God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part One: Coalitions (Revised)
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 03:39:00 PM EST
Today, many ideas, concepts, and frames of reference in modern American society are legacies of the history of Protestantism as it divided and morphed through Calvinism, revivalist evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.

Even people who see themselves as secular and not religious often unconsciously adopt many of these historic cultural legacies while thinking of their ideas as simply "common sense."

What is "common sense" for one group, however, is foolish belief for another. According to author George Lakoff, a linguist who studies the linkage between rhetoric and ideas, there is a tremendous gulf between what conservatives and liberals think of as common sense, especially when it comes to issues of moral values.

In his book Moral Politics, which has gained attention in both media and public debates, Lakoff argues that conservatives base their moral views of social policy on a "Strict Father" model, while liberals base their views on a "Nurturant Parent" model.

According to Axel R. Schaefer, there are three main ideological tendencies in U.S. social reform:

  •  Liberal/Progressive: based on changing systems and institutions to change individual behavior on a collective basis over time.

  •  Calvinist/Free Market: based on changing individual social behavior through punishment.

  •  Evangelical/Revivalist: based on born again conversion to change individual behavior, but still linked to some Calvinist ideas of punishment.

Republicans have forged a broad coalition of two of the three tendencies that involves moderately conservative Protestants who nonetheless hold some traditional Calvinist ideas:

Calvinist/Free Market advocates ranging from multinational executives to economic conservatives to libertarian ideologues; and

Evangelical/Revivalist conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists with a core mission of converting people to their particular brand of Christianity.

This is a coalition with many fracture points and disagreements.

The Calvinist/Free Market sector is already a coalition based on shared ideas about individual responsibility and successes in Free Market or Laissez Faire capitalism- sometimes called neoliberalism to trace it back to an earlier use of the term "liberal" by philosophers who opposed stringent government regulation of the economy. This is where the neoconservatives fit into the picture as sort of secular Calvinists.

Libertarians are against government economic regulations and believe in a Free Market, but libertarians generally also oppose government regulation of social matters such as gay marriage and abortion. These and other social issues, however, are central to the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists in the Republican coalition.

This can get complicated. For example the evangelical idea that it is personal conversion and salvation that will make for a more perfect society, not government programs and policies, sometimes ends up supporting (in a complementary and parallel way) the goal of libertarians and economic conservatives to reduce the size of government.

As the Bush Administration has shifted government social welfare toward "Faith-Based" programs, it has diverted government funding into privatized religious organizations (which raises serious separation of Church and State issues), but the amount of funding applied to "Faith Based" projects is small compared to the large budget cuts in previously government-funded government-run social welfare programs.

Libertarians approve of the overall budget cuts, but would prefer cutting out the government funding of "Faith Based" projects.

It's all about compromise. Coalitions unite around shared agendas, while temporarily setting aside disagreements. So if several groups share a particular worldview, that helps bind the coalition together.

Although the Christian Right is coming from a very specific religious perspective, its theology and political ideas are rooted in a common cultural context with other components of the coalition being held together by the Bush administration. To appreciate how this has happened, we need to look at the version of Calvinism brought to our shores by early settlers.


Sources:

Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford.

Frank, Thomas. 2004. What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Lakoff, George. [1996] 2002. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Schaefer, Axel R. 1999. "Evangelicalism, Social Reform and the US Welfare State, 1970-1996," pp. 249-273, in David K. Adams and Cornelius A. van Minnem, eds., Religious and Secular Reform in America: Ideas, Beliefs, and Social Change. New York: New York University Press. (I have used slightly different language to describe the sectors identified by Schaefer).


God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers
Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate
Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare
Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies
Part Six: Godlessness & Secular Humanism
Part Seven: Born Again Political Activism
Part Eight: The Child, The Family, The Nation, & the World

Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates
The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates
Chip's Blog



Display:
There's a lot of really good information and insight in this article.  It's a lot to digest in a single gulp.

Thanks for your research and work in this area.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 05:54:59 PM EST

I know I sometimes write stuff that is too dense, but I am trying to get more acessible. This one probably tried to do too much in one package.

Sigh...

The ones that follow in this series will be more focused.

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 09:04:52 AM EST
Parent

I went back and cut some of the bottom off the article and rewrote it slightly. I think it is less complicated than the original. Thanks for the feedback.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 01:52:30 PM EST
Parent


I've been using material from talk2action to teach our Interfaith Alliance group in the Capital District of NY about the breadth and reach of the religious right.  While I suggested strongly that my taskforce read this website, they still require a great deal of direction since the site assumes a good bit of prior knowledge.  I have more background than most but this is helping me to sort and organize the information, a task that was pretty daunting given the octopus like nature of religous right.  Keep giving us the information we need to take this mess on.

On February 23rd, our taskforce is going to be looking specifically at the Arlington Group. It would be extremely useful to have a grip on the current state of affairs of the Arlington Group including including the names of member groups and their representatives.  It would also be useful to have  some idea about their immediate aims.  Recognizing that it's a secretive organization, I'm appreciative of the difficulty in obtaining concrete information about them and their activities.  If this is outside your area of interest, can you suggest a goto person?

by tikkun on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 10:38:27 AM EST

Been away, sorry.

Paul Weyrich's explanation of
Arlington Group

Good summary of what's up in Washington, D.C.:
"Power Play," Resurgent Religious Right Ready To Push Theocratic Agenda In Upcoming Congress," by Rob Boston, AUSCS.

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:41:04 AM EST
Parent



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