he American media tend to portray American evangelicalism as exclusively white, male-led, nationalistic (American exceptionalism) and ultra-conservative socially and politically.
.. I never heard the word “inerrancy” until I attended a mainstream, evangelical Baptist seminary. Only then did I learn that “women should not be pastors or teach men.”
.. I saw and experienced that fundamentalism was gradually inserting itself into mainstream evangelicalism and pushed back against that as best I could. I was taught that “we evangelicals” were not fundamentalists. Gradually, however, the line between the two communities of relatively conservative American Protestants began to blur and even dissolve.
.. I have developed strong resistance to any identification of true, authentic “evangelical Christianity” with American nationalism, conservative political ideologies, “whiteness” and “maleness.”
.. What I have done is state very publicly (on my blog, in books and articles, in papers read at professional society meetings, etc.) that, in my own personal opinion, the American evangelical movement is dead and gone. The major reason is the divisive influence of ultra-conservative neo-fundamentalists who have somehow managed to capture the label “evangelical” in the public mind.
.. When I call myself “evangelical,” and when my seminary calls itself “evangelical,” I/we are not identifying with any movement; I/we are identifying ourselves with a historical-theological-spiritual ethos deeply shaped by post-Reformation: pietism, revivalism, missions, and profound emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only message that brings true and holistic transformation—both individually and socially.
Of all the errors made today by liberals—I use the term broadly—our most fundamental has been our underestimation of Trumpism as a philosophical movement.
We have no trouble loathing Donald Trump the man. His temperament and political impulses are self-evidently those of an authoritarian, straight from the pages of Adorno or Hayek. Likewise, our criticism of his administration’s misguided policies has been ever at the ready.
.. Trumpism is well on the road to becoming a systematic program of ideas that will carefully refine its views through praxis and—allied with anti-liberal movements elsewhere in the world, especially in Russia—articulate a new, fundamental challenge to liberal thought for the twenty-first century.
.. History as
- heritage and nostalgia—#MAGA. History as
- reverence and fidelity—Straussianism and constitutional originalism. History as a
- philosophy of action—embodied in the novels of Trump’s intellectual precursor, Newt Gingrich. History as
- racial melancholy—Charlottesville. History as a resource of trans-historical Germanic mythology—the masculinist branches of the alt-right. History as
- conspiracy—Infowars, #fakenews, and the “rigged” political system. History as
- providence and decay—the implicit revival of Jacksonian-era romantic nationalism, with its narrative scaffolding of dwindling popular sovereignty.
.. Stephen Bannon’s philosophy of generational change, about which I’ve written elsewhere,
- a toxic blend of Toynbee and Jung—history as
- a cycle of apocalypse and renewal.
.. climate change denial grows logically from the core metaphysical commitments of contemporary populist nationalism in its confrontation with trans-Atlantic, cosmopolitan, individualist liberalism.
.. one might thus regard it as the distinctive form of anti-liberal historical thinking of our era.
.. it’s helpful to turn to the work of a thinker whose writings, it’s been suggested (and here), underwrite the movement’s “intellectual source code”: the German constitutional theorist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985).
.. On Schmitt’s view, liberal states are weak and vulnerable, subject to corrosion from within—through capture by private interest groups—and conquest from abroad.
.. a political community arises when its members coalesce around some aspect of their common existence. On this basis, they distinguish between their “friends” and “enemies,” the latter of whom they are ultimately prepared to fight and kill to defend their way of life.
.. A political community, that is, is created through an animating sense of common identity and existential threat
.. Schmitt believes that this pugilistic view of politics rings true as a conceptual matter, but he also regards drawing the friend-enemy distinction as a quasi-theological duty and part of what it means to be fully human.
.. Without the friend-enemy distinction, he argues, political life would vanish, and without it something essential to humanity would vanish
.. This gives Schmittianism, like the Bannon-affiliated elements of Trumpism, a family affinity to traditionalism in Russia
.. Enemies are regularly portrayed as ugly, for instance—a practice at which Trump personally excels.
.. But the object of a community’s political dissociation is made on the basis of criteria independent from judgments about good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or profit and loss.
.. the liberal effort to circumscribe national sovereignty within universalist legal and moral criteria increases the possibility of total war.
.. Trump acts in full accord with Schmitt in this respect by praising Vladimir Putin and embracing autocratic Russia as a potential friend while snubbing liberal nations of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
.. at the heart of Trump’s campaign was the promise to territorialize the friend-enemy distinction, namely to build a “great wall” along the border between the United States and Mexico
.. That spirit is one not simply of xenophobia or ethnocentrism, but also, and perhaps most of all, of shared laughter and good humor—a spirit, it’s essential for liberals to acknowledge, of warm community.
.. As Stephen Miller bracingly put the matter, in a statement nearly incomprehensible on liberal terms, “We’re going to build that wall, and we’re going to build it out of love.”
.. on Schmitt’s view, those nations that are strong enough to impose their own internal political homogeneity ought to ally with each other against nations and groups that undermine the territorialization of the friend-enemy distinction.
By this logic, it’s not Russia so much as violent Islamic extremism and cosmopolitan trans-Atlanticism that represent America’s true enemies—and, in fact, Russia can be an important ally against both.
.. Much like extreme conservative positions on gun control, climate change denial is based above all in anti-liberal metaphysical and identity commitments.
.. Although scientists have a forty-year track record of accurately predicting rising global temperatures, climate change deniers insist that such findings are the product of self-serving business elites and cunning foreign economic competitors who stand to gain if America reduces carbon emissions.
This sociological critique of scientific knowledge is a position not of evidentiary skepticism but rather of radical epistemological relativism. Deniers essentially challenge the Enlightenment position that the past is subject to objective understanding and that the world is amenable to rational human control.
This lends the popular culture of climate change denial a palpable spirit of historical fatalism.
.. climate change denial is animated by a vision of the future that, at bottom, is that of neo-tribalism.
.. It is destabilizing the territorial boundaries of the world through rising sea levels, altering the very land from which, in Schmitt’s view, the nomos of a people originally grows
.. it is undermining the spatial boundaries that Schmitt deems essential to sovereignty by putting the export of negative externalities at the center of global concern
.. Deniers interpret climate history in a way that obscures the existence of a global political community
.. In doing so, they not only embrace what I’ve called “the rule of the clan” at the level of the modern state, they also reject sotto voce the liberal ideals of universalism and individualism.
.. Trumpism draws together for our own time the core ideals of politics and the state that Carl Schmitt placed at the center of his philosophical vision. These include
- an animating community spirit that combines pugilism with love,
- an existential embrace of the friend-enemy distinction,
- a conception of state sovereignty as inviolable,
- the need to territorialize and homogenize the political community, and the rejection of the liberalist international order
—all in the service of a unified, common people.
Social discord, frequently inflamed by proliferating versions of identity politics, is becoming more prevalent.
.. what if public discontent is a reasonable response to a misguided and complacent elite consensus?
.. American political theatre stages ever shriller battles over increasingly trivial matters.
.. We believe that recognizing failures and encouraging new ideas are not betrayals of American “optimism” but are instead healthier expressions of it.
.. Today, the celebration of “disruptive” technological innovation is virtually unanimous. Why then is corporate and government investment in basic research in decline? Why is productivity stagnating?
.. we are told that more and more jobs will be lost to automation, and that the “new economy” will be a highly bifurcated service economy. But if “average” is truly over, what does that mean for an American republic predicated on a strong and independent middle class
.. Yet the most conspicuous global phenomenon of the present time would appear to be the resurgence of nationalism
.. Can nationalism be leavened by justice—or even be essential to it—rather than being abandoned to its worst expressions?
.. Was meritocracy fated to produce social stratification? Or are we privileging certain forms of merit while excluding others?
.. Have the permanent campaigns of identity politics on the left and the “culture wars” on the right concealed the true content of our common citizenship?
.. The promise of America is no longer being realized as it once was. Revival and realignment are critically needed.