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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Republican Orthodoxy

This column by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative has been making the rounds. To be fair to Dreher, he's more reporting than editorializing, but he does write for a magazine which styles itself "The American Conservative" and Dreher's agenda is pretty clear: conservative, free-market Republicans, welcome home.

As a reactionary bigot myself, I find Orthodoxy quite amenable, as do several Marxists and gays in my parish. Q.E.D., the idea of the Church as the great scouring brush to cleanse secular, democratic America of Roe v. Wade, gay marriage and confiscatory taxation looks like a non-starter. Simultaneously, socialists looking to exchange ideas with people whose grandparents fled socialism for their lives do not generally discuss economics at coffee hour.

Opus Publicum has some trenchant criticism. Samn! summarizes things nicely in the TAC comments: "Which is all to say, Orthodox political tendencies do not line up well with any American political orientation. Those American conservatives who are trying to make it do so are really in danger of creating their own kind of thing…."

This seems to be Professor Siewers' point as well:

Alfred Kentigern Siewers, a literature and environmental studies professor at a mid-Atlantic college, says the social teachings of the church fathers, as adapted by modern Russian Orthodox theologians, taught him to think of society “more as an extended household, and less as an impersonal economy, whether free market or socialist.”

“Orthodoxy taught me how Christian notions of human dignity are more central to being authentically human than impersonal notion of rights by themselves alone,” says Siewers. “I think Orthodoxy encourages an awareness of the importance of living tradition and community and the need for caution in embracing either free market or socialist economic models as social models.”

Strong stuff, actually. Because a few generations of this "extended household" sort of thinking, and you've got a society based on kinship and soil, not some gnostic proposition. The poor have a claim on us, not because the Marxists are right about the labor theory of value (they're not) but because they are ours, and you take care of Family. And we have a duty of environmental stewardship and economic favoritism for this land above all others, because this is where the Family lives.

Dreher has to remain gainfully employed course, so he steers the reader safely away from any notions of traditional nationhood and a national Church.

In part because Orthodox countries did not undergo the Enlightenment, the Orthodox way of thinking about social and political life is so far outside the Western experience that it can sometimes seem barely relevant to American challenges. On the other hand, Orthodoxy’s pre-modern traditionalism can be a rich new source of spiritual and cultural renewal.

Obviously, Orthodoxy appeals to Dreher's crunchy-con sentiment but he can't think too hard about this because he still believes in the American republic. American culture is individualistic, democratic, highly mobile, and extremely modern. The Church as an institution and in Her mother countries is the complete opposite of all that. Politically involved conservatives answering Dreher's call will (I hope and pray) be ultimately disappointed. For the same reason, social democrats who think the Church can embrace democratic social policy without being co-opted are naive fools as well: witness the American Catholics' "Women Religious" and the USCCB.

3 comments:

Scotsman said...

Dreher is a spiritual fraud who moved in with the Orthodox only when he thought they matched his political shtick (Red Toryism) a bit better than Novus Ordo Catholicism.

Hes a very poor spokesman for your side, but I see you get that already.

Scotsman said...

Hes also wrong that 'many' on the right are going to the Orthodox. A few gadflys (I dont mean that as an insult, BTW) like him have. Among Orthodox public figures (Michael Dukakis, George Stephanopoulos) there have been just as many notorious excommunicates as the heretical 'Catholics' on Capital Hill.

A few Orthodox whom I have debated have told me this is because the Greeks are the most liberal of all the Orthodox churches. Maybe thats so, but the others are tiny in comparison to the Greeks.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Re: Greeks, that might be more a regional thing. The largest Greek populations I know outside the New York-Boston corridor are in Tampa and Atlanta and their politics tend to reflect their Sunbelt location.