John Medaille on the Spiritual Rot…

at the heart of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism in his fine review of Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion.

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  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Douthat’s book is great. I’m not sure I entirely agreed with him on all points, or even fully understood him on a few more, because Mr. Douthat is obviously much smarter than I am.

    • Pavel Chichikov

      Smartest of all are those who are smarter than we are but can make us understand them.

  • Thinkling

    Peerhaps only next to “The Great Divorce”, easily the best book I read last year. Not two weeks went by where something would happen in the news (usually not good), and I would think d@mn, Douthat was right again.

  • S. Quinn

    An excellent review of an excellent book. The only thing I take issue with is this:” Douthat advances a radical proposition about the nature of America’s malaise.” This proposition – that it’s not too much or too religion, but bad religion – has been studied, discussed, written about, etc. etc. etc. for what seems like forever at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family. Arguably the English-speaking world’s greatest Catholic theologian, D.L. Schindler, has done fantastic work in this area, though I will admit that Douthat popularized it for the masses, and in a wonderfully clear and well-argued manner, I might add.

  • ivan_the_mad

    “Thus, these new conservatives were demanding that people adopt on Sunday principles which they insisted they abandon on Monday.” This is a brilliant and pithy summation of so very much.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    “Beauty and sanctity.”

    Well said, John Medaille.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    “Thing that Used to be Conservatism”

    I know that this is one of Mark’s go-to rhetorical shortcuts so I probably should read too much into it, but it would be helpful if he could identify for us the time in history when the principles of Conservatism and the practices of Conservatives were congruent with orthodox Catholicism. I’m open to the idea that American Conservatives are, as a class, less aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church than they once were, but the idea that there was ever an unblemished Edenic “Conservativism” that was tempted by the Cheney Serpent is beyond silly.

    • Bill

      Probably 1950s era conservatism was. Buckley’s traditional Catholicism at the National Review time. The Birchers were extremist, but they respected Pius XII’s loathing of Communism.

      This was the era of the Catholic Legion of Decency. Social traditionalism and anti-Communism dominated conservatism. Radical economic conservatism was of less importance.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        This “anti-Communism dominated conservatism” was also militaristic and pro-nuclear weapons – something that put it at odds with the Church. And it’s not like the Conservatives of the 50′s in general – and National Review in particular – were aligned with the Church on civil rights.

        Here I’m reminded of a Ned Flandersism: “I wish we lived in a place more like the America of yesteryear that only exists in the brains of us Republicans.” I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s a mistake to speak as if there was a point before the Fall when National Review received an imprimatur.

      • Theodore Seeber

        Yeah, considering it was 1956 that the Knights of Columbus had enough political power to get “Under God” added to the pledge of allegiance.

        Well, maybe a bit earlier than that- it was in the 1920s that they had enough political power to influence the Ambassador to Mexico to intervene in the Christeros Rebellion on the side of the Rebel Catholics.

    • Mark Shea

      I’m open to the idea that American Conservatives are, as a class, less aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church than they once were, but the idea that there was ever an unblemished Edenic “Conservativism” that was tempted by the Cheney Serpent is beyond silly.

      Then we agree. However, I would say that Cheney was a baleful and catastrophically bad influence. A despicable and evil man.

    • DTMcCameron

      American Conservatism is still a breed of that Liberalism (Classical) which was the impetus for this nation’s founding. That same Liberalism which saw Priests and nuns to the gallows and guillotine in France and took an avowed interest in the destruction of all Popery.

      Now, European conservatism on the other hand, *that* has a different history altogether.

  • Clare Krishan

    Yes but… America doesn’t “create” her own determinism, self-referentially isolated from any “contagion” of her acting-person citizens, a certain
    monetary policy is “at the heart of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism” and at the heart of the Democrat’s social liberalism (and behind the rot of many despots, see this article titled “Money and Morality: The Christian Moral Tradition and the Best Monetary Regime” from 10 years ago: riffing the remarks from remarks made by the head of the CDF 30 years ago
    Contraception won inroads ostensibly to alleviate the bitter lot of the “deserving poor.” Perhaps if their debased remuneration didn’t “cry to heaven” ( Deut 24:14–15 and James 5:4 ) they’d be open to real life, not the simulacrum pimped by our elites’ contraceptive mentality offering HHS mandates for free abortion on demand?

  • Clare Krishan

    Is ny twitter hashtag not welcome? Comments appear lost?

  • MPDS

    well you’ve got the generic partisan redstatery on one hand these days, and on the other you’ve got the “sane” American Conservative magazine’s founder suggesting that the Boston attack might be a false-flag operation to start a war with Iran. So many intellectual options

  • Elmwood

    The cult of mammon is alive and well within “conservatism” today. We have a “conservative” governor whose first line of business was to cut Big Oil taxes, ironically enough put in place by Sarah Palin who ran on a populist platform to reign in Big Oil corruption; and which will lead to over a billion dollar a year revenue shortfall for the state. It turns out Alaska was sold to the US by Russia because of the expense of operating a colony up here, basically we need as much money as we can get to make it livable up here.

    This hand out to Big Oil was largely accomplished by a Republican dominated state legislature who at the same time couldn’t support a weak pro-life bill because fiscal issues had much more priority in their eyes. It is becoming clearer and clearer that most “conservatives” care little for social issues but will pay lip service to them for votes.

    • Jon W

      Yeah. I am so not impressed with the priorities of modern Republicans.

  • Kevin

    Douthat is probably one of the few relevant writers I read in the conservative movement nowadays. I remember first reading him when he wrote “Grand New Party’ and I thought “I’m not sure if I agree with him, but he makes an argument that commands respect.” Then the 2006, 2008, and 2012 elections happened pretty much precisely as he and Reihan Salam (conservative superwonk) predicted it would. Then it no longer became a question of whether or not his argument deserved merit, but coming to terms with the fact that he was exactly right on the question he wrote about.

    Haven’t read Bad Religion yet, but I hope to. As a regular reader of his column (if he and nate silver left NYT, it would become worthless again), I’m relatively familiar with the argument laid out, but wanna digest it more.