Magazine article The American Conservative

State Religion

Magazine article The American Conservative

State Religion

Article excerpt

[American idol]

Democratism allows its acolytes to claim infallibility and purge heretics. How was Bush converted?

FOR GENERATIONS many among our Western elites have disbelieved in a God who is Creator and Judge of mankind. And like the Israelites at the foot of Sinai who created a golden calf to worship, modern man creates his own golden calves.

Ideology is modernity's golden calf-our substitute for religious faith. Russell Kirk called it "a dogmatic political theory which is an endeavor to substitute secular goals and doctrines for religious goals and doctrines."

Ideologies are created by men of words to explain the world to come, in which they will carry the lamps, lead the way, and enjoy the prestige and power of the priestly class to be displaced. For deracinated intellectuals, ideology holds an irresistible attraction, for it both offers an explanation of how the world works and satisfies the lust for power. As Raymond Aron wrote in Opium of the Intellectuals, "When the intellectual feels no longer attached either to the community or the religion of his forbears, he looks to progressive ideology to fill the vacuum."

In The Drug of Ideology, Kirk defined what ideology was, and what it was not:

'Ideology' does not mean political theory or principle, even though many journalists and some professors commonly employ the term in that sense. Ideology really means political fanaticism-and, more precisely, the belief that this world of ours can be converted into a Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning.

Kirk deplored "democratism," the ideology of the neoconservatives who attached themselves to the party of Reagan. He considered them "often clever... never wise."

An instance of this lack of wisdom is the Neoconservatives' infatuation with ideology. Ideology ... is political fanaticism: at best, it is the substitution of slogans for real political thought. Ideology animates, in George Orwell's phrase, 'the streamlined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets.'

The neoconservatives' ambition to create "an American ideology" was to Kirk a "puerile infatuation." Yet it was not unsuccessful. For it was the conversion of George W Bush to neoconservative ideology that took America into the war that destroyed his presidency and brought an end to the American Century.

In every American war, our leaders have invoked higher and nobler ends to persuade the people to sacrifice and to sanctify the cause. Almost always, it is an ex post facto sanctification. Wars begun for national interests are said to be fought for universal principles.

The Revolution was fought to rid us of British rule. To justify what Parliament and King called treason, Jefferson sought to embed the rebellion in the larger cause of freedom and equality for all men. Though a slaveholder who thought a "natural aristocracy" was born to rule, Jefferson wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."

From London, Dr. Johnson sneered, "[H]ow is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" On Johnson's death, the chief beneficiary in his will was his ex-slave. Yet Jefferson, from the way he lived his life, did not truly believe his most famous lines: he did not free his slaves on his death. As Kirk wrote, "The Declaration of 1776 is simply a declaration-and a highly successful piece of immediate political propaganda; such philosophical concepts as find expression therein are so mistily expressed as to mean all things to all men, then and now."

At Gettysburg, too, Lincoln sought to ennoble the war by embedding the Union cause in the higher cause of the equality of all men: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, anew nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

But equality was not the belief of Lincoln or the policy of the nation he led. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.