Former First Things editor Damon Linker‘s new book criticizing his old boss, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, is starting to pick up media notice. My review of The Theocons appears in the forthcoming (in about a month) December issue of Reason, along with my take on Patrick Hynes’s In Defense of the Religious Right. In the meantime, Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist (and The Right Nation) reviewed it for the New York Times earlier this week, and Commonweal editor Paul Baumann has covered it for The Washington Monthly. Wooldridge and Baumann offer very different takes on the book, though they agree (with me, too) that Neuhaus and company are not nearly as powerful as Linker makes them out to be.

Also weighing in is Russell Arbens Fox of the In Medias Res blog, which includes a bit at the end that’s worth a quote:

There are, in fact, many of forms of deep and serious (even “conservative”!) piety that are obviously public but not in any sense driven by populist pre-occupations; populist sentiments themselves are, I think, quite abused when taken out of their subjective contexts and turned into an objectively accounted crusade. Among other things, that’s when populism is most likely to become warlike, exclusionary, paranoid–qualities which I do not at all agree with Damon in thinking always characterize public religiosity, but which admittedly have graced the pages of First Things a fair amount lately, especially as things have turned bad for their champion, George W. Bush.

There is a religious discontent with modern liberal secularism in this country; this Damon knows. He would have rather the theocons had, at the first signs of that discontent, rejected public religiosity entirely, embraced the liberal account of secularism as not only correct but a wise compromise, and preached solely private resistance to changes in our culture. I’m glad they didn’t; they have done good things with their influence, they’ve put issues on the agenda that might never have made it there otherwise. But now, with them fixated, at least as Damon persuasively presents them, on their current path of preaching unity between moral truth and popular power and partisan success, I think they need some serious correction. If Damon’s book can help provide it, more power to him.


4 thoughts on “Theocontroversy

  1. John Lowell September 27, 2006 / 1:50 pm

    This from the Baumann piece:

    “Anticipating the political alliance Karl Rove would so effectively orchestrate in the 2004 election, Neuhaus had already been forging ties with conservative leaders in the evangelical community through his friendship with convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colson. In 1994, Neuhaus, Colson, and other religious figures released a statement titled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” The statement, addressing many of the pressing “culture war” issues dear to conservatives, helped align two groups—or at least elites in both religious camps—long deeply suspicious of one another, and presaged an alliance that would prove critical to the electoral success of George W. Bush.”

    I would go so far as to submit that the political alliance Baumann sees as being “presaged” with Evangelicals and Catholics Together was the main idea behind the effort in the first place. The ecumenical and theological aspects were utterly extra-Church, having no more significance than an interfaith prayer meeting. What we’ve seen since under its auspices, of course, is the emergence of a kind of latter day Reich’s Church, what with Neuhaus’ support for the Bush Regime on everything from it’s despicable sell-out on stem-cells in 2001 to it’s advocacy of pre-emptive war logic. In my view, Catholics need to be very wary of this “alliance” and the direction in which it’s taken many otherwise well intentioned people. It’s been birthing brownshirts.

    John Lowell

  2. Tim September 28, 2006 / 2:13 am

    Are the theocons and the theocontroversy quite as new as some people, especially from the liberal left progressive wing, think? “New Political scientist” Paul Kleppner, writing in the late 1970s, analysed America’s 19th century politics along ethno-religious lines. Isn’t the rise of the theocons merely the revival and renovation of this tradition? Perhaps in reaction to the rise of the ‘post-modernist, post-Christian’ tribalism of the left feminists and queer advocates who have essentially sanctified abortion and homosexuality as the baptismal rites of authentic po-mo liberality?

  3. James Leroy Wilson September 28, 2006 / 8:55 pm

    I was a fan of First Things for several years, but was appalled at the Neuhaus/Weigel position on Iraq and stopped subscribing. For the last year or so I’ve been expecting Neuhaus to be the next “influential conservative” to admit Iraq was a mistake. From reading the above, however, I get the sense that their partisanship and pro-war outlook has hardened.

  4. Sorry September 29, 2006 / 2:33 am

    Hey, My sincere apologies to all those whom I spammed. Wont do it in future. This is the last spam.

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