It’s been a jolly few weeks on the conservatism deathwatch; George Will has chosen to cling to the dead husk of conservatism rather than a living hope that might animate whatever comes after conservatism. Ironically, in his very next column he deployed, in opposition to public funding for PBS, the very same kind of arguments that he had inexplicably denounced in Whittaker Chambers.
So let’s turn to something more cheerful – my latest for TGR:
The shepherd was very low in social rank, but quite respectable. The doctor was disreputable, like the publican or the prostitute.
This is probably related to the widespread presence of medical quackery and exploitation of desperate people in the age before the proper organization of medicine as a science. (Remember, the sick woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe had spent herself into penury hiring doctors in hope of alleviating her illness, to no effect. We need not assume the doctors she paid were honest men.)
Now, with all that in mind, imagine in your mind how shocking this scene must have been: The Pharisees attack Jesus for associating himself with sinners – with disreputable people – and his response is to identify himself as one of the most disreputable kinds of people: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Coming soon: God the farmer, potter, counsellor, warrior/king . . . and a surprise finale.
I’m remiss in notifying HT of my new blog series at TGR, in which I invite the faith and work movement to imagine God in new ways based on our insight that we are made for work because we are made in God’s image and God is a worker (John 5:17).
In the first post, I describe how the way we imagine God has far-reaching effects on our lives:
Do we imagine God as a worker? Or do we imagine him as a passive force? A Zeus sitting atop Olympus, commanding us to work so he can recline and drink ambrosia? A huge Neo-Platonic light bulb at the center of the universe, obvious to the rays of illumination he broadcasts? C.S. Lewis once received a letter from a young girl who said she imagined God as a vast tapioca pudding; to make matters worse, she hated tapioca…
If we picture Zeus reclining atop Olympus, it’s not long before we picture him chasing skirts, and then we do the same. If we picture God as a light bulb, it’s not long before “he” becomes an “it” and the light we really chase after is the will-o-the-wisp within.
In the second, I explore the implications of the scriptural image of God as a shepherd:
The first thing that stands out to me here is Willard and Black’s suggestion that God’s omniscience includes practical knowledge. Like many, I tend to think of God’s omniscience in terms of his knowing things in the abstract – he knows all the facts, he knows all the principles, he knows all the logical connections. But although God does know all things in the way a computer or a philosopher knows things, God also knows all things the way a shepherd knows things. That is, he also knows those kinds of things. In our cultural terms, he knows how to change a tire, analyze a chemical sample or mow the grass. He knows the right way to phrase a delicate inquiry or when is the right time for a difficult conversation.
As we learn and practice these kinds of knowledge – “know-how” – we are delving into the mind of God.
Future installments will consider God as presented in the Bible through images of other kinds of workers, from farmer to king.
I will admit I was surprised when not only the usual opportunistic blowhards, but even a number of very respectable and impeccably anti-Trump people among those who call themselves “conservatives,” were disgusted with Ross Douthat’s suggestion that our constitutional order is built on the assumption that political leaders (“elites”) have something unique to contribute that hoi polloi desperately need, and don’t have of themselves. It’s not simply that these so-called conservatives disagreed with the wisdom of recognizing a role for elites in our constitutional order. They were appalled. And they identified Douthat’s heresy as a betrayal of “conservatism,” rather than an expression of conservatism (which is what it was, insofar as that word still has a meaning).
So now conservatism is identified with populism not only among the blowhards, but among respectable Never Trumpers.
But don’t worry. “This Is Not a Crisis.”
So apparently Trump is not only handing vital intelligence to the Russians, who intend our destruction, and doing so for no purpose other than to feed his own ego, but in doing so stabs in the back the allies upon whose cooperation we depend.
Not the first time, or the tenth, in the past several generations that America has unconscionably betrayed vulnerable allies, from South Vietnam to Iraq to Syria to Iraq again, and many more. (That anyone is dumb enough to help us is a perennial surprise to me. When in living memory have we ever not betrayed our allies?)
But we usually do so either for intelligible reasons of realpolitik or sympathetic reasons of progressive guilt. That doesn’t justify it, but does excuse it to some degree.
Now we do it because we elected a man who is little more than a slave to his momentary egoistic impulses.
When the Clinton impeachment went down to defeat, one conservative commentator (I forget who) said something like: “From now on, if anything worse comes out, no matter what it is, the Democrats own it. They chose to keep this man in power, knowing what he is.” I thought so then and I still think so.
You know who owns Trump?
- All the “conservative” broadcasters and the undead remnant of the Religious Right, whose job it was to warn their people
- All the GOP bigwigs who were handed repeated opportunities to deny Trump the nomination, and tossed them away
- Cruz, Rubio, Perry and all the other former Trump opponents who sold their souls
Related: “This Is Not a Crisis,” Republicans Say as a Large Spider Slowly Devours Them
Ironically, the people who don’t own Trump – the people who have my sympathy – are the people with subject matter expertise (foreign policy, economics, education, health care, etc.) who work in his administration so they can minimize the damage. Those people are choosing crucifixion. I honor and admire them, and can empathize.
Do not miss Samuel Goldman’s detailed autopsy on the death of conservatism. It is 100% right and 100% required reading.
The classical liberalism I have tried to describe is characteristically skeptical of executive power, particularly as an instrument for renovating constitutions whether written or unwritten. The reactionary tendency, by contrast, sees a strong executive as the only viable weapon against managerialism [i.e. the encroachments of the unconstitutional administrative state]. This analysis has become a central feature of the theoretical case for Donald Trump. His combativeness, unpredictability, and indifference to expert opinion are seen not as defects of character but as tactical advantages over the bureaucracy…
Having failed (along with many, indeed most political observers) to accurately predict the outcome of the election, I hesitate to offer forecasts of the development of conservatism…So I will conclude by sketching a scenario that I regard as plausible, if far from certain. It involves the comprehensive Trumpification of “official” conservatism. That would mean the ascendance of certain reactionary features, including demotic style and an emphasis on executive power.
Goldman, with self-conscious irony, wants us to accept that prospects for saving conservatism are “hopeless” and simulteneously “remain determined to make them otherwise.” However, I do think it’s time to start discussing the death of conservatism as a practical certainty. I am increasingly convinced that the marriage can’t be saved. If there is hope, it lies elsewhere.
Nonetheless, those of us who used to belong to conservatism (back when there was such a thing) continue to exist as a somewhat coherent group. In that light, I think the future of American politics largely hangs on whether this can be done; this seems to me one of the more necessary conditions for doing it.