Theocon intellectuals

I’ve just finished Herbert London’s America’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion. It’s a standard theocon screed, so there’s nothing new to it. It manages to sound both pompous and petulant, but that’s not unusual with these sorts of books.

What bothered me, however, was the author. The book is a hack job, utterly predictable once you know London’s version of right-wing ideology on offer, which is obvious from the first page. Typically, his “argument” depends on gross misrepresentations of secularism, and curious devices like treating New Atheists and New Agers as practically identical. In other words, it’s full of the sorts of mistakes that characterizes unserious advocacy—the mistakes I often have to warn my less talented students about.

And yet, London is not just the president of an influential right-wing think-tank, but “professor emeritus and the former John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University.” You’d think that the academic culture of embarrassment-avoidance would have had some effect on him.

On the other hand, there’s that “Olin Professor” bit. So he was funded with right-wing foundation money even as an academic, it appears. So unimaginative hacks like London are perhaps data points in a larger story of the corruption of academia by money. Theocon intellectuals are “intellectuals” in the same sense that right-wing think-tanks do “research.”

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Keith Parsons


    To cleanse the palate after the Theocon screed, you might want to read Paul Cliteur's "The Secular Outlook." Cliteur offers a rigorous and unabashed defense of secularism as the only legitimate basis for religious tolerance. Cliteur skewers people like London who try to try to identify secularism with atheism. For London and his ilk, a secular state de facto promotes atheism. This is the ineluctable conclusion of those with Eric Hoffer's 100% mentality, the True Believers for whom there can be no neutrality. Cliteur argues, that, on the contrary, impartiality is both possible and highly desirable. Impartiality means that a polity steadfastly refuses to employ its power, prestige, or authority either to promote religion or to interfere with its free practice. Hmmm. Sounds like those Founders were thinking dangerously secularist thoughts!

  • Taner Edis


    I read Cliteur a few months ago. It's a good book, in some ways. But I also came away from it with a feeling that his views would be convincing only to those who are already secular liberals.