THERE isn’t any news today about The Controversy between evolution and creationism, so we’ll digress into politics — with emphasis on the role that the creationist mindset is playing. In particular, we’re concerned about what’s happening to the Republican party. We’ve written about this before. See: Creationism and In-Your-Underwear Politics, and The Curmudgeon at Wit’s End, or “The Crisis”, and Open Letter to the Republican Party.
When people describe themselves as “conservatives” — as most Republicans do — what is it that they’re saying? In our humble opinion, they’re saying that they don’t like contemporary trends, and they’re nostalgic about some past era and its values that they want to preserve and restore.
Fine, but there are many different eras in the past for which one may be nostalgic. Regarding American conservatives, we’ll mention a few, although most who are pining for some of those bygone ears won’t come out and admit what they really want.
Era one: Old Salem, circa 1690. We’ve discussed that period here: Salem and Philadelphia: A Tale of Two Cities. Most of today’s theocratic creationists long for a return to precisely this era, especially because there was no separation of church and state. They’ll never say it in public, but Salem-style government is exactly what they want.
Our “Tale of Two Cities” article also mentions the next era — your Curmudgeon’s personal favorite.
Era two: Old Philadelphia, the Revolutionary period, up through the drafting of the Constitution. In describing what made Philadelphia so different from Salem, we wrote:
We’ve written before about the Enlightenment — particularly the Scottish Enlightenment, which (quoting from the linked article) “… asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority which could not be justified by reason.” The difference between Cotton Mather’s Salem and Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia was entirely due to the Enlightenment’s influence.
Era three: The post-Revolution but pre-Civil War South. This is Gone With The Wind stuff — quite lovely, in a fairy-tale way. It was indeed delightful for the few at the top of the heap, and not too bad for those in the middle — after all, it was America. But like all slave-owning societies before it (virtually the entire human past) it was a wretched life for those on the bottom. All who look back to such times as the Good Old Days imagine that they would be the plantation owner, sipping a cool drink on the veranda, discussing politics with their fellow planters — gallant gentlemen all — while “they” toil in the fields in a perfectly-ordered society.
As you know, there was slavery in the North too, but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent or visible as that required by large-scale agriculture in the South. The industrial revolution made such labor obsolete, but at the time — and for all times prior to that — slavery was the way of the world.
Era four: The post-Civil War South. This is the world of William Jennings Bryan, one of the most loathsome creatures in American history, of whom we wrote this: Let’s Have William Jennings Bryan Day! His worldview had many dimensions, but it’s probably typified by the town of Dayton, Tennessee, the enthusiastic site of the Scopes Trial. We shouldn’t overlook Bryan’s well-known racism, which is the never-mentioned motive for rejecting evolution and its corollary of common descent.
We can understand the nostalgia that many still have for this time and place. There were the small-town virtues. Children were respectful. They said “sir” and “ma’am” when speaking to their elders. Religion was pervasive. There were prayers in the schools. Everyone knew his place. There were also Jim Crow laws, and a fierce racism that was never far below the surface.
We must point out that the racial attitudes described above weren’t universally or exclusively Southern. The South is a unique region in many ways, but it’s a big mistake to assume that racism was confined to the South. Racism and prejudice were also common in the North — as you would readily agree if you could ask an Indian or a member of any immigrant group from that period, or if you consider Lincoln’s reluctance to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
That fourth era, the post-war, post-Reconstruction period, ended with Lyndon Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation — an explicit abrogation of the Compromise of 1877 which had created the Solid South. The resulting political disruption was exploited by Richard Nixon’s southern strategy, bringing the South into the Republican party.
Those are the principal eras and their values which a conservative might be wishing to conserve and restore. But enough of history. Let’s talk about today’s Republican party. It still has the fading memory of its principles before the upheavals of Johnson and Nixon, but now the party has inherited the William Jennings Bryan constituency described above — including creationism.
Today’s Social Conservatives, who also label themselves as the family values crowd, tend to be very close to Bryan’s era in their thinking. But they’re rarely so tasteless as to openly endorse Bryan’s racism. Yet we sense it in their insistence on creationism, which is largely based on refusing to accept that they’re related to “them.”
If we had been in charge of Nixon’s outreach to the Southern Dems, we would have made it clear that not only were we not offering them any hope of restoring their Jim Crow society (as was done), but that they’d also have to give up on their passion for Bryan and all that he represented. Alas, that second condition wasn’t imposed, so all of Bryan’s lunacy has crept into the Republican party.
The result is that while Bryan’s racism is no longer mentioned in polite society, his creationism, his populism, his “progressivism,” and his anti-intellectualism are very much a part of contemporary Republican politics.
So where does that leave your Curmudgeon? Alas, our version of conservatism leaves us in our own little world, steeped in Enlightenment philosophy, longing for the wisdom and integrity of the Founders, rejecting both the socialism of the Dems and the anti-intellectual theocratic world of the Republicans.
So here we sit, wearing our “I like Ike” pin, and wondering why there isn’t anyone around who sounds like Barry Goldwater. We sadly contemplate the ridiculous choice that today’s political parties offer us, and we don’t know what to do. So we’re complaining to you.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.