, you would eventually encounter everyone you knew.

Today Wal-Mart is a different place with a different ethos. Sam Walton is dead. It has been many years since I have found an employee in Wal-Mart sensitive to serving customer needs or knowledgable of the store inventory.

Wal-Mart as a public space has changed as well. I never see my liberal friends in Wal-Mart anymore. Staying out of Wal-Mart has become a liberal badge of honor; being seen in Wal-Mart is a source of grave embarrassment. And it is not just socially conscious liberals. Green Conservatives (or “Crunchy Cons”) are increasingly critical and judgmental of Wal-Mart, seeing the massive corporation as the symbol of soulless and destructive hyper-consumerism.

Today only the market-oriented, Wall Street Journal types seem likely to defend Wal-Mart, although I seldom see those people in the store either. Perhaps we would expect to see some neo-cons buying maps of Iraq and Syria or the latest Harry Potter book or DVD, but they seem to be staying away as well.

And that is part of the charm of Wal-Mart today. Wal-Mart has been abandoned by the elites. Once it was kind of hip and trendy for wealthy people to go to Wal-Mart. Now conscientious liberals and "crunchy" conservatives, who are prepared to pay $39.99 at upscale department stores for miniature sport shirts for their toddling children, stay away from Wal-Mart for humanitarian reasons, where working-class people of varying colors buy entire wardrobes of clothes for their children at affordable prices.

The People have taken back Wal-Mart. There is no risk of running into a upwardly mobile executive in a hurry or an obnoxious parent from your child’s private school or a self-important colleague with a new theory. Those folks are gone. Now at Wal-Mart it is just you and the real people of “fly-over” America. Vive Wal-Mart as sanctuary!