Is It Possible To Be A Secularist on the Right?

Supporters of the Secular Right have a blog up but are faced with the fundamental challenge of first convincing people that this view even exists to a meaningful degree. In a post which questions Do We Exist this argument is made:

There are many people like us: people who cherish limited government, fiscal restraint, personal liberty, free enterprise, self-support, patriotic defense of the homeland and its borders, love of the Constitution, respect for established ways of doing things, pride in Western Civilization, etc., and yet who cannot swallow stories about the Sky Father and the Afterlife, miraculous births and revivifications. What does the one set of things have to do with the other? We are secular conservatives. What else are we? Figments of our own imaginations?

They might not be figments of their own imaginations, but are they really on the right as left and right are now defined? The old battles between capitalism and socialism are over. Despite attempts by the McCain campaign to twist Obama’s words to portray him as a supporter of redistribution of the wealth in a Marxist sense, and despite some remaining socialists on the far left, for the most part the left is firmly behind free enterprise.

Republicans have hardly offered either fiscal restraint or limited government. It is Democrats who in recent years have balanced the budget and have been more likely to support the principle of pay as you go.

Patriotic defense of the homeland? The right wing would be more likely to word it this way. The left wouldn’t use such verbiage but it is the left which is reality-based on foreign policy and which would provide more rational national security. It is the right which has undermined our national security by the policies they have pursued in recent years.

Love of the Constitution? It is the objection to violations of the Constitution and views of the Founding Fathers by the right which most strongly identifies the left. The primary difference between the left and right is the support for liberty by the left and opposition to the infringements upon individual liberty emanating from the right.

The realignment of left and right over issues of freedom and support for the Constitutional limitations on government is directly related to the dominance of the religious right in the Republican Party. With the possible exception of the abuse of the “war on terror,” it is the religious right which presents the greatest threat to individual freedom in this country. A political party cannot simultaneously be a supporter of freedom and support the agenda of the religious right. The Founding Fathers realized, when they promoted a secular government, that this was essential to preserving freedom.

Barry Goldwater realized this inconsistency years ago when he opposed the influence of the religious right in the GOP and considered himself to be a liberal in his later years. Andrew Sullivan also sees the incompatibility between secularism and the current Republican Party (and hopefully he understands the difference between secularism and atheism). In commenting on this discussion, Sullivan writes:

I don’t see how Republicanism, as it is now constructed, can tolerate atheists in its midst. The principles of today’s Christianist GOP are theological before they are political. And when you’re dealing with believers like these people, there is no arguing with revealed truths. Your job is to bow down or get out of the way.

Some day we might once again have a Republican Party more in line with historical conservative views, such as those held by Barry Goldwater. At present it appears that the religious right has firm control over the GOP. Meanings of labels such as left and right tend to vary over time and carry considerable ambiguity. At present a supporter of individual liberty, the Constitution, the free market, fiscal responsibility, a sound reality-based defense policy, and a secular government would more likely be classified as being on the left as opposed to the right. Of course these are the basic principles promoted here at Liberal Values.

This might still leave room for a combination of secular views and other views which might conceivably place someone on the right. We might still classify someone as being on the right for supporting the failed foreign policy beliefs of the neoconservatives. Apologists for the restrictions on civil liberties and growth of government under the Republicans could also fall on the right. This type of conservative wouldn’t fit in well with either party but, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out above, they will have difficulty being accepted in the Republican Party.

Update: A difference in the world view between liberals (and perhaps the secular right) and non-secular conservatives can be seen in this comment on this topic at  The American Conservative:

If secular conservatives have “pride in Western Civilization,” as Derbyshire puts it, they cannot very well ignore or deride as nonsense the central religious inspiration of that entire civilization, which is Christianity. Are they obliged to accept revealed truths? No, but they can and should pay due respect to the revelation that animated Western societies for most of their history and the traditions of our ancestors that have been tested over time and which have endured to become established customs. If all they are asking for is to “play in the band,” as Derbyshire says, no one is telling them that they cannot.

I would disagree that “pride in Western Civilization” necessitates giving such a dominant role to Christianity. The roots of our Western Civilization pre-date Christianity, and include the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the religious heritage of Judaism. In having pride in Western Civilization I look back to these traditions. I also look back to the Age of Enlightenment when the influence of religion was minimized and the west looked to ideas of individual freedom and to science and reason, as opposed to religion, to explain the universe. Using the subtitle of Defending Liberty and Enlightened Thought in this blog displays pride in these important ideas which come from Western Civilization and which have become more prominent over religious conservatism since the Age of Enlightenment.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Jeremy Pober says:

    Ron,
    As usual, I agree strongly with this piece. I think that “soft libertarians” i.e. those who have their basis in liberal rather than anarchistic philosophy, are the new RINOs. Yesterday, I wrote about how even the use of the term libertarian obfuscated the similarities between these people and those of us on the left, and how it also supplied a false sense of camaraderie with much more out-there anarchists. In that post I noted the similarity between your mission statement and that of Cato/Will Wilkinson, who falls into this category of libertarian (although there are members of Cato that obviously do not).

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