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Friday, May 09, 2003

Mainline Conservative-This latest John Derbyshire piece, pointing out the lack of creationists or pro-sodomy-law staff at the National Review, has quite a few evangelical bloggers upset; David Heddle’s thrown in the towel on NRO, while Ben Domenech, Bobby Allison-Galimore and Josh Claybourn all have expressed their discontent. I don’t think Derb’s construction of “Metropolitan Conservative” is quite accurate. The NRO folks are conservative, but I would classify them as Mainline Conservatives. While none of the NRO staff are Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran that I know of, the Catholic/Jewish staff doesn’t quite share the ardor about moral issues of evangelicals. I’ll use Mainline here as my synonym for non-evangelical, using the denotation for the center-left Protestant denominations to cover other religious blocks. There are a few Catholics that would not be in that camp (Alan Keyes comes to mind), but none are writing for NRO at the moment. I’d throw out the metropolitan part of Derb’s construction, for you can find people of his ilk in all towns. My in-laws from Houston would fit the description, as would most of the people I grew up with in Midland, Michigan. Even in the Bible Belt, you’ll have upscale Baptists that are more Bill Moyers than Jerry Falwell. As libertarians like to point out, conservatives aren’t against government, but have a different set of notions of what government should intervene in than liberals do. Liberals tend to want to intervene in the areas of the wealth redistribution, the environment and safety while being permissive on sexual and drug issues, while conservatives want to intervene to protect against sexual immorality and drug abuse and are less interested in “progressive” economic and environmental issues. Economic and moral freedoms aren’t mutually exclusive; libertarians will back both types of freedom, while others might welcome a Christian socialism. There are also gradients of thought on economic freedom and personal freedom; Derb and the others at the National Review are to the left of the evangelical community on some sexual issues. That makes them right-of-center on the issue, but not liberal. However, part of that reticence on passing sodomy laws is a hesitance to use government power; a basic tenant of classic conservatism is to use government action as a last resort where there is an exceedingly clear benefit to such laws. William Buckley and other conservatives have argued for repeal of many drug laws on the grounds that the collateral damage of the drug war is greater than the benefits of reduced drug use. A conservative viewpoint would look to limit the number of laws on the books, even if the laws were prohibiting bad things, for many laws would cause more problems than they solve. In the case of sodomy, it is a hard crime to catch; barring a doctor’s evidence of someone else’s semen in a person’s rectum, it would be hard to find independent evidence of oral or anal sex. If the sex wasn’t consensual, rape laws would apply; if it were, one lover would have to testify against the other. Thus, the problems of bringing a sodomy case make it hard to justify the political capital needed to put it on the books. That brings us to another issue between the mainline conservative and evangelical; evangelicals tend to feel more strongly about moral values and have church life make up a larger percentage of their lives than the average mainliner. Both might be equally skeptical about government, but the evangelical, with more reinforcement of their beliefs, might feel that intervention on moral issues is warranted. The mainline conservative who thinks such things are wrong aren’t as led to pass laws against them. A relative lack of devoutness might make the mainline conservative look moderate, for he might lack the drive to get past the skepticism and want to pass a law. They’re being too conservative in their conservatism, for they prefer the status quo unless proven otherwise. The evangelical is more radical in their conservatism, willing to make change if it would lead to a more godly society. Mainline conservatives aren’t overly fond of evangelicals, for they have a different worldview. Not a fully opposing worldview, but a different one, where Wednesday night classes aren’t scheduled because a lot of people are at church on Wednesday night. The differences on creationism mask an emphasis on personal salvation versus collective salvation; evangelicals tend to take their faith more personally than others do and might well be taken aback by Derb’s “feebly religious” persona. The two camps need to co-exist politically, for neither can form a plurality without the other. Socially, the two camps will continue to be separated, as the evangelical is getting more Bible and less (but far from zero) popular culture than the mainliner. The mainliner is part of the broader culture, while the evangelical is becoming almost an ethnic group, with its own media stores radio and TV stations, magazines and heroes. There is a lot of evangelical culture that the mainliner misses; the only intersection is when you have politically-active evangelical media stars like Farwell, Dobson and Robertson. Yes, the National Review is a conservative magazine, and the staff is conservative. They aren’t theocons, neocons or paleocons, just conservatives. If you’d like to adopt the Mainline Conservative label to describe then, fine. However, they’re still conservatives, and an intra-right food fight isn’t called for.

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