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Life Arts    H1'ed 4/23/14

The Theocons Are Coming! The Theocons Are Coming!

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More recently, an unholy political alliance of conservative Protestant evangelicals and paleo-conservative Roman Catholics has emerged in American culture. Out of this unholy political alliance have come the theocons (e.g., Bottum, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert P. George). Bottum refers fondly to his fellow paleo-conservative Roman Catholics as the Swallows of Capistrano


When WASP culture was the dominant culture in American culture, it was characterized by the Protestant ethic. But WASP culture no longer dominates American culture today. Bottum refers to the people today I see as the gatekeepers of American prestige culture today as the Poster Children of the Protestant Perplex. Bottum's Swallows of Capistrano saw and still see themselves as engaging in culture wars with the Poster Children of the Protestant Perplex.


In any event, Bottum figures that the time has come for a post-Protestant ethic to emerge, and he hopes to advance its emergence. However, in light of the globalization of capitalism today, it would appear that the time has come for the globalization of the Protestant ethic.


But let's review our recent American history. Symbolically, the narrow election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 was the watershed event that marked the beginning of the end of the dominance of WASP culture and the emergence of a more inclusive American culture.


But cultural conservatives, including Protestant evangelicals and paleo-conservative Roman Catholics, have indulged in vociferous anti-sixties rhetoric, as Philip Jenkins details in his book Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America (2006).


Now, arguably, the still emerging more inclusive American culture should include Roman Catholic natural-law moral theory as the new dominant ethic to supercede the old Protestant ethic. This is the dream of the paleo-conservative Roman Catholics such as Bottum and Robert P. George.


However, in the Roman Catholic tradition of thought, Thomas Aquinas is undoubtedly the greatest proponent of natural-law moral theory. Ironically, he probably would not agree with the proposition that distinctively human life begins at the moment of conception (i.e., the moment when sperm fertilizes an egg), as Garry Wills has suggested in his book Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007). But paleo-conservative Roman Catholics and their Protestant evangelical allies remain undaunted in their insistence that distinctively human life begins at the moment of conception.


Nevertheless, those allies pursue their dream even though they do not seem to be making much headway in winning over the hearts and minds of many other Americans. So their dream remains intact as their goal, but Bottum figures that they need a new strategy for advancing their dream. His idea of a new strategy is his formulation of the proposed post-Protestant ethic.  


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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