May 3, 2005

by Reb Yudel
Flashback 1996: The Hizbullah wing of the Republican Party

This old New Republic article, Neocon v. Theocon by Jacob Heilbrunn, provides some timely insight on how the Grand Old Party became the Party Of God. It's also worth pondering in light of the Catholic-Evangelical alliance that decided the last election, and of Pope Benedict's role in the same.

This war is deeply personal. On one side are the mostly Jewish neoconservatives, a fairly small group of ex-New York leftists who have wielded influence greatly beyond their numbers through sheer intellectual energy. Since the conservative renascence began in the late 1970s, the neocons have given it much of its form and heft; building on the earlier work of William F. Buckley Jr., they provided most of the ideas and arguments that allowed conservatism to compete with (and in many areas triumph over) liberalism. As conservatism benefited from the neocons, so did the neocons benefit from conservatism. They made conservatism intellectually respectable, and conservatism made them intellectually important. Now challenging the neocons is an equally small (and equally ambitious, and equally disputatious) group of what might be called theocons--mostly Catholic intellectuals who are attempting to construct a Christian theory of politics that directly threatens the entire neoconservative philosophy. This attempt, in the eyes of at least some of the neocons, also directly threatens Jews. What makes the matter all the more painful for both sides is that, until recently, the neocons and the theocons were, for the best of political reasons, the best of friends.

And this war is fundamental. It is rooted in a battle over the identity of the American nation. The neoconservatives believe that America is special because it was founded on an idea--a commitment to the rights of man embodied in the Declaration of Independence--not in ethnic or religious affiliations. The theocons, too, argue that America is rooted in an idea, but they believe that idea is Christianity. In their view, the United States is first and foremost a Christian nation, governed ultimately by natural law. When moral law--moral law as defined by Thomas Aquinas and enunciated by John Paul II--conflicts with the laws of man, they say, the choice is clear: God's law transcends the arbitrary and tyrannical decrees of what the theocons increasingly refer to as an American judicial "regime."

The war between the neocons and the theocons first broke into the open in November, when Neuhaus published a symposium in his magazine, First Things, titled "THE END OF DEMOCRACY?" The symposium made explicit for the first time the central point of the Catholic intellectuals' thesis: that the government of the United States (in particular the judiciary) had become so debased--so, essentially, unChristian and therefore so illegitimate--as to threaten the existence of America as a nation under God, and that this crisis might require a revolutionary response. The ultimate paradox: a conservative revolution.

In the introduction to the symposium, the editors likened the United States to Nazi Germany and cited an encyclical from Pope John Paul II to justify entertaining the possibility of revolution against a judicial tyranny: "Law, as it is presently made by the judiciary, has declared its independence from morality." The editors asked point-blank whether "we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime." They went on to observe that "America is not and, please God, will never become Nazi Germany, but it is only blind hubris that denies it can happen here and, in peculiarly American ways, may be happening here." The same issue contained quotations from the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer on resisting the Nazi regime.

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