On Factionalism and the Religious Right.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Aug 19, 2007 at 11:58:32 AM EST
I originally posted this piece this past March. Since it is a topic I will soon be returning to in greater depth, here it is again. Next week I will be on vacation; the column will resume in two weeks.

In last week's piece I discussed the need to refute the myth of Liberal religious intolerance -- a bit of gasoline that the Religious Right and friendly demagogues in the media like to pour on the fires of the culture war.  It certainly makes even the most mundane of skirmishes, real or imagined -- more exciting.

But what is the Religious Right truly after? Simple: it is the shameless pursuit of factionalism. Indeed, neoconservatives and their cheering section at the Institute on Religion and Democracy have mastered this technique to great effect. By inflaming religious emotions to a level of faction, they employ a device that has the power to destroy representative democracies such as our own.

By now most of us are familiar with the Institute on Religion and Democracy; who funds, it and who runs it.  And it is no small accident that these funders would economically benefit if the mainstream Protestant faiths were to either abandon their historic Social Gospel mission or were rendered unable to advocate for it due to internal dysfunction and schism.  The same holds true within the Catholic Church whose principles of distributive justice are being eviscerated from the inside by those wearing the disguise of orthodoxy.  The processes are different, but many of the results are the same.

What exactly is factionalism? James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 10, offered this definition:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Further down, Madison expounded on the causes of factionalism:

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

In his book Passions and Constraint, the author and Liberal law professor Dr. Stephen Holmes has written, "Faction is a third alternative between the private individual and the community as a whole." A bit further on he explains, "Factions are not mere interest groups. They galvanize behavior that is simultaneously selfless and unspeakably vicious towards others."(i)

Contemporary liberals, focused on a dichotomy of self-interest versus altruism often miss the importance of emotional attachements, and too often assume that all those on the Religious Right--followers as well as leaders--are acting primarily out of a sense of self-interest,  personal advantage, or pecuniary gain. But we cannot afford to miss the forest of what gives the Religious Right its power as well as how its leadership -- for those trees.

Factionalism does not arise out of the Enlightenment ideals of reason or the pursuit of rational self-interest (as opposed to the unfettered laissez-faire self-interest favored by conservatives and those further Right).  Instead, it rears its ugly, destructive head when unchecked emotion controls group actions. Hume, noting in his essay Of Parties, in General observed how it is driven by very arbitrary emotions spur of the moment affinities. Once more, Holmes vividly illustrates the critical roles played by affections, the human tendency to copy others and something he describes as "selfless cruelty:"

It is easier to be cruel, on a large scale when you act in the names of others, or in the name of an ideal, or even for the benefit of your victim, than when you act for your own sake. Blood revenge for a humiliation suffered by one's ascriptive group, even at the risk of one's own life, is a glaring example. Think also of those Catholic zealots in medieval France, described by Montesquieu, who rushed onto the scaffold where a Jew was about to be executed for having blasphemed the Virgin Mary: they subdued the public executioner and used their own knives to peel away slowly the sinner's skin, They were not acting from egotistical or mercenary motives, but for the common good-as they saw it. Again, the egoism dichotomy is of no help here; neither bargain hunting nor gentle benevolence was involved, Nonselfish, but nonetheless sickenly murderous behavior abounds in history. It is not marginal, but massively important. This surely the way it appeared to those living in the wake of Europe's religious civil wars."(ii)

Holmes, again observing of David Hume, tells us of the different aims of various factions, all-dependent upon what teach one hopes to accomplish:

On this basis, he (Hume) then distinguishes among factions based on economic interest, factions based on attachment to a person, and factions based on abstract principles such as theological dogma or the divine character of royalty. If we wanted to generalize, we could say that Hume here identifies three independent and mutually irreducible factors that exert casual force upon human: interests, passions and norms.

The potential for faction's divisiveness was such a great cause of concern for classical liberal thinkers such as Hume, Montesquieu, Hamilton, and Madison to express concern over. They fully understood that its spread had brought down governments past--just as it has the power to do with ours. Understanding the danger factions represent, the Founders sought to make our federal system sturdy enough to contain and withstand them. Knowing that it cannot be eliminated, Madison sought to contain it through devices such as Article VI of the U.S. Constitution's ban on religious tests "...as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" as well as the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Why is this important? Because it explains how well-meaning individuals can have their emotions manipulated to achieve goals by those who coolly calculate such affections and responses. As Holmes concludes of Hume, "...within a single group, such as a religious sect or movement, Hume tends to correlate different motives with different roles-so that leaders and elites are ordinarily motivated by calculating interest while followers are usually motivated by non-calculating principle or effect."

Thus, the IRD as well as other Religious Right groups and individuals are able to get their followers to work against their own rational self-interest in a way that furthers the interests of elites who both run and finance their organizations. And how they do it is a lesson in factionalism; all done so with the aim of diminishing the Constitutional safeguards for minorities as well as the aggregate majority.

Since being defanged by the New Deal and its successors, the Right has sought to get middle class and working poor Americans to vote against candidates who support fairer wages, better healthcare and a cleaner environment--all policies that would require increased, but still proportionate contribution to the common good from those with superfluous wealth. Over time, perhaps by looking at the past experiences of a William Jennings Bryan, they came to understand that while people can be economically liberal, they can be simultaneously religiously conservative. More importantly, they realized--as the Scopes Monkey Trial revealed, for example-that faith-based emotions can be overwhelming. The key then was to manipulate those passions.

As we have seen, the IRD specializes in using schism to weaken the mainline Protestant denominations. Along with other Religious Right organizations, phony wars on Christmas and other greatly exaggerated or completely imaginary Liberal hostilities towards Christianity are conjured up with increasing regularity, simply because it must be diminished in the eyes of ordinary Americas.

It is part of a broad effort to demonize Liberalism which, from the New Freedom to the New Deal to the Great Society and beyond -- have stood in the way of powerful interests bent on pursuit of economic and foreign policies of dubious value (at best) to the vast majority. If Liberalism can be defined as ungodly, sinful and of course, unChristian, then certain elites can better have their way.

If Liberalism is to refute these hypocrites, we must complete two important tasks. First, those on the Religious Right who shamelessly use faction must be exposed for the charlatans that they truly are. This means pulling the curtain back to expose their ultimate pecuniary interest--interests that in fact work against the aggregate public good.

But more importantly we must show the American people that in pursuing factionalism for personal gain, they are they very people our Founders feared and warned us about.


 i Passions and Constraint, page 49.

ii Ibid, Page 48

Over the last few days I've been reading many of historian Garry Wills' columns on both government and the Religious Right. In a column he wrote for The New York Review of Books back in 2005 entitled Fringe Government, Wills made this keen observation:

Most people favor sensible controls on guns, but the [Bush] administration goes with the NRA extremists who think that any regulation of even the most exotic weapons would spell the elimination of all guns from American life. Most people are opposed to private accounts instead of Social Security, but the administration follows its free-market purists. A majority would vote to support the Geneva Conventions, but the administration secretly overrides them and then tries to cover up its actions. If the administration depended on only one set of extremists, it could not prevail over the general consensus; but it weaves together a chain of extremisms encircling the polity, each upholding the others, forming a necklace to choke the large body of citizens. Grover Norquist explained the strategy of governing by extremist groups to John Cassidy of The New Yorker (August 1[2005]):
If you want the votes of people who are [simultaneously] good on guns, good on taxes, and good on faith issues, that is a very small intersection of voters. But if you say, Give me the votes of anybody who agrees with you on any of these issues, that is a much bigger section of the population.... And if you add more things, like property rights and home-schooling, you can do even better.

If religious extremism is only one large set of bodies in this fringe constellation, it is a powerful one. That is why federal agencies reject scientific reports on ecological, stem cell, contraceptive, and abortion issues. They sponsor not only faith-based social relief, but faith-based war, faith-based science, faith-based education, and faith-based medicine. Other administrations would be embarrassed by a high defense official who could say what General William ("Jerry") Boykin did of the 2000 election. Standing before a church audience in full military uniform, he said:
Now ask yourself this. Why is this man [George W. Bush] in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? I tell you this morning he's in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world in such a time as this.

There could not be a better statement of the view that the moral minority has to prevail over the lackadaisical majority.

And that is why understanding how factions can destroy a democracy truly matters.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Aug 19, 2007 at 12:25:34 PM EST

I have read Garry Wills for a long time now. He got his start as a commentator for National Review (back when it was run by William F. Buckley) but he eventually migrated toward political liberalism. He is keen observer of both religious and civil politics, and I especially liked "Why I Am A Catholic" and "Papal Sin."


by khughes1963 on Sun Aug 19, 2007 at 05:23:51 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (374 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (198 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (111 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (101 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (113 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (144 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (126 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (118 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (250 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (64 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (161 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (176 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (70 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (80 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (218 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (253 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (107 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (211 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (165 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (163 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (169 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (165 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (130 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (330 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (148 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (90 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (214 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.