Ever since Jonah Goldberg pegged us for the fascists we are, we liberals have needed a new rhetorical cudgel. And we may have found one — Dominionist. Essentially, it refers to an evangelical Protestant who believes that God’s law — that is, Old Testament law — should be the law of the land, and that the task of enforcing it, along with the attendant privileges, should fall exclusively to evangelical Protestants.
Ever since Michele Bachmann surged into the front rank of GOP contenders, she has been forced to contend with the label. It could undo her. As Christopher Hitchens points out, Rick Perry, for al his godly bluster, can at times look like a pragmatist, whereas “[Bachmann's] religious positions are so weird, and so weirdly held, that they have already made her look like a crackpot.” Hitchens doesn’t actually drop the D-bomb, but it would seem to represent the sum of his thoughts.
This may be, like so much in politics, unjust. In Patheos, Douglas Groothius makes a good case that Bachmann’s no big-D Dominionist, just a very religious person who’s very conservative. Francis Schaeffer, the theologian she admires most, denounced the imposition of biblical law as “insanity,” and categorically rejected violence. He had so little regard for the thinking of Rousas John Rushdoony, who first articulated the notion of a biblically governed society, that “The name ‘Rushdoony’ does not even appear in the index of Schaeffer’s five-volume collected works.”
Groothius seems very knowledgeable about such things, so I’ll take his word and add, parenthetically, “Whew!” But in a way, whether Bachmann’s a Dominionist or a reconstructionist (the term Rushdoony himself preferred) is beside the point. These are not normal times. With a number of states legalizing gay marriage, and the White House putting an end to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, people of faith are feeling pushed. Now that the free-falling economy has put the nation in an apocalyptic mood, they are feeling emboldened to push back harder on more fronts than ever before. Sarah Palin, whom many took for a wingnut, felt obliged to tell reporters that certain people in her family supported civil unions for gay couples; Bachmann goes the full monty in the other direction and preaches that homosexuality is a choice. Even if she does, finally, prove too zealous for the nation, it’s amazing she’s come as far as she has.
And this leaves me wondering: whither Catholics of the Right? Do they have their own Schaeffer — a political philosopher with a plan to remake society in a distinctly Catholic image? I really am too recently arrived on the block to know. These days, they’d be missing the wave not to have one. At the same time, I can see why they’d face more obstacles than their opposite numbers in the Protestant camp.
From Joseph de Maistre to Frederick Wilhelmsen, that team’s fielded some impressive talent. Unfortunately, much of what they thought was distinctly, irredeemably European. Most of them supported some throne-and-altar formula that would look as strange to Americans as rule by Leviticus. Many expressed a near-mystical attachment to the particularities of one European society or another. Wilhelmsen and L. Brent Bozell, Jr. admired Spain. Chesterton was all for Merrye England. Charles Maurras saw France as the heir to ancient Greek rationality, and once referred to the marble Athlete of Polycetus as “a youth of our blood.” I do not envy the person charged with selling that in Middle America.
There aren’t too many success stories to stick in the prospectus. Franco did not repress his people on anything like the Soviet scale, but he’ll never be remembered as a champion of human rights. His reign didn’t exactly usher in any flowering of arts or letters, either. If Ava Gardner hadn’t dated that bullfighter, the whole country might have fallen off the map, culturally speaking.
Then there’s the uncomfortable fact that, during World War Two, many Catholic political personalities, to be tactful about it, chose their friends badly. Leon Degrelle, founder of Belgium’s Rexist party, served in the Waffen SS. Charles Maurras, though never a great fan of the Germans, supported Petain’s Vichy government. Even today, he’s impossible to cite without a disclaimer.
And yet this feels like one of those moments where all options are on the table. That Michael Voris has made a name (and, I’m guessing, somewhat of a fortune) for himself promoting a kind of pop integral nationalism would be remarkable under any circumstances. That he’s pitching it to people who, by and large, are terrified of big government may be the most relevant detail of all. The notion of a dictatorship of relativism may have taken hold so deeply in the Catholic imagination that it’s started to feel like a literal dictatorship. Once you’ve convinced yourself you’re already being tyrannized, why not go to your own extremes? Fair’s fair.
I seem to remember an old Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” Frankly, if these times were any more interesting, I’d be afraid to get out of bed.