Episode 55: The History of “Free Enterprise”

PodcastIn conservative political circles, the idea of “free enterprise” is revered with a religious zeal. This is especially interesting as these political ideals are often held by evangelical Christians. Host John Fea explores American religious history’s “business turn.” They are joined by Cornell historian Lawrence Glickman (@LarryGlickman), the author of Free Enterprise: An American History.

Episode 29: Libertarianism and Democracy



Many voices in American politics have been sounding the alarm about the influence of the Koch brothers as a threat to voting rights, the direction of American conservatism, and the very sanctity of American democracy. But like all things, the Koch brothers have a history. In this episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss the rise and influence of American libertarianism within the conservative movement. They are joined by Nancy MacLean who discusses her book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, which was just nominated for the National Book Award.

The Virtue Solution Project


A couple of young upstate South Carolina state lawmakers (one of them claims to be a follower of David Barton) is trying to save the American republic through an extreme and rather dark mix of Christian nationalism, libertarianism (government is “evil”), agrarianism, gun culture (militias), state’s rights, and apocalypticism.

I consulted on journalist Andrew Brown’s story at the Charleston Post and Courier about the “Virtue Solution Project” (Apparently my 30-minute conversation with Brown did not yield money quotes).

Here is a taste of his piece:

State Reps. Josiah Magnuson, R-Campobello, and Jonathon Hill, R-Townville — both from tiny towns in the Upstate Bible Belt— are in the process of setting up what they call the “Virtue Solution Project,” a group that is seeking to either save America or survive a societal collapse, which they both believe is likely coming.

The organization is a mixture of religious ministry, grassroots political organizing and disaster prepping. At its core, their movement hopes to save the country by reshaping it to their interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ ideals.

They are advocating that their followers, and offshoot groups, form their own communities that will no longer have to rely on corporate America or the “tyrannical” federal government. They are encouraging neighbors to support “principled men” — such as themselves — who are willing to nullify laws and court rulings they don’t agree with, like abortion, gay marriage, gun restrictions and federal standards for driver’s licenses.

For their members who are not in political office, they advocate doing their part by finding their way onto juries in order to acquit people charged with crimes they personally believe are “unjust.”

If that doesn’t work, they will have “community preparedness centers,” where there will be access to “reading material, tools, food storage, ammo, and more.”

The centers will be there when the economy collapses, a natural disaster occurs, a foreign nation attacks, the federal debt dooms the country or an electromagnetic pulse wipes out the nation’s infrastructure. All are scenarios they have considered.

Read the entire article here.

Kruse, *One Nation Under God*: A Review

I have been singing the praises of Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. It is a great book that has received a lot of attention.  Kruse has been doing a lot of interviews to promote it and we have linked to several reviews of the book in our “Sunday Night Odds and Ends” posts. 

When John Wilson of Books & Culture asked me to review the book I jumped at the chance.  I read most of the book on a trip to Las Vegas for one of my daughter’s volleyball tournaments.  It took my mind off the fact that my 6’8″ frame was jammed in a coach seat.

I learned a lot from Kruse’s work and was able to cite One Nation Under God in my forthcoming history of the American Bible Society.  The book provided the perfect context for the American Bible Society’s decision in 1970 to publish a special “Eisenhower Commemorative Edition” of the Good News Bible.

Here is a taste of my review.  It appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Books & Culture.

On March 23, 2015, Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas and the darling of the Tea Party movement, announced that he would be running for President of the United States. The announcement was made at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a school founded by the late culture warrior and fundamentalist Jerry Falwell. The Texas senator used his speech to expound upon the Christian roots of America, the “mischiefs of government,” American exceptionalism, economic growth, and religious liberty. Anyone who reads or listens to his speech would conclude that Cruz believes these ideas all stem directly from the pages of the Bible.

As Princeton historian Kevin Kruse reminds us in his new book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Cruz’s message of faith, freedom, and free enterprise has a long 20th-century history. According to Kruse, the belief that the United States is a Christian nation—an idea that continues to hold weight among Republican politicians and many ordinary evangelicals—can be traced back to the “Christian libertarians” of the 1930s who opposed FDR’s New Deal. Whenever and wherever Christian nationalism thrived in modern America, businessmen and other advocates of free markets and limited government were there. As his subtitle suggests, Kruse sets out to show “how corporate America invented Christian America.”

Kruse tells the story of Christian nationalism in the United States from the Great Depression to the Nixon Era. In the process he introduces us to characters who seldom find their way into the traditional narrative of 20th-century American religious history. For example, in 1935 James Fifield, the pastor of the lavish First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, founded an organization called Spiritual Mobilization for the purpose of spreading the belief that Christianity and capitalism were inseparable. Fifield recruited corporate leaders from General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, and Mutual Life to his cause by convincing them that FDR’s welfare state was sinful because it threatened individual liberty and the God-ordained free market. By the 1940s and 1950s, Spiritual Mobilization was leading “Freedom Under God” celebrations throughout the country and promoting “Independence Sunday” events in local Protestant churches.

Fifield’s Christian libertarian vision would find an ally in Billy Graham. Kruse downplays Graham’s staunch anti-communist sermons, focusing instead on his pro-business and anti-labor rhetoric. Such an emphasis is part of Kruse’s larger thesis about the roots of the religious revival sweeping the United States in the immediate wake of World War II. Conventional wisdom suggests that this revival, and especially the various manifestations of civil religion that accompanied it, can be explained by Americans’ desire to distinguish themselves from the godless communism of the Soviet Union. For Kruse, the attempt to make America “one nation under God” had its roots not in the Cold War, but in attempts by Christian libertarians like Fifield and Graham to defeat a more imposing danger than the Soviets—the state power brought about by the New Deal.

The Christian libertarianism of the 1930s was co-opted in the 1950s by Dwight D. Eisenhower. A deeply religious man with roots in River Brethren Anabaptism, Ike believed that the United States government was based on Christian principles, but he was no libertarian. In fact, he believed that religion was needed to strengthen the state rather than tear it down. It was under his administration that the Cold War replaced the New Deal as the primary enemy of Christian nationalists. Though Christian businessmen and those Protestants aligned with the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party wished that Eisenhower would talk more about the relationship between Christianity and free markets, and perhaps even roll back the welfare state, they were happy that the President was willing to bring businessmen into his cabinet and religion into the halls of American power.

According to Kruse, America became a Christian nation for the first time during the Eisenhower administration. When in 1953 the National Association of Evangelicals issued its “Statement of Seven Divine Freedoms,” a decree that basically declared that the United States was founded on biblical principles, Eisenhower was the first to sign it. By 1960, the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “In God We Trust” was printed for the first time on paper currency. Both initiatives had overwhelming bipartisan support.

Read the rest here.

Kazin on Libertarianism: It Has No Chance

Michael Kazin of Dissent and the Georgetown University History Department is an astute observer of the American political scene.  I like his stuff because he often brings historical reasoning and evidence to bear on his punditry. Here is a taste of his recent take, published at The New Republic, on the rise of libertarianism in American political culture:

Libertarianism may be on the rise, but it has no real chance of taking over the Republican Party, much less the nation. A daunting set of obstacles lies in the path of true believers who would shrink the government down to Gilded Age dimensions.
The most obvious hurdle is that Americans may dislike “big government,” but they cherish their federal benefits. The libertarian charge, made most recently by Paul Ryan, that entitlement programs harm the people they are supposed to help speaks to few recipients of Social Security or Medicare (even elderly Tea Partiers), much less to anyone cashing an unemployment check or being cared for at a VA hospital. And even most Republican businessmen would resist stripping away tax credits for homeowners and subsidies for energy and agriculturejust to name some of the biggest examples of “corporate welfare.”
Second, it’s one thing to rile against an agency that monitors your phone calls but quite another to advocate, as authentic libertarians do, the demolition of the “national security” state first established during World War II and expanded after the attacks of September 11. If Rand Paul bases his presidential hopes, in part, on scaling back the powers of intelligence agencies and bringing the U.S. military back home, GOP heavies like McCain, Graham, and Rubiobacked up by millions of servicemen and women, past and presentwill be glad to dash them.
Third, any Republican who promotes a coherent libertarian agenda will have to do battle with Christian conservativesstill the party’s largest and most faithful constituency and one whose definition of “freedom” excludes abortion rights and gay marriage.  Paul understands this, of course; he is careful to declare he is “100 percent pro-life,” and he opposed the recent decision by a federal judge who ordered Kentucky to recognize same-sex unions from other states. But if he emphasized such views, he would destroy his image as an apostle of untrammeled liberty, particularly among the young people who rallied to his father’s candidacy. So, in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, Paul will have to straddle the social issues or avoid them. Most Republican voters who seek a fierce defender of “family values” will probably look elsewhere.
Fourth, libertarians have a weakness for conspiracy-mongering and foolish statements. They tend to believe with Ron Paul that “the Federal Reserve is the main cause of the boom-and-bust economy, as well as the leading facilitator of big government and crony capitalism” and long to return to the gold standard. Almost 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, Rand Paul still thought it was wrong to require the owner of a private business to serve customers of all racesalthough he now denies he said that. An unswerving devotion to individual liberty can attract a devoted corps of activists. But most who stand outside that self-reverential band would agree with Emerson’s famous observation that “a foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds.”
Ideological zealots fascinate journalists and scholars, but they have never dominated American politics. New Deal liberals triumphed far more because they met mass demands for jobs, security, and civil rights than because they bashed the corporate rich or preached about the Four Freedoms. Ronald Reagan and his fellow conservatives rose to power by indicting the shortcomings of federal programs and Jimmy Carter’s failed foreign policy, not because they made a strong case against “big government.” 
In fact, if not political rhetoric, the United States has never been a libertarian nation. Even during the Gilded Age, the federal government financed, through loans, the building of the transcontinental railroads and subsidized American industry through high tariffs (taxes, by another name). Many individual states, using the “police power,” also banned the liquor traffic and segregated the races. Libertarianism is a grand aspiration of Americans who wish they could live in a society in which the only government that mattered would be the government of oneself. Like all utopian wishes, it will never be granted.

Catholicism and Libertarianism

Is Catholicism compatible with libertarianism?  According to Fordham University theologian Michael Peppard, the “definitive answer” is No.  See Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.  See John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.  See Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Vertiate.  See Francis I’s Evangelii Gaudium.

Peppard argues that “it has taken Pope Francis’s singular history, style, and gift for communication to break through the noise of American-style capitalism….” Even “compassionate conservative” and evangelical Michael Gerson of The Washington Post seems convinced.
Here is a taste of Peppard’s post at dotCommonweal:
Now listen to how the architect of “compassionate conservatism” relays Francis’s exhortation:
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis returns to the defining theme of his papacy: the priority of the person. Human beings have an essential value and nature. They can’t be reduced to economic objects or to the sum of their desires. “We do not live better,” he says, “when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”
The pope contends that individualism can dull us to the requirements of justice, and that prosperity can be a prison. In making this case, Francis is demonstrating that Christian faith is not an ideology; it stands in judgment of all ideologies, including the ones we justify in the name of freedom.
On the one hand, one might be concerned that Gerson is over-spiritualizing the concrete message of Francis about justice. Is he going to make this into an individualized version that focuses on charity only? To the contrary, he writes:
But in the absence of certain social conditions — the rule of law, equal opportunity, effective public administration — capitalism can result in caste-like inequality.
As my colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. points out, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere naturally has a more skeptical take on globalization. He empathizes with the marginalized: exploited migrants, bonded laborers, people in sexual slavery. This is the dark side of markets — the sale of life and dignity. And Francis vividly warns against the “globalization of indifference.”
Here Gerson emphasizes the “dark side of markets” and the necessary “social conditions” for capitalism to work virtuously. Most importantly, he goes on to tell the truth about the Catholic position on these matters:
Those surprised that Catholic social thought is incompatible with libertarianism haven’t been paying attention — for decades. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI said the same. And all warned of the danger when a mode of economic exchange becomes a mind-set. Absent a moral commitment to human dignity, justice and compassion, capitalism is conducive to materialism, individualism and selfishness. It is a system that depends on virtues it does not create.

Conservative Soul Searching

From Gordon College political science professor Paul Brink at the Center for Public Justice. A taste:

For the sake of the country, and for the sake of their Party, conservatives need to enter a new round of ideological soul-searching. The challenge conservatives face is unique: how to put forward a coherent platform for state action while remaining generally committed to the idea that the state should be doing less to begin with. Without such a forward-looking agenda, conservatives cannot avoid appearing shrill and reactionary.

Where to look? One immediate priority is to think once again about what the state is for. There are resources aplenty. The Center for Public Justice has long been offering help along these lines: past generations of conservatives have found much to value in the traditions of Christian pluralism that attempt to mediate between statism and individualism. More broadly, the American emphases on limited government, the strong affirmation of civil society and the call to civic virtue continue to have a deep resonance with the American public. There is ground for renewal, and the Republican position is not without hope.

On the other hand, the movement’s continued flirtation with libertarianism is only prolonging our national political malaise. It is simply not true that less government is always better. The sooner conservatives stand up and say so, the sooner they can begin to lay out a positive vision for state action. Criticism and reform of specific government programs and proposals will become much more successful if conservatives can demonstrate how their positions are not based on a reflexive anti-government stance, but rather upon a well thought-out and comprehensive political vision. Libertarianism’s unwavering faith in individual freedom for the sake of individual freedom alone is not the stuff of conservatism. Historically, conservatives have been much more impressed by the frailties of human nature and more positive about the responsibility of the state and other social institutions to restrain human impulses.

Conservatives need to rethink this alliance. Clearly, the mainstream of the American public hasn’t been impressed. Most Americans do not favor the radically individualist position, perhaps for the reason that most Americans are not radical individualists. People genuinely do care about the situation of the poor, for example, and while they may not agree on what governments should do to help, they don’t like politicians who appear willing simply to abandon the vulnerable. The association between conservatism and libertarianism does not simply risk ideological incoherence; it risks political irrelevance.

Beck’s $30 Million "Roller Coaster History Lesson"

Glenn Beck is going to give the nation a history lesson on Saturday night.  I don’t know if I want to pull myself away from Phelps and Lochte to watch it, but his talk at “Beckstock,” um, I mean “Restoring Love” should be interesting to say the least. 

In this interview with Bill O’Reilly, Beck announces that he will have $30 million worth of historical artifacts with him on the field at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.  As I reported earlier this week, Beck claims to “unveil a piece of history that has never been seen before” that will “explain who we are as a nation.”

http://video.insider.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=1754527132001&w=466&h=263Watch the latest video at video.insider.foxnews.com

In all seriousness, Beck deserves credit for being consistent with his small government views.  As he mentions in the O’Reilly interview, he will have over 35,000 of his followers on the streets of Dallas on Friday morning performing acts of service to the community.  As Beck puts it, “If we want small government that means someone else has to do it, and that means us, and it is our responsibility.”  If Beck’s vision for “restoring love” or “restoring the culture” is about serving others in our communities, then I am all for it. But something tells me that there is more to it than this.

Wait a minute, isn’t this kind of community service a form of social activism?  Does this mean that Beck is a community organizer?

As readers of this blog know, Beck and I have had our moments.  But I must commend him for this aspect of Restoring Love. 

As for the history lesson:  Well, we will just have to wait and see. 

Glenn Beck’s Restoring Love

Glenn Beck is at it again.  In case you have not heard, this week begins his “Restoring Love” festival at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas.  It promises to be a long weekend devoted to the celebration of faith, freedom, history, and capitalism.  Here are some highlights:

  • A raffle with a chance to win a Ted Nugent signed calcified moose skull.
  • David Barton will sign his latest book, “The Founders Bible,” give a lecture on the book, and host a “Texas cookout” and a brunch.
  • Free lemonade from “young entrepreneurs.”
  • Eric Metaxas will talk about his book on Bonhoeffer
  • A book signing by Oliver North
  • Messages from Kenneth Copeland, Tony Evans, John Hagee, and James Robison
  • Book signing by David Horowitz
  • Michelle Bachmann will sign her latest book.
  • Beck also promises to “unveil a piece of history that has never been seen before” that will “explain who we are as a nation.

Should be interesting.   Stay tuned.

Alison Greene: "When Religious Institutions Welcomed Government Support"

Alison Greene, a professor of history at Mississippi State University, reminds us that there was once a time when Christians welcomed government funding.  In her piece at “Religion and Politics,” which challenges some historically inaccurate remarks made recently by Franklin Graham about the way government has supposedly replaced the church as a source of welfare, Greene discusses how the New Deal “transformed the roles of church and state.”

When Franklin Roosevelt announced his New Deal, religious leaders cheered. Indeed, many saw Roosevelt’s program as the realization of Christian ideals. As one Mississippi Methodist put it in 1933, “It is gratifying in the highest degree that our government is actually attempting to try out some of these things for which the Christian church has been contending for a quarter of a century.” What is striking about such fulsome praise is that it was widespread, and that clergy from a broad range of theological and political inclinations agreed that the New Deal was necessary—except the substantial number who instead protested that it did not go far enough. Certainly, dissenters spoke from the right as well, but their numbers were sparse in the early and mid-1930s.

Religious support for the New Deal boiled down to three key points. First, religious leaders recognized that the Great Depression had sapped their own ability to care for those in need. Second, many acknowledged that religious bodies had long struggled to provide adequate care even for the select few that they deemed both needy and deserving. Third, many saw the New Deal as the realization, rather than a refutation, of their Christian principles. They argued that only the state had the capacity to raise funds to support those in need. The government’s adoption of welfare and reform programs would allow churches to renew focus on their primary goal of evangelism, and the government’s emphasis on security for families and the elderly reflected the churches’ own priorities.

Here is yet another example of why we need historians to engage the public.  Thanks, Alison!

The Spirit of 76 vs. The Arc of History

Joseph Ellis has a thought-provoking op-ed in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times on the the founding fathers, the big vs. small government debate, and the arc of American history.

He shows that today’s small government, tea-party, libertarian types have Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence on their side, but those who defend active or “expansive” government can claim the framers of the Constitution, Lincoln and the Civil War unionists, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Ellis writes:

This brief tour of American history, which could be extended to include Lyndon B. Johnson‘s Great Society, reveals that modern-day conservatives have “the spirit of ’76” on their side, as well as the power of Jefferson’s original formulation of the American creed. Liberals, on the other hand, have the arc of American history on their side, which until the presidency of Ronald Reagan seemed to have the final word in the debate. After all, who could imagine a successful political movement requiring the revocation of two centuries of American history? Barry Goldwater, who campaigned for president in 1968 on just such a radical agenda, received only 38% of the vote.

While realistically this is still so — unless American voters are prepared to dispense with Medicare, Social Security, the Federal Reserve Board and even our existence as a sovereign nation-state — at least rhetorically conservatives have a narrative advantage. That is, their story of individual freedom and tyrannical government enjoys a privileged place in the lexicon because of its association with our political origins.

As a historian of those origins, I can tell you that there were dissenting voices back in the summer of 1776, most notably George Washington and John Adams, who regarded Jefferson’s dream of pure self-government as a preposterous illusion. Washington even thought that we almost lost the war for independence because of the refusal of the states to provide sufficient support for the Continental Army.

But the dream has proved remarkably resilient because it depicts any conspicuous expression of government power as an alien force and sanctifies the sovereign individual, standing tall against oppression. Even though that story line has been anachronistic for more than a century, it has levitated out of space and time to become a fixture in American mythology, never to be underestimated as a political weapon, especially when wielded by the party out of power….

If Ellis is correct (and I think he is), then libertarians should stop claiming the Constitutional framers, Washington, Adams, and Lincoln as their own.  Instead they should be claiming the libertarian vision of Thomas Jefferson.

Actually, if Jefferson did not have a God problem (he did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, etc…) he would be the perfect founding father for libertarian conservatives.

BUT WAIT!…it now appears that Jefferson actually did NOT have a God problem after all.  He has been officially baptized by David Barton!  As a result, the small-government conservative movement now has a patron founding saint–someone who was libertarian in politics and a supporter of government’s role in promoting religion.

BUT WAIT AGAIN!  How could Jefferson, a libertarian who wanted government to stay out of our business, have supported government’s active role in promoting religion in the public square?  Isn’t the promotion of religion an example of active government–a violation of the libertarian creed?

How do Christian libertarians balance their commitment to limited government with their desire for government to legislate morality and religion?

Romney’s Thomas Paine Quote

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney quoted Thomas Paine the other night during his speech following the Nevada caucuses.  Here it is:


J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 is not going to let Romney get away this. And rightly so.  His critique of Romney’s use of Paine is two-fold.  First, it is doubtful whether Paine ever said “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  (Thus proving that Romney needs a historian working for his campaign.  So does Gingrich).  Bell writes:

For me the bigger issue is how Romney and his speechwriters introduced the quotation: “Thomas Paine is reported to have said…” They knew that attribution was dubious. They knew that the Republican frontrunner was probably going to repeat a falsehood, so they added some weasel words as protection. It’s one thing to repeat a lie you honestly believe; it’s another to repeat something that you suspect is a lie but want to exploit anyway. That detail suggests the Romney campaign is running on a pervasive level of dishonesty. Second, Paine’s radical ideas about politics and religion “make a poor match for Romney as a politician.”

Second, Bell writes that anyone familiar with Paine “knows that his radical ideas on politics and religion make a poor match for Romney as a politician.”

On this second point, Bell is absolutely correct.  It does seem odd that Romney would invoke Paine.  But this has happened before.  Paine has been appropriated by libertarians and other opponents of big government.  Remember what Paine said at the beginning of Common Sense:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer!

By the way, here is Barry Goldwater invoking Paine. I don’t think he actually quotes Paine exactly here, but he does seem to references his thoughts in “Letter Addressed to the Addressors on the Late Proclamation…” (1795).

I am not arguing here that Goldwater got Paine right.  I am just suggesting that Romney’s use of the radical Paine is not new to conservative politics.

Thank Abraham Lincoln for Big Government

This piece by William Nichols, a doctoral candidate in political science at Wayne State University, is bound to ruffle some feathers.  Nichols compares the “big government” rhetoric of the 19th-century Whig party with the the “big government” liberalism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Here, for example, is a quote from Daniel Webster:

But all these local advantages, and all this enlightened state policy, could never have made your city what it now is, without the aid and protection of a general government, extending over all the States, and establishing for all a common and uniform system of commercial regulation.  Without national character, without public credit, without systematic finance, without uniformity of commercial laws, all other advantages possessed by this city would have decayed and perished, like unripe fruit.

Here is Henry Clay:

Our American system, which was at once both to destroy foreign commerce, and to dry up the sources of the public income, has disappointed all the predictions of its foes, and assures us of the speedy arrival of the day when our national independence will be consummated.  The manufactures of our country have now struck such deep and strong root, that the hand of violence itself can scarcely tear up and destroy them.  Their twin – sister, internal improvements, has not been neglected.  Large and liberal appropriations, in every part of the union, have been made to that beneficent object.

And here is Lincoln:

The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.
In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.
The desirable things which the individuals of a people can not do, or can not well do, for themselves, fall into two classes:  those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not.  Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions.
The first—that in relation to wrongs—embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and non-performance of contracts.  The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.
From this it appears that if all men were just, there would still be some, though not so much, need of government.

We must be careful using quotes like this.  As historians know, the past is a “foreign country” where they do things differently.  As a result, we should be cautious when applying the 19th-century Whig understanding of active government to the 20th or 21st century understanding of active or “big” government.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the Whigs and Republicans believed that government had a very important role to play in economic life and in protecting the “welfare” of some of its citizens.  The Whigs were not “states-rights” anti-Federalist libertarians.  They were nationalists.  And their nationalism was partially built upon a strong and active federal government.

And some conservative politicians might be horrified to learn that it was Thomas Jefferson and his descendants in what would become the 19th-century Democratic Party who favored limited government.

Prothero: You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Stephen Prothero, writing for USA Today, discusses the Republican Party’s fascination with pro-choice and anti-religion philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand. 

Rand has become the “darling” of the libertarian/Paul family wing of the Republican Party.  Prothero just wants to make sure that Republicans realize that “marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond.”  He also quotes Chuck Colson, who thinks that Rand’s “idolatry of self and selfishness” is the “antithesis of Christianity.”

Prothero writes:

As someone who has written extensively on the religious illiteracy of the American public, I am not surprised that few Republicans today seem to understand that marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond. But there is nothing Christian about Rand’s Objectivism. In fact, it is farther from Christianity than the Marxism that Rand so abhorred. Despite the attempt of the advertising executive Bruce Barton to turn Jesus into a CEO in his novel The Man Nobody Knows (1925), Jesus was a first-class, grade-A “moocher.”
I am somewhat surprised, however, at how few GOP thinkers seem to see how hostile her philosophy is to conservatism itself. Real conservatism is first and foremost about conserving a society’s traditions, including its religious and political traditions. But Rand’s Objectivism rejects in the name of reason appeals to either revelation or tradition. The individual is her hero, and God and the dead be damned.
Real conservatism is also about sacrifice, as is authentic Christianity. President Kennedy was liberal in many ways, but, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was classic conservatism. Rand, however, will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than individual self-satisfaction.
One of the reasons we are in our current economic quagmire is that none of our leaders is willing to ask us to sacrifice. Democrats call for more spending and more taxes; Republicans call for lower taxes and less spending, and what we get is the most fiscally ruinous half of each: lower taxes and more spending.

The Perplexities of American Conservatism

Over at U.S. Intellectual History, Andrew Hartman has some interesting reflections on the way modern conservatives tend to champion both “liberty” and “order.”  I recommend reading the entire post, but here is a taste:

…I have found in my research that often those making what sound like libertarian arguments are Christian Right activists. For example, in culture war struggles over the curriculum, it’s the Christian Right that most forcefully argues against national control in favor of local control of schools. It’s the Christian Right that has made it its strategy to get elected to local school boards in order to stem national trends in education they abhor, such as the teaching of evolutionary science. Similarly, in his must-read article, “Family Policy Past As Prologue: Jimmy Carter, the White House Conference on Families, and the Mobilization of the New Christian Right,” Leo Ribuffo shows how in the Progressive Era and before, persistent evangelical concerns over the crumbling family were often married to progressive economic concerns about the destructive force of unregulated capitalism. But by the 1970s, Christian Right activists uniformly blamed the decrepit condition of the traditional family on the welfare state, which they believed encouraged dependency, divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing.

So how do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory facts: that the Christian Right wants a moral establishment, a coercive vision of government, with its libertarian framework? Here I would draw a crucial distinction between libertarianism and anti-statism. Members of the Christian Right are decidedly not radical individualists of the Age of Aquarius. But they are opposed to the state insofar as it represents a secularism that they despise. The state as it is currently constituted is seen as the greatest barrier to their Protestant moral establishment. Now, obviously, many Christian Right leaders celebrate unregulated capitalism—“free enterprise”—to the degree that they fit well within the Republican Party, which would give corporations a freer reign than they already enjoy. This holds true even in the wake of the recent destructive financial collapse that is so obviously the result of giving free reign to finance, the most powerful sector of corporate America. This tendency needs better historical explanation than I can give in this blog post. But it does not take away from the fact that libertarianism is not anti-statism, and that the Christian Right, and thus much of American conservatism, holds to the latter, not the former.

Liberty University Receives More Federal Funding Than National Public Radio

While this piece in Salon is a bit of an angry screed against Liberty University, it does provide some very interesting information about just how much federal money Liberty is receiving.  Has anyone read a less biased account of this issue?

Is it fair to say that the federal government is supporting Liberty University?  If it is, I am sure that Liberty is very thankful for big-government spending!

Why Do Evangelicals Oppose the U.S. Government’s Fight Against Obesity?

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, evangelicals are the only religious group to oppose federal attempts to reduce childhood obesity.  Read about it here.

I can understand how such a plan might be offensive to libertarians.  They don’t want the government interfering in their lives and eating habits.

But is opposition to government-sponsored efforts to end obesity an evangelical position?