There are basically two different models of conservatism, and there is an unbridgeable chasm between them. One vision starts with the people that constitutes the nation, regardless of its current Constitution. The other starts with the Constitution, and it is a matter of comparative indifference what people happen to live under it.
To understand what is at issue, consider this thought experiment inspired by Jamie Kelso of Stormfront.org. Imagine you enter a time machine that transports you forward 200 years in time, and you are hovering over territory you remember from your childhood, looking down. As you fly around, you begin to pick out buildings and people. Now which of the following scenes would make you happy, and which one would make you sad?
1. As people emerge, you notice they look like you and your kin — obviously including your descendants — yet you observe that the flag waving over the post office is not Old Glory; and come to find out, the borders are different than they were, and the name of the country is different, there is no Constitution, and the form of government is monarchy.
2. You notice the Stars and Stripes flying over the post office, a National Guard depot with “USA” emblazoned over its door, and the US Constitution is still the official document; but all the people, it gradually emerges, turn out to be Turks.
I love Kelso’s Gedankenexperiment. We have all been carefully brainwashed to favor (2), yet this is insanity. (1) is the only scenario that can be favored consistent with natural affections.
Understanding this continental divide is key to unraveling many of the absurdities of the modern American conservative movement. It took decades for me to throw the virus of (2) off. It is known by various names. I recommend studying this brief essay by Bob Whittaker, who coined the term “Wordism” for the malady we are discussing. (Caution: he is mistaken about the Catholic/Protestant struggle.)
We have been propagandized into thinking that we should be giddy with excitement at the thought that someone, somewhere, is “exercising his freedom,” voting, paying taxes, earning a high salary in a commodity economy, and presumably cheering on a war to spread that “freedom” to farther reaches of the world. And we should be comparatively indifferent to the fate of our offspring and clan, except and to the extent that they maintain this propositional system.
“False dilemma,” comes back a Wordist. “You can have both.” Yes but that’s not the point. Which one is the one that makes you catch your breath? which is truly close to the heart? That is the question.
Modern Christian Americans have been lured into the Wordist error because it bears a deceptive resemblance to the principle of the Word of God which is the mainspring of the Christian’s heart and mind. The notion of “word” (or proposition, or even principle) is easily exploitable through an equivocation. But it is an equivocation. The division of humanity into the nations reflects the richness of expressing the image of God in many ways; in turn, as we contemplate an individual, each individual has his situation in the unity/diversity that is represented by the folk/individual duality. It is a tree with many branches.
God likes trees.
Now overlaid over that is the covenant faithful/unfaithful category. This too works out in history. There is a Christian and non-Christian expression of each tribe/nation, each side of which retains certain characteristic qualities.
The attitude toward tribe, and the attitude toward Jehovah, are two orthogonal and overlapping ways of dividing humanity which we can represent in tabular form:
|Non-Christian||Neo-con||Most of non-white world|
As Christians, we continue to be members of an earthly tribe while also, by regeneration and conversion, being transformed into citizens of the invisible City. That transformation does not expunge every other loyalty, either de jure or as to feeling — if anything, it deepens them, imbuing them with richer meaning. We should first strive to persuade our kinsmen to the Faith. We are with them, and belong. A true Christian politic will do proper justice to both loyalties — which for the Christian are not separate, but organically nested. The tribal loyalty is not something in tension with the Kingdom of God, though it may lead to tensions with certain persons. On the contrary, turning one’s back on his tribe is to reject the Word of God, I Tim 5:8. The Apostle said he would himself prefer be condemned for the sake of his kinsmen according to the flesh, Rom 9:3.
Wordism is in fact impossible for any man that has not utterly lost his humanity. We hope for better from our fellow Christians that are temporarily deluded on this.