Who Wants to Restore Honor?

 

Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie has a mostly insightful and important rumination on the very American people who descended on Washington, D.C. for Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally. His take on the role of religion, however, is a little off. Okay, maybe a lot off.

Gillespie notes that Beck “is channeling a very strong tradition in American with regards to religion and the public square.” He describes the objective of that tradition as “’embracing’ God and putting him back in the center of our lives, both private and public.” But Gillespie thinks that any “anxiety” about “turning God […] out of the public square” is misplaced, because “politicians are far more publicly pious than they used to be.” He admits “that may be less important than the feeling” — but can’t identify any rational source for that feeling. This is a mistake.

But the truth is hiding in plain sight, between the lines of Gillespie’s otherwise clear-eyed synopsis. “For much of the new century, and certainly for all of the past three years,” he notes, “there has been nothing but uncertainty in the economy and a good degree of uncertainty in the political arena.”

The people we talked to felt something like cogs in a machine whose shape and size they didn’t even understand. They were not rabid xenophobes or racists […] not conspiracists […] but they felt cheated and frustrated that their individual lives seemed to be controlled by larger forces and institutions over which they had little or no control. And to the extent that they talked about government, the focus was generally upon government spending that they assumed threatened to destroy the future, for them and their kids or grandkids.

I think the connection is pretty simple. I’ve alluded to it before. The idea is that a cultural ruling class with a shared set of Western values and a generically but genuinely God-centric view of life will produce a political class that rejects a form of government in which they rule over a nation of citizen-subjects who pay for that rule but have lost the ability to control their own fortunes. The past ten years have made for some intense disillusionment on this count. Gillespie’s observation is essential that

The attendees saw a continuity between George Bush and Barack Obama […]. There were definitely more Republicans than Democrats (who may have been missing almost totally), but virtually everyone we talked with identified as an independent. Who was fed up with the past decade, really, not just the past 18 or so months of Obama.

This is a key reason why 2010, however it pans out, will be much different than 1994. It also underscores that anyone who really thinks that the tea parties are just a plutocratic astroturfing project, or an organized hissy fit that will subside as soon as the GOP is back in power, needs to tear up their notebook and start over. Elsewhere, I’ve written previously about an embryonic coalition in America between what Hunter Thompson half-jokingly called ‘Freak Power’ and what a red-blooded American with a sense of humor might today call ‘Rube Power.’ Reading Gillespie confirms that intuition:

I live part-time in small-town Ohio where the local Wal-Mart Super Center is a major third space. Over the past few years and contrary to its image as wholesome, the chain has gone serously goth. Check out the T-shirts you can buy there and virtually every other one has skulls and crosses on it. And if something doesn’t have stylized chains and blood on it, then it’s in Day-Glo colors. The crowd reflected that, with more piercings than I’ve seen at some rock shows, ZZ Top beards galore, a biker look on many men and women. A noticeable number of the crowd were even wearing inexpensive Faded Glory (Wal-Mart’s housebrand) American flag T-shirts. Any number of commentators may have been appalled by the crowd, but check it and see: This is America.

What’s key is that the basic idea of restoring honor and governing accordingly appeals not only to freaky rubes but to straight-laced nerds and preppies and yuppies and many, many other kinds of Americans besides. Gillespie goes off track in thinking that religion links up with this basket of broadly shared interests in a self-contradictory way. Beck’s folks, he writes,

worry about an undocumented fall in morals, and they are emphatic that genuine religiosity should be a feature of the public square. Which is to say, like most American voters, they may well want from government precisely the things that it really can’t deliver.

A secular libertarian would confuse a longing for a public air of genuine religiosity with ‘more religion in government’. But this, too, I think, badly misses the mark. The Americans who came out in droves for Beck’s rally don’t think the purpose of government is to hand you the good life. Why would they think the purpose of government is to hand you the right morals? As Gillespie himself puts it :”In some sense, the rally was a giant AA meeting (I don’t mean this snarkily), flush with the notion that whatever else is going on in the world, you can control some portion of your own life.”

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HEMINGWAY > Cleaning Up After Your Own Rally? Honor Restored

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MelFoil

    ReasonTV: What We Saw at the Glenn Beck Rally in DC (a neutral look)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CY5aFvRe2E

    I think most of the people there, including Beck, were of the attitude, “we (America) got off the marked trail somewhere, so, God, please direct us (and our fellow citizens) back onto the right path.” For most, it was no more political than that. It was more about correcting spiritual direction than correcting political direction. One may flow from the other, but first things first.

    • #1
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    @

    I suspect that to a large extent the unifying element of the rally was that Americans are tired of the political correctness movement which has made wishing someone a Merry Christmas verboten or having creche in a town square illegal, or any of a number of things we all grew up with suddenly becoming unacceptable. I was raised a Christian, but it has been many years since I considered myself one. However, I find that the traditions I grew up with being banned or treated as somehow unacceptable is completely upsetting, particularly when Muslim holidays or practices seem to have a free rein wherever they want. Christians and Jews can’t pray in school, but Muslims can. Something is totally out of balance, and if one who has considered himself an agnostic for fifty years finds it to be so, I cannot imagine that it does not cause a severe reaction in someone who actually believes. The left has made freedom of religion the freedom to practice anything but the dominant religion in this country. I think that more than anything else this rally was an attempt to say, Not any more!

    • #2
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    @ScottR

    A bottom-up morality among the citizens, self-imposed, makes the population less needful of the collective (and false) salvation offered by government. The Beck rally, best I could tell, promoted precisely this perfectly American message of self-reliance.

    Ultimately, our government is a reflection of ourselves and our values and morals. We lead; it follows. If, for example, enlightened shame makes us less desiring of taking that which is not ours, redistribution will become less and less a political winner, and we’ll soon enough have less of it.

    Likewise, if the current recession instigates a re-awakening of these old values, by 2012 the political path of least resistance–that is, the one that’s always followed–will be to institute precisely the reforms that we conservatives so crave.

    • #3
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    @

    I like Glenn Beck. But that rally made me queasy.

    Perhaps it’s because I was listening to him on radio a few days before the rally and heard him say that he had begun to hear, lately, the voice of God speaking to him and that he had now resolved to make it his life’s mission to call America back to God as our only path to national salvation.

    And that, simply, was what the rally was all about.

    Nothing wrong with that message, of course. But when an affable, humorous media personality suddenly goes all messianic, I wonder: what could possibly go wrong?

    • #4
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    @Midge

    “A bottom-up morality among the citizens, self-imposed, makes the population less needful of the collective (and false) salvation offered by government.” Well said.

    • #5
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    @Midge

    “heard him say that he had begun to hear, lately, the voice of God speaking to him… when an affable, humorous media personality suddenly goes all messianic, I wonder: what could possibly go wrong?” Well, I suppose it matters exactly what he means by God speaking to him. But you’re right that it can be an unsettling sign…

    • #6
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    @MatthewGilley

    I’m no Glenn Beck fan, but a flawed messenger does not mean the message is flawed. The guys on the podcast this week hit on the point that this administration doesn’t seem to know or want to know Americans. Americans are different from citizens of other nations – we recognize that we are called to be engaged, assertive citizens; we are not subjects. The federal government, especially the career civil service types and their cheerleaders in this administration and Congressional leadership, need pliant subjects for their notion of government to work. The Tea Party movement, new conservative assertiveness in the overall electorate and within the Republican Party and, yes, even the Glenn Beck rally are upsetting the statist apple cart. Regardless of whether individual participants look to ideology, history, tradition, economics or religion to motivate them to reclaim a society centered on the sovereignty of the people, I’m just cheered to know we’re on the march. It’s all good.

    • #7
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    @CasBalicki

    The question of what’s been lost in America may go hand in hand with what’s been gained. More specifically is “Freedom” a zero sum game? Zero sum for those not into the jargon sets a win as +1 and a loss as -1, consequently 1 + (-1) = 0. So are my wins your losses? If this is indeed the case than every crèche that is outlawed is a loss to the religious and a gain for the godless. This zero-sum hypothesis raises a far more fundamental question than who wins and who loses, even though stacking up a winning record can be and often is vitally important in politics. Indeed, the deeper question raised goes to the heart of democracy in that it asks: can democracy itself survive as a zero-sum enterprise? We are given to saying that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins and this is, for the most part, true. Yet the zero-sum hypothesis would suggest that we, as opposing elements in a democracy, are starting to bloody each others’ noses. I posit that restoring honour may be the least of our democratic concerns.

    • #8
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    @
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: “heard him say that he had begun to hear, lately, the voice of God speaking to him… when an affable, humorous media personality suddenly goes all messianic, I wonder: what could possibly go wrong?” Well, I suppose it matters exactly what he means by God speaking to him. But you’re right that it can be an unsettling sign… · Sep 4 at 7:00pm

    He actually described it as not a booming Voice of God, but a still, small voice he hears in response to prayer. A dialogue with the Creator. He said his market research people have warned him his listeners will flee in droves if he goes all God on them, but he is resolute.

    Again, nothing wrong with that, but given that he has positioned himself as the voice of the Tea Parties, that leaves much room for mischief on the part of his (and our) detractors.

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    @Midge

    Kenneth, my experience is that sometimes that still, small voice that I thought was God responding to my prayer turned out not to be God (or else God is a liar, but this I refuse to countenance). So while I’m relieved to hear that he’s hearing God through a still, small voice rather than through a megaphone, I sure hope, as you do, that he treads this territory carefully. And not only because this sort of experience is easy to mock.

    • #10
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    @heathermc

    Kenneth, think about the serious mischief that has been committed in your great country by the proudly agnostic educated elite. I am seriously confused by your having any problem with Glenn Beck, who on his Fox program, is showcasing an array of religious leaders; and who is lecturing, with blackboard chalk at hand, the millions of his viewers, on the thoughts of America’s Founders.

    My own tendency is towards agnostic, with a hope that there is a God, but I have real respect for Beck. If he feels sincerely that he is performing God’s mission in waking up the American people, well, good for him. Certainly, the agnostic libertarians are important. But so is passion. If America is to retrieve its Self in the coming century, it will need more than lower tax rates.

    As a Canadian, watching the north’s mineral resources being swallowed up by Chinese interests, I really want to see an America that is alert and awake. T

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway
    Kenneth: I like Glenn Beck. But that rally made me queasy.

    Perhaps it’s because I was listening to him on radio a few days before the rally and heard him say that he had begun to hear, lately, the voice of God speaking to him and that he had now resolved to make it his life’s mission to call America back to God as our only path to national salvation.

    For what it’s worth, Mormons believe in ongoing personal revelation.

    • #12
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    @
    heathermc: Kenneth, think about the serious mischief that has been committed in your great country by the proudly agnostic educated elite. I am seriously confused by your having any problem with Glenn Beck, who on his Fox program, is showcasing an array of religious leaders; and who is lecturing, with blackboard chalk at hand, the millions of his viewers, on the thoughts of America’s Founders.

    Heather, you’re a delightful, insightful member and I always enjoy your posts.

    I’ve listened to Glenn Beck for years and even had the pleasure of spending some time with him, before he became a television celebrity. I love the guy, honestly.

    Here comes the but…

    What makes me nervous about this latest turn for him is that he is so closely identified with the Tea Party movement that his new evangelical bent offers the Left a wonderful opportunity to write off the entire movement as a bunch of snake-handling Bible-thumpers.

    And independent voters in America get the willies about the evangelical thing. They’ve actually been convinced by the Left that anyone who professes belief in Christ wants to install a theological state.

    • #13
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    @heathermc

    I guess I can see your problem with Beck: that he BECOMES the “Tea Party”, when it is absolutely essential that the Tea Party be amorphous and most active at the very local level, like the school board meetings. Well, we shall see. A lot of this Beck thing is a part of the national media conversation. Peter Robinson has mentioned a woman in Marin County (?) who is hosting a meeting of Tea Party folk… and I think that most people will walk away from 8/28 and go back to their town and start attending the school board meetings and the municipal election meetings, with the knowledge that (a) this is IMPORTANT; and (b) what they are doing at these boring meetings is ensuring the rejuvenation of the American Dream.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @
    heathermc: I guess I can see your problem with Beck: that he BECOMES the “Tea Party”, when it is absolutely essential that the Tea Party be amorphous and most active at the very local level, like the school board meetings. Well, we shall see. A lot of this Beck thing is a part of the national media conversation. Peter Robinson has mentioned a woman in Marin County (?) who is hosting a meeting of Tea Party folk… and I think that most people will walk away from 8/28 and go back to their town and start attending the school board meetings and the municipal election meetings, with the knowledge that (a) this is IMPORTANT; and (b) what they are doing at these boring meetings is ensuring the rejuvenation of the American Dream. · Sep 4 at 9:29pm

    I happen to live in Marin County, too – a proud “nuclear-weapons-free-County”!

    Years and years ago, I lived in Canada. What an idyllic place it was then. What a delusional place now. They decided multi-culturalism would give them bragging rights over the US and in the process, they sacrificed their national soul.

    • #15
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    @heathermc

    A friend who has read ‘None is too Many” told me yesterday that of all the Allies, Canada took in the fewest Jewish Refugees. But, as any Canadian well tell you, we are “nice.” Are we not?

    Anyway, I came across this very interesting quotation in “Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother”, by William Shawcross, page 429. It is a letter written in 1938 by the (then) Queen Elizabeth to her friend D’Arcy Osborne. Since it is longish, I will put it into the next slot.

    • #16
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    @heathermc

    The Queen feared that since young people had given up on religion,

    “they look more & more to individual leadership, or rather leadership by an individual, and that is going to be very difficult to find. It is almost impossible for the King to be that sort of leader…. It seems impossible to mix King and ordinary vulgar leadership – so what can we do? We don’t want Mosleys, perhaps something will turn up. In the old days, Religion must have given a great sense of security and RIGHT and now there seems to be a vague sense of FEAR. Or am I sensing something that isn’t there at all. Perhaps it is me…What a sadness that things aren’t going any better in this troubled world.

    • #17

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