The Age of Unreason
The reign of capitalism is now a worldwide phenomenon, achieving a pinnacle of influence that dominates politics and societal behaviour. Never before throughout the history of humankind has one principle of socio/economic theory had such profound impact on the world, rivaling the impact of the fabulous Age of Enlightenment. However, whereas the Age of Enlightenment led to major positives, significant progress for all of humankind, the current stage of U.S. capitalistic democracy is sputtering and regressing into darkness, similar to the dark cloud the Napoleonic Wars cast over the Age of Enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment (1685-1800), an era of positive thinking about life’s course, broke free from the shackles of church/state domination, bringing people face to face with new realities never before considered. According to the German philosopher Immaneul Kant (1724-1804), “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his nonage.” The nonage he referenced was not caused by lack of intelligence but by “lack of determination and courage to use that determination without another’s guidance.” He challenged people: “Dare to know!”
Kant and his “philosophe” wanted people, unburdened from the control of the church/state, to think for themselves. Philosophe extended from Scotland to Naples, and spread to America, involving an impressive clan of radical intellectuals who were passionate about the new philosophy of John Locke and the new science of Isaac Newton. They believed in freedom of speech, in personal liberty and deplored cruel legal procedures and arbitrary government. They exposed the flaws in organized religion. They advocated the release of humankind from the domination of absolutist rule by church/states. Thus, they became independent thinkers, and their accomplishments were huge for all subsequent humanity, memorialized by the words of the great scientific philosopher René Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.”
The Age of Enlightenment made everything we do today possible, calculus, order of species, the universe, modern chemistry, electricity, psychology, steam engine, a virtual outpouring of science (Scientific Method), thought (Encyclopedia), theatre (Munich’s Residenztheater), music (symphony orchestras), opera (Christoph Gluck) politics (democracy), and economics (Adam Smith) that gave the world euphoric color, depth, and progress like never before, until the Napoleonic Wars turned the world grey.
Similarly, the United States experienced a pragmatic type of renaissance from the late 18th to the late 20th century with remarkable positive achievements, from the automobile to sending a man to the moon; however, today’s democratic capitalism is like a flickering twilight, fading away. A profound sense of loss permeates capitalistic democracy in the United States because the country’s politics are reverting back in time to when an intolerant religious minority set the tone for all of society.
According to Tamara Scott, Iowa Director of Concerned Women for America, “If we’re not involved as Christians, then we’ll be ruled by the ungodly.” The Christian right believes they have a godly duty to turn secular humanism into policy that is ruled by the word of God, and they believe the Christian Founding Fathers, who framed the republic by drafting the Constitution, intended for godly rule to supersede secularism. After all, they were ardent Christians, weren’t they?
The positive thinking that characterized the Age of Enlightenment and the previous American experience is gone today as the negative thinking of the Christian Right reigns supreme, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-same-sex-marriage, anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, anti-union, anti-Muslim, anti-science, anti-environmental laws, anti-no-fault divorce, anti-regulations, anti-feminism, anti-secular education, anti-welfare, anti-government, anti-separation of church and state, and intolerant. The extreme right’s platform for progress is filled with negatives. But, where does this leave democratic capitalism?
Their prescription is a giant leap backwards to the rule of church/state that the Age of Enlightenment turned outwards in favour of secular humanism. The deists of the Age of Enlightenment like Voltaire in the 1760s wrote, “Theology amuses me. There we find man’s insanity in all its plenitude.” America’s Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin were all deists, believing in God but not believing in the rule of God for political ends. They found religious truth via rationalism, not by the dictates of the Bible. As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, God created the universe; he left humankind alone to manage it. Today’s extremist right wing mistakenly believe the reverse is true, and this is unfortunate because these misrepresentations of the true intent of our Founding Fathers is the basis of their principal rationale for governmental makeover.
Today in America, politics are so polarized at the center, the right wing has stepped in to fill the void, and with only 15% of the electorate as members of the Christian Right, they exercise a disproportionate influence by controlling the Republican Party. According to Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “You have states like Iowa where the religious right is in control of the GOP apparatus, and that’s not the only state. There are a number of others where they’re in control, and if you don’t agree with them, you can hit the bricks!” Their goal is to apply religious precepts to politics, a throw back to the ecclesiocracy of the Middle Ages.
Essentially, the Christian Right wants to adopt the equivalent of an Islamic church-state that utilizes Islam, specifically Sharia, as its foundation for political institutions, or like Iran where the Council of Guardians is responsible for determining if legislation is in line with Islamic law. Basically, this is the same direction the Christian Right is headed. The irony takes one’s breath away!
Further, the power behind the extremist Christian Right bloc has grown immense ever since the capitalists’ elite discovered the fervor behind this movement. For example, the Koch Brothers’ ($40 billion net worth) Americans for Prosperity Foundation serves as a training center for right wing activist, and their personal interpretation of news items makes headlines whenever and wherever necessary, filling a void of news reporting in America.
The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which is a heavily right-wing funded organization with websites and affiliates providing free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media nationwide, lays claim to filling a void created by state newsroom layoffs. The Center is “pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, and free market” and funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers and maintains a regular presence hosting right-wing events.
In a May 30th fundraising email, the organization boasted: “When you give to the Franklin Center, you have an immediate impact on the power of our reporting. Legacy news outlets regularly pick up our stories, driving them far beyond the typical audience for online news.” Indeed, the Franklin Center’s focus on state legislative news allows it to take advantage of a long-running downturn in staffing and resources at mainstream news outlets’ statehouse coverage dating back nearly a decade, providing content local newspapers are otherwise unable to afford.
The Franklin Center claims the downturn in mainstream state reporting as one of the reasons for its existence, noting on its website: “Cash-strapped and under-staffed, local and regional newspapers often can’t provide the real information that voters need to make good decisions.” Several newspapers acknowledge using Franklin Center reporting to fill a void caused by cutbacks and layoffs, albeit with a great deal of unease at using a source with such a clear ideological perspective.
“They’re seen as being very conservative and not just trying to find waste and fraud, but they are pushing a real political agenda, much more subtly,” claims Dan Bice, a columnist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bice cited an issue that arose in August 2011 when the WisconsinReporter.com claimed that Wisconsin Jobs Now, a pro-union coalition, had bribed voters with a barbecue event and rides to the polls during last year’s U.S. Senate primary. Dubbed “BBQ-For-Votes,” WisconsinReporter.com took up the story after the conservative Mediatrackers.org posted a blurb that used an anonymous source making the claim, which never resulted in any charges or findings of wrongdoing by Wisconsin Jobs Now. According to Bice, “What they have done is influence the outcome of elections.”
The Franklin Center web site “represents yet another dangerous blow to the traditions of objective news reporting and, I’m afraid, the future of America’s democratic discourse,” says Dave Zweifel of The Capital Times, one of two daily papers in the capital city of Madison.
As of today, an obscure minority of wealthy elites, utilizing the people power of the Christian Right, by controlling news, controlling policy, and setting the nation’s agenda, have implemented a massive stranglehold over capitalism’s democracy, and as of recent, it is starkly obvious they also have a grip on Mitt Romney, for example: According to Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2012, “In fact, most politicians, at least most leading ones, are pretty consistent on their core positions. They change on discrete matters here and there, but we have never, and I do mean never, seen anyone change—completely and utterly transform—his view on abortion rights and a path to amnesty for illegal immigrants and taxation (he once refused to sign Grover Norquist’s pledge) and guns and, of course, health care. It’s completely mind-boggling to me how a person can get away with this, and it’s just chalked up to expediency. So the other Republican candidates were people you wouldn’t put in charge of a community college let alone the country but it’s just fine that Romney changed his view on every significant issue? It isn’t fine. It’s pathetic. It’s callow. It suggests that there is absolutely nothing to the man.”
Tomasky’s criticism of Romney as a panderer is self-evident for all to see, and this fatal flaw in his character resonates with voters, many of whom do not trust him, including some Republicans. Their point of view is almost too easy because everybody knows Mitt compromised his positions to placate a tiny minority of powerful right wing interests. Now, he is their presidential candidate… made official with selection of their VP choice.
According to Bob Dole, “We have got to be open,” he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “We cannot be a single-issue party or single-philosophy party”. He added: “There’s a big split in our party. There’s this undercurrent of rigid conservatism where you don’t dare not toe the line”
Rigid conservatism may be an understatement by the time the dust settles on the 2012 presidential election because Dole’s statement implies a quasi-democratic republic that is missing the open give and take of a functioning democracy. However, because of the polarization at the center of America’s politics, allowing the Christian Right to fill the void and set the agenda, Dole’s rigid conservatism may very easily revert back in time to when the terms “left and right” first originated, which appeared during the French Revolution of 1789. Members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king and the church seated to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution seated to the assembly president’s left. If Romney wins, the king and the church reunite in power… but isn’t this the same arrangement that triggered one of the world’s bloodiest revolutions?
Henceforth, we’re headed back full circle to the same political compact of church and state that Founding Fathers like Thomas Paine, who wrote The Age of Reason, popularizing deism, so radically opposed.
Does the Christian Right fully understand the foundations of their key principles?
Robert Hunziker earned an MA in economic history at DePaul University. He lives in Los Angeles.