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Max Blumenthal: The history of modern conservatism starts with R.J. Rushdoony

Max Blumenthal launched his journalistic career with an award-winning exposé of the deaths of hundreds of young women in the Mexican border city of Juárez. More recently, he has specialized in studying and reporting on the religious right and their relationship with the Republican Party. His newly released best-selling book,Republican Gomorrah,is a thorough study of the figures who populate the religious right and who have developed its powerful influence on Republican politics. I put six questions to Max Blumenthal about his new book.

1. You open your first chapter with a portrait of R.J. Rushdoony, the son of survivors of the Armenian genocide, who devoted his life to a socially conservative vision of Calvinism that sees the United States as a political extension of that religion. What led you to pick a fairly exotic figure like Rushdoony as a starting point for your account, when most students of the religious right in America would put the Southern Baptists at the movement’s heart?

Max Blumenthal

Rushdoony’s tomes advocating the replacement of America’s constitutional democracy with a theocracy based on Leviticus case law–under which disobedient children, witches, adulterers, abortion doctors, and blasphemers would be executed–provided the antecedents of the Christian right with a blueprint for the government it hoped to establish. Rushdoony’s vision of the church supplanting government functions like healthcare and schooling, a system he called Christian Reconstructionism, also influenced the rise of right-wing libertarianism.

Bush faith-based initiatives guru Marvin Olasky referenced Rushdoony in some his early writings. Olasky was clearly influenced by the libertarian undercurrents of Christian Reconstructionism. Rushdoony’s greatest financial angel was another libertarian: Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a reclusive far-right businessman and the son of one of Southern California’s most renowned philanthropists. As I report in my book, Rushdoony became Ahmanson’s surrogate father after he inherited $300 million dollars at age 18, then went crazy, spending two years in a mental institution. In return, Ahmanson funded Rushdoony’s think tank as well as initiatives from Intelligent Design to California’s anti-gay Prop 8 that have advanced his dream of American theocracy.

Rushdoony is also important because of his influence on Francis Schaeffer. During the 1960’s, Schaeffer became an icon of the Jesus Freak movement, operating a Christian hippy commune in the Swiss Alps. He counted LSD guru Timothy Leary as a friend, and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was sighted with a copy of one of Schaeffer’s books in his back pocket.

After Roe v. Wade, Schaeffer became convinced the government had legalized infanticide. He was radicalized almost overnight and began churning out polemics urging evangelicals to use “force in the defensive posture,” a watchword for domestic terrorism, to stop abortion. While Rushdoony provided the Christian right with its governmental blueprint, Schaeffer offered it the political strategy–organizing against abortion–it required to attack America’s secular underpinnings, including the moderate Republican establishment. It’s important to remember that prior to Schaeffer, right-wing evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell were fixated on stopping the racial integration of their so-called “private Christian schools.”...

Read entire article at Scott Horton in Harper's