So argues D.G. Hart, the conservative Protestant professor at Hillsdale, in his new book, “From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism.” Excerpt from Christianity Today’s review:
Hart then turns to traditionalist conservatives (Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, Mark Henrie, Patrick Deneen) for an alternative to the “redemptive utopianism” that prevails among evangelicals. In Hart’s account, latter-day evangelicals, for all their internal differences, closely resemble their revivalist ancestors, stitching a patchwork quilt of American exceptionalism and providential benediction, patriotism and piety, evangelism and social action. “Deep within the soul” of members of the Religious Right, Hart observes, beats “the heart not of a Burkean conservative but of a Finneyite activist.”
Nevertheless, Hart awakens evangelicals to five factors that put them at odds with conservatism: (1) habitual appeal to the Bible as the prescriptive standard for national affairs, which abuses the Reformation principle of sola scriptura; (2) failure to differentiate the norms and tasks of the “little platoons” in society (e.g., family, work, church, neighborhood association, political party); (3) conflation of ultimate and proximate realities, thus neglecting “an older Augustinian view of the relationship between the City of God and the City of Man”; (4) naïveté about human depravity, beholden to a perfectionist model of sanctification; and (5) an anti-formalist attitude, which regards “the American political tradition’s conventions of federalism, republicanism, and constitutionalism [as] merely formal arrangements that may be discarded if a better option surfaces.” Bottom line:
… after thirty years of laboring with and supposedly listening to political conservatives, evangelicals have not expanded their intellectual repertoire significantly beyond the moral imperatives of the Bible. In fact, born-again Protestants show no more capacity to think conservatively than they did in the age of Billy Graham’s greatest popularity. They do not know how to yell “stop” to the engines of modernity the way conservatives typically have. They have not learned to be wary of concentrations of power and wealth, frustrated with mass society and popular culture’s distraction from “permanent things,” or skeptical about any humanitarian plan to end human misery. Instead, evangelicals are more likely to support political plans to improve society, grow the economy, and expand the United States’ global presence as long as doctors are not performing abortions and ministers are not presiding over the marriage of gay couples.
That may be true of Evangelicals who identify as conservatives, but aside from the Bible part, isn’t this generally true of most contemporary Americans who call themselves conservative?
To be sure, the reviewer, Christopher Benson, only gives qualified endorsement to Hart’s book. He has some problems with it, but in the main, he seems to believe that it’s an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between Evangelicalism and American politics.