Home/Daniel Larison/Hey, I Thought It Was the Paleo Moment!

Hey, I Thought It Was the Paleo Moment!

Of course, it was hard to believe when Fred Barnes said that (and it was not intended as a compliment). Now it’s almost as hard to take when the title of Ross Douthat’s article last week claimed that it was, in fact, the theocon moment.

I have refrained from commenting on the theocons recently, and on Mr. Douthat’s article in particular, because, well, the entire idea of a group of so-called “theocons” has struck me as slightly bizarre and the name has seemed horriblyvague and meaningless from the get-go. How can theoconservatism (again, does this mean they are divine conservatives, or are they conserving God?) be the “closest thing to a credible public philosophy” in the modern GOP, when no one, including those who get lumped in as “theocons,” even knows what it is? Does theocon stand for theological conservative, and if so what theology are we talking about? Mr. Douthat offers a rough definition:

Reform isn’t a word you often hear associated with the religious right, of course–and the people who decide such things decided long ago that religion mixed with conservatism yields the scent of brimstone. But contemporary “theoconservatism” is best understood as an heir to America’s long line of Christ-haunted reform movements–the abolitionists and the populists, the progressives and the suffragettes, the civil-rights crusaders and even the antiwar activist of the middle 1960s, among whom Richard John Neuhaus (now the “theocon in chief” to his enemies, but then a man of the religious left) cut his teeth.

To sum up, theoconservatism is a derivative of a sort of “reform” politics inspired by liberal Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a sort of domestic Wilsonian mainline Christianity that sneers at the “jowly bigots” of fundamentalist America, just as Mr. Douthat sneered at Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. (Robertson then pleaded for acceptance by citing all of the good, socially progressive things he had done in his time, proving at once that Mr. Douthat’s shots, intended for other kinds of more traditionally conservative fundamentalists, were pretty poorly aimed while also being sort of thing reserved for conventional liberal pot-shots at Christian conservatives.) Though I really have no brief for Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell themselves, it is not because they are too moralistic. If they are the “jowly bigots” of our time (what their bigotry is, Mr. Douthat does not tell us), what would that make someone like me?

This theoconservatism would sit comfortably alongside the “hard Wilsonians” and neocons who look down their noses at the same kinds of people, fleshing out the other side of Joseph Bottum’s “new fusionism.” Except that Mr. Douthat has granted as how “national greatness conservatism” has foundered, or at least seems to be foundering, on Iraq, so it is what is left of the new fusionism when you take out the interventionists.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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