Is the Right Now Post-Religious? If Only!Roundup
tags: conservatism, far right, secularism, religious right
Jacques Berlinerblau is a professor at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He has written many scholarly books and articles on secularism, including How to be Secular (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and the recently released Secularism: The Basics (Routledge).
In the United States we are experiencing not a culture war, but something more like a culture Armageddon. I need not illustrate with too many examples. Just click on The New York Times’ homepage (about which more anon) to see where we are headed. What I will say is that it would be prudent not to judiciously give ‘both sides’ of this conflict between Left and Right; there is little merit in casting our national malaise as a standoff between two evenly matched, and equally reasonable (or unreasonable) belligerents.
This time-honoured – and under normal circumstances otherwise eminently reasonable – pose of ‘neutrality’ must be abandoned. This is because such an approach cannot account for the fact that American conservatism is convulsing and coming apart. A large swathe of its adherents are embracing the Alt-Right, White Christian Nationalism, Catholic Integralism and other overlapping species of authoritarian-friendly worldview. For such movements, violence, as we learned on 6th January 2021, is part of the playbook.
The freethinking community in the United States and beyond has a vested interest in paying very close attention to this development. For if there is one thing that adherents of all these worldviews dislike, rather passionately, it is ‘secularism’. No matter how the term is defined (see below), the S-word is correlated in these quarters with the Fall of Man, an affront to God, elitism, corruption, sin, contumely and rapine.
Which is why a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, ‘What Comes After the Religious Right?’, piqued my curiosity. Its author, a twenty-three year old hard-Right pundit affiliated with The National Review named Nate Hochman, forecasts the rise of ‘secular conservatives’ in the Republican Party. Growing numbers of Americans, he notes, are claiming no religious affiliation. A healthy share of these ‘Nones’, he contends, are attracted to current Republican policies. The ascent of these ‘barstool conservatives’, or ‘Middle American radicals’, as he refers to them, will lessen Christian Conservative power within the GOP, but ultimately broaden the right-wing electorate in the long run. All the better to check the ‘totalitarian’, ‘authoritarian’ ‘insanity’ of the Left.
Hochman thus adds his name to the long list of those who have predicted the imminent demise of the Christian Right. Whether he is correct about that is of less interest than his assertions about an ascendant conservative secularism. Having studied secular political systems for decades, I would argue that the claim is misleading and unpersuasive.
What is useful about Hochman’s argument is his willingness to decouple secularism from liberalism. It is essential to recall that distinct concepts like ‘secular’, ‘secularism’, ‘secularisation’ and ‘secularity’ are invoked in a bewildering variety of ways in public discourse. Hochman toggles between many of these definitions without any sense of the distinctions.
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