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Deal Hudson: Is Cultural Conservativism the Future of the Religious Activism?

By Deal W. Hudson
3/13/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Goldwater, Buckley, Reagan - is past, and the only dynamic forces at work on the conservative side are the Tea Party, Libertarian, and, mostly Christian, religious activists.

Why do I bring up this story about National Review?  It confirmed the direction I have been moving in for some time, one that is being guided by my Catholic understanding of the relationship between politics and culture, and particularly the impact of culture on moral convictions.  Those, like Ponnuru, who regard themselves as the champions of conservatism, no longer know who their friends are, and, thus, are no longer interested in rebuilding the movement represented by National Review. As a result, conservatives, whether religiously or philosophically inspired, are looking elsewhere for leadership and inspiration.

Aunt Lucile had been a longtime friend of Buckley's father and mother, William F. and Aliose Buckley, who were closely connected to the University of Texas in Austin, as was my great aunt.

Aunt Lucile had been a longtime friend of Buckley's father and mother, William F. and Aliose Buckley, who were closely connected to the University of Texas in Austin, as was my great aunt.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - After my column arguing that "cultural conservatism" should supplant social conservatism, the man whom I regard as the most important Catholic layman in the nation emailed to say,

Agreed.the social speaks to institutions; the culture to norms and values. It's the latter that molds the former.

Another prominent layman, who for many years represented the Holy See at the United Nations, wrote in support saying the pro-life position should be seen as "caring for the most vulnerable regardless of their disenfranchisement." That perception is precisely what declaring oneself a social conservative cannot accomplish. 

Finally, an Evangelical leader, Rod Martin, wrote to say, "You have rung my bells." 

His email was quite long, filled with action items to launch an effort under the banner of cultural conservatism, saying the place to start is prison reform. Echoing the message of philanthropist Foster Friess, Martin explained,

We have the biggest prison population in the world, mostly nonviolent. How can we say we're pro-family when we're breaking up these families, even though their imprisoned family member(s) are no threat to anyone's safety?"

Food for thought, indeed, and precisely the kind of thinking that can be let loose placing the social conservative issues, on which we will not compromise, under the larger banner and larger vision of cultural conservatism.

My Evangelical friend went even further, underscoring the kind of activist network that a cultural focus would make possible:

We should go into black and Hispanic churches and communities to build support for it:  we'll find a ready audience there.  To our own crowd, we should explain that we'll be requiring these people to be productive members of society, who for the first time are expected to literally pay their debts, and who won't be living off taxpayers and getting several years of free X-Box anymore.  That should resonate if nothing else does.  We should leave the Left with nothing to say.  And we should, in the process, radically improve the human condition and life in America and around the world.

I quote that passage in full due to both its genuine probity and persuasiveness. Rod Martin and I have agreed to think more about this together, and I am certain others will want to join us. 

Note that I did not entitle this column "Is Cultural Conservatism the Future of Conservatism?"

There are several reasons, the most important being the heyday of conservatism - Goldwater, Buckley, Reagan - is past, and the only dynamic forces at work on the conservative side are the Tea Party, Libertarian, and, mostly Christian, religious activists. 

No one rallies under the banner of conservatism anymore - it's become the property of political philosophers and a few pundits who try to set the agenda, but nobody follows.  The action is elsewhere, a fact that even the GOP wants to ignore. 

I was raised on National Review. My great Aunt Lucile Morley of Austin was one of the original group of Texans who underwrote Bill Buckley's launch of the magazine in 1955. Aunt Lucile had been a longtime friend of Buckley's father and mother, William F. and Aliose Buckley, who were closely connected to the University of Texas in Austin, as was my great aunt.

She kept National Review arriving in my mailbox from my senior year of high school through my last year of graduate school.  I'll admit it was NR that showed me the error of my ways in 1972 when, as a seminary student, I volunteered for McGovern.

Given this connection to NR, I was very pleased when the then publisher, Ed Capano, offered to teach me the basics of magazine publishing when I took over Crisis Magazine in 1995.  After a series of lunches with Capano in New York City, I considered myself armed with a realistic view of the challenges ahead.  Capano was right on the money with every piece of advice. 

Thus, it was with some sadness that I was the target of an attack in National Review not long ago, authored by Ramesh Pannuru.

Why do I bring up this story about National Review?  It confirmed the direction I have been moving in for some time, one that is being guided by my Catholic understanding of the relationship between politics and culture, and particularly the impact of culture on moral convictions. 

Those, like Ponnuru, who regard themselves as the champions of conservatism, no longer know who their friends are, and, thus, are no longer interested in rebuilding the movement represented by National Review. As a result, conservatives, whether religiously or philosophically inspired, are looking elsewhere for leadership and inspiration.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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