What conservative crack-up?

With Terri Schiavo dead and Social Security reform in the balance, the pundits are suddenly (again) calling for a 'conservative crack—up.'  Yet sales of The Purpose—driven Life have tripled in the last two weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal weekly Sales Index, beating out the best—selling fiction title.  Perhaps readers of The New York Times are rushing out to buy it after its March 27 Sunday Magazine featured a megachurch in Surprise, Arizona, run by ex—Microsoftie Lee McFarland.

The people calling for a conservative crack—up are, like former Senator Bill Bradley, distracted by surface effects.  The Republican Party may look to him like a pyramid, with the Scaife, Olin, and Bradley Foundations at its base, but it is really like an iceberg, nine—tenths underwater.  Republican political power comes not from its money men but from something deeper in the American experience.

Liberal economist Robert William Fogel caught a glimpse of this in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism.  His 2001 book warned fellow egalitarians that the United States was in the middle of a religious revival similar to the Great Awakening of 1738—40.  If they didn't watch out, the new awakening would sweep all before it and sweep all the egalitarian experts out of their comfortable sinecures.

Fogel argued that egalitarians should get to work and co—opt the new religious revival (tell that to the angry left).  Although egalitarians had done a tremendous job improving the material condition of the poor, they had neglected the spiritual side of things.  As a result, America's poor suffered from a 'maldistribution of spiritual resources' that egalitarians should fix with a national program to provide the poor in spirit with spiritual values such as a 'sense of purpose,' a 'vision of opportunity,' a 'sense of the mainstream of work and life,' a 'strong family ethic,' 'a sense of community' and so on.  If they didn't do it then 'old lights' from the Christian right would do it instead.

You can read all about the maldistribution of spiritual resources in books like Ken Auletta's The Underclass, in Jesse Lee Peterson's From Rage to Responsibility, or more graphically in Theodore Dalrymple's narrative of Life at the Bottom of the British underclass.  When people don't need to work, they go bad rather quickly.  Underclass men do not live like debonair boulevardiers but insanely jealous monsters.  But there is a way out of the spiral of despair.

Down in Surprise, Arizona, one of the members of The New York Times's featured megachurch was Joe Garcia, a computer technician.  He had 'defeated a long—running addiction to alcohol and cocaine' and then been saved, with his wife Jodi, at a Christian revival.  Now he attends a megachurch, with its sense of purpose, its strong family ethic, and its sense of community, all delivered without benefit of liberal egalitarians.

Then there's Jesse Lee Peterson.  Abandoned by his father and resented by his mother, he found as a young man that he could get from the government '$300 a month, plus rent money, food stamps, and vocational training.'  What followed was ten years of partying, drugs, and sex, and rage fueled by Louis Farrakhan. One day he learned from a minister 'about human hatred and the destructiveness it brings to peoples' lives.'  He started praying and learned to dissolve the hatred he felt towards his father, his mother, his stepfather, and white America.

Democrats and liberals have taught us a different story, an appealing narrative about how heroic altruistic humanists and revolutionaries stormed the ramparts of bourgeois privilege to secure a decent standard of living for the poor and the unfortunate.  But they leave out the consequence of their altruism: Fogel's maldistribution of spiritual resources.  How could this have happened? 

The greatness of the United States comes not from the altruism of its powerful elites but from the persistent hunger of its people for responsibility and self—government.  Again and again that hunger erupts: in a single life as one angry man shakes off drugs and rage for personal responsibility, in the voluntary associations large and small in which ordinary people practice self—government, and in the periodic Great Awakenings in which millions of Americans renew their faith.

Again and again the spirit of America has called its peoples to responsibility.  In the words of Barton Stone, a revivalist in the early Nineteenth Century,

'...when we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakening from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.'  

Again and again the American people have responded to this call.

Let's not get too excited about conservative crack—ups.  The conservative iceberg will break up and melt when it's good and ready, and not before.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

With Terri Schiavo dead and Social Security reform in the balance, the pundits are suddenly (again) calling for a 'conservative crack—up.'  Yet sales of The Purpose—driven Life have tripled in the last two weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal weekly Sales Index, beating out the best—selling fiction title.  Perhaps readers of The New York Times are rushing out to buy it after its March 27 Sunday Magazine featured a megachurch in Surprise, Arizona, run by ex—Microsoftie Lee McFarland.

The people calling for a conservative crack—up are, like former Senator Bill Bradley, distracted by surface effects.  The Republican Party may look to him like a pyramid, with the Scaife, Olin, and Bradley Foundations at its base, but it is really like an iceberg, nine—tenths underwater.  Republican political power comes not from its money men but from something deeper in the American experience.

Liberal economist Robert William Fogel caught a glimpse of this in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism.  His 2001 book warned fellow egalitarians that the United States was in the middle of a religious revival similar to the Great Awakening of 1738—40.  If they didn't watch out, the new awakening would sweep all before it and sweep all the egalitarian experts out of their comfortable sinecures.

Fogel argued that egalitarians should get to work and co—opt the new religious revival (tell that to the angry left).  Although egalitarians had done a tremendous job improving the material condition of the poor, they had neglected the spiritual side of things.  As a result, America's poor suffered from a 'maldistribution of spiritual resources' that egalitarians should fix with a national program to provide the poor in spirit with spiritual values such as a 'sense of purpose,' a 'vision of opportunity,' a 'sense of the mainstream of work and life,' a 'strong family ethic,' 'a sense of community' and so on.  If they didn't do it then 'old lights' from the Christian right would do it instead.

You can read all about the maldistribution of spiritual resources in books like Ken Auletta's The Underclass, in Jesse Lee Peterson's From Rage to Responsibility, or more graphically in Theodore Dalrymple's narrative of Life at the Bottom of the British underclass.  When people don't need to work, they go bad rather quickly.  Underclass men do not live like debonair boulevardiers but insanely jealous monsters.  But there is a way out of the spiral of despair.

Down in Surprise, Arizona, one of the members of The New York Times's featured megachurch was Joe Garcia, a computer technician.  He had 'defeated a long—running addiction to alcohol and cocaine' and then been saved, with his wife Jodi, at a Christian revival.  Now he attends a megachurch, with its sense of purpose, its strong family ethic, and its sense of community, all delivered without benefit of liberal egalitarians.

Then there's Jesse Lee Peterson.  Abandoned by his father and resented by his mother, he found as a young man that he could get from the government '$300 a month, plus rent money, food stamps, and vocational training.'  What followed was ten years of partying, drugs, and sex, and rage fueled by Louis Farrakhan. One day he learned from a minister 'about human hatred and the destructiveness it brings to peoples' lives.'  He started praying and learned to dissolve the hatred he felt towards his father, his mother, his stepfather, and white America.

Democrats and liberals have taught us a different story, an appealing narrative about how heroic altruistic humanists and revolutionaries stormed the ramparts of bourgeois privilege to secure a decent standard of living for the poor and the unfortunate.  But they leave out the consequence of their altruism: Fogel's maldistribution of spiritual resources.  How could this have happened? 

The greatness of the United States comes not from the altruism of its powerful elites but from the persistent hunger of its people for responsibility and self—government.  Again and again that hunger erupts: in a single life as one angry man shakes off drugs and rage for personal responsibility, in the voluntary associations large and small in which ordinary people practice self—government, and in the periodic Great Awakenings in which millions of Americans renew their faith.

Again and again the spirit of America has called its peoples to responsibility.  In the words of Barton Stone, a revivalist in the early Nineteenth Century,

'...when we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakening from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.'  

Again and again the American people have responded to this call.

Let's not get too excited about conservative crack—ups.  The conservative iceberg will break up and melt when it's good and ready, and not before.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.