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August 14, 2014 11:03 AM The Very Different “Libertarianism” of the Christian Right

By Ed Kilgore

One Twitter-spondent yesterday told me my argument that what’s being called the “libertarian” streak in the GOP may owe more to the Christian Right than to actual Libertarianism was “breaking my brain.” That was the idea: getting people out of the habit of classifying conservative activists in mutually exclusive categories like “Tea Party” and “evangelicals” that create false impressions of developments like “a libertarian moment.” But more fundamentally, I hoped to stir some more serious thinking about the religious roots of “constitutional conservatism” and its contribution to the extremism now widely seen on the Right. The learned chronicler of the Christian Right, Sarah Posner, obliged with this observation at Religion Dispatches:

An essential dogma of the religious right is that government should provide minimal services for and impose minimal demands on the citizenry. Sound familiar? But the reason isn’t, as popular libertarian dogma would have it, because the government should keep its nose out of your business. Dating back to conservative Christian red scares, anti-union and anti-New Deal ideology, and to Christian Reconstructionist framing of the proper role of government in relation to the church, the family, and the individual, these principles emerge from the idea that the secular state is the enemy of a proper Christian ordering of markets, social norms, and family and religious life.
If you doubt that these dogmas have found common cause, remember that many of the supporters of the Tea Party godfather, Ron Paul, base their support for him on the belief that he shares, or at least would respect and act on their religious views.

To put it more bluntly, for every bitcoin-loving Galt-glorifying atheist in the Paul Family Revolution, there’s probably a “Quiverfull” home-schooling cultural counterrevolutionary who’s fighting the Babylon of a hostile secularist state. And beyond the Paulite ranks, there are millions of conservative evangelicals harboring “libertarian” anti-government attitudes who don’t really care that their thinking is considered incoherent by people living in sin.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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