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Will the Big Tent Collapse?

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By Myrhaf from Myrhaf,cross-posted by MetaBlog

The grumbles from the religious right about leaving the party if the pro-choice Giuliani is the nominee remind us that the Republican Party is a "Big Tent" of various factions -- neoconservatives, social and religious conservatives, free market Republicans -- who are united for little else than that they are not Democrats. To be more accurate, they are united in not being socialists.

The Republican Party is a union riddled with contradictions. Some Republicans want open borders; others want jackbooted police raids of illegal immigrants. Some Republicans think it's fine if gays marry; others quote the Bible and condemn homosexuals as immoral. Some Republicans want to withdraw to Fortress America; others want to pursue neoconservative nation building to spread "democracy" while a few others would like America to assert its national interest and destroy states that sponsor terrorism. A few Republican dinosaurs still long for the Goldwater days when the party seemed to be for laissez-faire capitalism; most are happy with the welfare state, they just want a bit less than the Democrats in order to pretend they're for freedom.

Compared to this the Democrats are united and orderly. All Democrats know what they want: more government. All Democrats adhere to the ideologies of the New Left -- multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism. When a Dem such as Joseph Lieberman goes off the reservation, he is scorned as a pariah. When a Democrat gently criticizes his own side, he is rebuked for giving the Republicans ammunition.

The conventional wisdom has it that the Republicans are the party with strict discipline, whereas the Democrats are chaotic. The old line goes, "I don't belong to an organized political party -- I'm a Democrat." This might be true in superficial ways, but at root the Republicans are a party full of ideological conflict and the Democrats are a party of ideological conformity. Political correctness comes from the left and is inescapable on the left. A politically incorrect Democrat is not long a Democrat; soon he becomes a neoconservative.

The Republican Big Tent is, I believe, a reaction to Marxism. When the Industrial Revolution was young, the conservatives hated it. They romanticized the middle ages and despised factories, smoke stacks, the division of labor, etc. They longed for the old order, in which everyone knew his place, when God was on his throne in Heaven and all was right in the world. J.R.R. Tolkien was such a conservative; his Shire is a happy, pre-capitalist English town, whereas Mordor is a twisted view of an industrial nation with regimentation and belching smoke stacks. The conservatives were the first enemies of capitalism.

Then came along one Karl Marx, who secularized the conservatives' arguments against capitalism and created dialectical materialism and communism. Marxism was a tremendous success that spread like wildfire through the west. The conservatives had no choice but to band together with their enemy, the pro-capitalist liberals, against their greater enemy the socialists. In America the anti-socialist party accepted the term conservative and gave up liberal, which was immediately claimed by the socialists.

By the mid-20th century it was obvious to all but those blinded by Marxist ideology that capitalism worked and communism did not. The 20th century was a long series of laboratory experiments demonstrating capitalism's productiveness: where people were free, they thrived; where people were not free, they were poor.

Capitalism's productivity presented a problem to the anti-capitalist left. The Old Left's claims of outperforming capitalism because the communists had a planned economy were nothing but a joke by mid-century. They solved the problem by finding an ideology that held productivity itself to be bad. Thus was environmentalism born. Scientific socialism could be thrown overboard -- or at least put on the back burner -- as long as the left could continue pursuing the destruction of capitalism. The left is essentially nihilist: what replaces capitalism is not as important as its destruction.

Capitalism also presents a problem to the religious conservatives -- a problem they are still struggling with and have yet to resolve. Religion upholds the morality of altruism, the idea that the strong must sacrifice for the weak. Capitalism is plainly based on selfishness and greed, what Jefferson called the pursuit of happiness. If one adheres to the morality of altruism consistently, one is led to support the welfare state with the Democrats. This is a contradiction the religious right must resolve.

But the contradictions between capitalism and mysticism go even deeper. If Augustine could be resurrected and set down in midtown Manhattan, his mind would be horrified once he understood what he saw. He would be repulsed by a civilization that is focused on pursuing happiness in this Satanic realm of existence instead of focusing on the Kingdom of God that one enters after death. He would hate a civilization that values science and reason more than blind faith. Modern Christians have been able to evade or plaster over these contradictions so far, but crises have a way of forcing one to act in accordance with what he really believes. Will future crises tear the Republican Big Tent apart?

It might be a testament to the Republicans' vaunted party discipline that the coalition of religionists, individualists, country clubbers and others has held together so well. Or perhaps it is the way a two-party system works: factions are forced by their greater enemy to come together with lesser enemies. Currently, there are calls for James Dobson and the religious conservatives to support Giuliani in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in '08.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the Republicans' Big Tent will be the spread of Objectivism in American culture. At some point, when a large enough percentage of Americans believes that selfishness is a virtue, the religious right will be galvanized into choosing what they really believe. They will have to decide between religion and capitalism. I believe they will choose religion and forge an alliance with the anti-capitalist left. The mystics will be happier then without having to pretend they value freedom. For the first time in several centuries the conservatives will be home again where they should be -- on the side that opposes capitalism.

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This gets at one of the arguments for a more parliamentary system with a greater number of parties.

If I'm (say) more fiscally conservative but pro-choice, I'm faced with the dilemma of voting fiscal policy with the Republicans and risking pro-life policy or voting pro-choice and risking liberal fiscal policy.

If it was (say) a parliamentary system with 3 parties (for simplicity) I could vote for party X which (hypothetically) agrees with me, and votes with the Republicans on fiscal issues and with the Democrats for pro-choice issues.

The problem with the two-party system is these big tents and this linking of certain policies together requiring a voter to buy the "package deal" as it were.

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Myrhaf, I noticed until a short while ago, your writing was rather inconsistent (in terms of how often you wrote; not in terms of quality). I enjoy reading your blog and am happy to see you producing more of these. I always love your literary analogies and strive to have your comptency in mingling themes - not just of fiction, but of historical events - amongst one another, drawing out the connections and showing the overarching factors behind events.

I especially liked your explanation of the Anti-industrialist in terms of one longing for the shire. So very true. :)

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Michael, Tenure, thanks. I'm glad you liked this one and I'm glad my posts get wider exposure here on Objectivism Online.

Punk, IIRC, Henry Hazlitt thought America would be better off with a parliamentary system so that a pure laissez-faire capitalist party could exist. Of course, in today's culture there's no guarantee it wouldn't end up being a joke like the Libertarian Party.

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Michael, Tenure, thanks. I'm glad you liked this one and I'm glad my posts get wider exposure here on Objectivism Online.

Punk, IIRC, Henry Hazlitt thought America would be better off with a parliamentary system so that a pure laissez-faire capitalist party could exist. Of course, in today's culture there's no guarantee it wouldn't end up being a joke like the Libertarian Party.

There are no guarantees of much in real life.

One could argue that the present system has become something of a joke.

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If it was (say) a parliamentary system with 3 parties (for simplicity) I could vote for party X which (hypothetically) agrees with me, and votes with the Republicans on fiscal issues and with the Democrats for pro-choice issues.

Well, there are 3 parties here in England, but none of them ever agrees with me. All of them are for the welfare state, multiculturalism, and of course for the Ultimate Sacrament and Mankind's Highest Purpose in Life: the environment.

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You're telling me! I've got to vote next year, if Brown still believes in voting *cough* EU Constitution *cough*. Ooh, excuse me. Got a bit of a cold. Hopefully I'll be out of the country at the time, and I can abstain from having to make the choice to pick the lesser of three evils.

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