Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Theocons and Theocrats

In the May 1st issue of The Nation, the author of a book on American Theocracy explains why it is a genuine problem for democracy today.

Here's how the essay begins:
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Is theocracy in the United States (1) a legitimate fear, as some liberals argue; (2) a joke, given the nation's rising secular population and moral laxity; (3) a worrisome bias of major GOP constituencies and pressure groups; or (4) all of the above? The last, I would argue.

The characteristics are not inconsistent. No large nation -- no leading world power -- could ever resemble theocracies like John Calvin's Geneva, Puritan Massachusetts or early Mormon Utah. These were all small polities produced by unusual migrations of true believers.

As a great power, a large heterogeneous nation like the United States goes about as far in a theocratic direction as it can when it meets the unfortunate criteria on display in George W. Bush's Washington: an elected leader who believes himself in some way to be speaking for God; a ruling party that represents religious true believers and seeks to mobilize the nation's churches; the conviction of many rank-and-file Republicans that government should be guided by religion and religious leaders; and White House implementation of domestic and international political agendas that seem to be driven by religious motivations and biblical worldviews.

As several chapters in American Theocracy make clear, this kind of religious excess has been a problem -- indeed, a repeating Achilles' heel -- of leading powers from late-stage Rome (historian Gibbon thus explained Roman decline and fall) to the militant Catholicism of Habsburg Spain and most recently the evangelical and moral imperialist Britain that saw 1914 as something of an Armageddon against the German Kaiser's Antichrist and wound up in 1917-18 crusading in the Middle East to liberate Jerusalem. But although this facet of historical decline constitutes a major caution regarding the future of the United States, this essay will concentrate on the domestic political aspects-the theocratic tendencies in the GOP and the notable "religification" of American politics across a spectrum from life and death to science and medicine to climate change and biblical creationism. . . .
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{continues at link above}


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