The Collapse of the Christian Consensus?

I got caught short on this election. I thought Romney would win because of Obama’s mismanagement of the economy and foreign policy. I never thought that people would vote against their own interests in the numbers that they did.

Secondly, it was clear a cultural shift is occurring but I thought it would favor Romney much like Carter-Reagan in 1980 especially since the indicators mirrored that election — Reagan trailed until the last three weeks, Carter’s emphasis on an economic “malaise” and so forth.

Clearly I was wrong. I’m not wrong in my criticisms of things like the Obama economy. Obama is a socialist and his policies portend serious structural problems (perhaps even economic collapse) down the road. The sinking stock market today shows that I am not alone. Second, his foreign policy is also a chaotic mess and there is no person in his administration that indicates the policy might change. The Christians in the mid-east will continue to suffer largely by America’s hand.

But what did I miss in the cultural shift? I don’t know yet.

I never embraced Romney with any conviction and saw him only as a stop-gap against the Obama juggernaut, especially Obamacare although I had questions if Romney would continue the liberal foreign policy (there’s not much difference between liberal and neo-con foreign policy, especially using the military for nation-building and other expansionist aims). Half a loaf is better than none at all I thought and the four years of Republican rule would buy some time to turn some of the more egregious policies like Obamacare around.

I spent most of the night watching the returns, all the way through Obama’s acceptance speech. It didn’t appear that Romney had a concession speech prepared and I was disappointed by how flat it was, as if he was conceding a race for County Commissioner or School Board. Graciousness in the face of loss is a good thing. Graciousness with an appeal to the higher virtues and unifying themes is a boatload better but Romney never reached it. He exemplified what the Republican party has become in the last few decades — structured efficiency without any soul.

Obama, on the hand, found that well of soaring rhetoric once again and delivered a barn-burner. I’ve never been convinced by Obama’s speeches although I can appreciate the rhetorical flourishes he employs. He’s good at it. I’m unconvinced because the enthusiasm, promise, and, yes, hope and change always reference his ideology, not America. America it seems, is defined solely as an ideological entity and only those who embrace the ideology embrace a better America. But this is the America that Obama sees and last night’s election proves that many see it the same way.

But here too lies the nub I think. I’ve been writing for years about a clash of moral visions. As I saw Ohio declared for Obama I knew that Obamacare would never be repealed. The ramifications are enormous — rationing, death panels, single payer system down the road, the war against the Catholic Church (read Christianity) will become more aggressive, in short secular anthropology had defeated Christian anthropology. Last night the visions clashed again and secularism won.

The Obama win told me that the moral decline of America was much greater than I dared face. America is no longer what I knew it to be and what I hoped could be restored, and all the years of fighting has handed me a defeat. We are one step closer to the catacombs and the call to recover the prophetic dimension of the Gospel is ringing clearer.

I called a trusted friend about an hour ago and asked him to give me his thoughts. He too is a cultural conservative and mentioned this: the failure might be the Church’s. How many generations have never been catechized? He’s Orthodox like I am and so the answer was clear, almost none. How many people actually have a moral foundation and wisdom to see through such things as, say, the language justifying abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage? How many Orthodox are not seduced by ideas and behaviors that in the end will bring greater dislocation, suffering, perhaps even disintegration to a culture that once was Christian? Very few. He might write an essay on this in a week or so. I hope he does.

I called another friend and asked him what he thought. He said that the only thing left is a clear proclamation of the Gospel.

I’m going to be scouting journals for analyses of the cultural shift. There’s a lot of good thinking in the secondary press and I’ll post the compelling ones on AOI. The first is below. Note that it was written five days before the election. We need to understand the culture in order to speak to it.

Despite the Great Recession, Obama’s New Coalition of Elites Has Thrived

Source: Joel Kotkin Blog | Joel Kotkin | November 1, 2012

The middle class, we’re frequently told, decides elections. But the 2012 race has in many ways been a contest between two elites, with the plutocratic corporate class lining up behind Mitt Romney to try and reclaim its position on top of the pile from an ascendant new group—made up of the leaders of social and traditional media, the upper bureaucracy and the academy—that’s bet big on Barack Obama.

As recently as 2008, the Wall Street plutocrats were divided, as Obama deftly managed to run as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of the banks. But this year, the vast majority of the corporate ultra-rich have backed Romney, who after all is one of their own, his top five sources of donors all financial giants: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and Wells Fargo. As The Wall Street Journal memorably noted, in 2008, no major U.S. corporation did more to back Obama than Goldman Sachs—and in 2012, none has done more to help defeat him. Those titans, along with the powerful and well-heeled energy sector, have placed most of their bets on the Republican.

But don’t mourn too much for Obama, who’s held his own in the cash race by assembling a new, competing coalition of wealthy backers, from the “new hierarchies of technical elites” that Daniel Bell predicted in 1976 in The Coming Of Post-Industrial Society. For that group, Bell wrote, nature and human nature ceased to be central, as “fewer now handle artifacts or things” so that “reality is primarily the social world”—which, he warned, “gives rise to a new Utopianism” that mistakenly treats human nature as something that can be engineered and corrected by instruction from their enlightened betters. This approach, although often grounded in good intention, can easily morph into a technocratic authoritarianism.

Along with Hollywood, Obama’s big donors have come from the tech sector, government, and the academy—with his top five made up of the University of California, Microsoft, Google, the U.S. government, and Harvard. Tech heavyweights such as Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have given maximum donations to the president, as have Eric Schmidt and four other top executives at Google.

These idea wielders make fortunes not through tangible goods but instead by manipulating and packaging information, and so are generally not interested in the mundane economy of carbon-based energy, large-scale agriculture, housing, and manufacturing. They can afford to be green and progressive, since they rarely deal with physical infrastructure (particularly within America) or unions or the challenges of training lower-skilled workers.

There is a growing synergy between science, academia, and these information elites. Environmental policies pushed by the scientific community not only increase specialists’ influence and funding, but also the emergent regulatory regime expands opportunities for academicians, technocrats, and professional activists. It also provides golden opportunities for corporate rent seeking, particularly among those Silicon Valley figures involved in a host of heavily subsidized “green” ventures, most famously Solyndra.

In many senses, we are seeing a “progressive” version of the unlamented John Edwards’s two Americas. Much of the U.S. is struggling, but the Clerisy has thrived. Between late 2007 and mid-2009, the number of federal workers earning at least $150,000 more than doubled.

As government has grown even while the economy staggers, the direct and indirect beneficiaries of that growth have hitched their carts to the administration. Many professors have been protected by tenure, even at hard-hit public institutions. Foundation and NGO heads, financed by philanthropy—much of it from often left-leaning Trustifarian inheritors—have remained comfortably secure, as have their good workers. And Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke’s money policies have funneled cash from return-starved investors into the coffers of tech and social-media companies.

There’s an old name for this new group of winners: the Clerisy, which British poet Samuel Coleridge defined in the 1830s as an enlightened educated class, made up of the Anglican church along with intellectuals, artists, and educators, that would school the rest of society on values and standards.

But in many ways the New Clerisy most closely resembles the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, serving as the key organs of enforced conformity, distilling truth for the masses, seeking to regulate speech and indoctrinate youth. Most of Obama’s group serves, as Bell predicted, a “priestly function” for large portions of the population.

This post-industrial profile has shielded the post-industrial elite from the harsh criticism meted out to Wall Street grandees and energy executives by green activists, urban aesthetes, and progressive media outlets. Steve Jobs, by any definition a ruthless businessman, nevertheless was celebrated at Occupy Wall Street as a cultural icon worthy of veneration.

There are of course libertarians and even traditional conservatives in academia, the media, the think-tank world, Silicon Valley, and even Hollywood. But they constitute a distinct minority. For the most part, the members of the groups that make up Obama’s Clerisy, like any successful priestly class, embrace shared dogmas: strongly secular views on social issues, fervent environmentalism, an embrace of the anti-suburban “smart growth” agenda, and the ideal of racial redress, of which Obama remains perhaps the most evident symbol.

As befits a technological age, the New Clerisy also includes now orthodox portions of the scientific community—figures such as President Obama’s science adviser John Holdren, NASA’s James Hansen, and the board of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These secular clerics have been extraordinarily influential about global warming, primarily advocating limited consumption by the lower orders.

Energy marks the clearest demarcating issues between the plutocrats and the Clerisy. The regime of ever higher energy prices with its inevitable immediate impact of slower growth—long preferred by environmentalists and openly espoused by Energy Secretary Steven Chu—represents no real threat to the Clerisy and presents a boon to the “green” capitalists. Yet the rising hyper-regulatory state threatens to slow the overall economy, as it has in California, and to wreak havoc on the largely suburban, exposed middle and working classes.

But energy is not the only issue dividing the two elites. The Clerisy—as can be seen clearly in the secular mecca of California—also seeks to impose mandates on more and more of private decision making, whether shaping college admissions and the composition of corporate boards, as well as basic choice in everything from housing types to food consumption.

The Clerisy often employs populist rhetoric, but many of its leading lights, such as former Obama budget adviser Peter Orszag, appear openly hostile to democracy, seeing themselves as a modern-day version of the Calvinist “elect.” They believe that power should rest not with the will of the common man or that of the plutocrats but with credentialed “experts,” whether operating in Washington, Brussels, or the United Nations.

This authoritarian tendency, often perceived as arrogant, has fueled revulsion among large parts of the nation, as evidence by the Tea Party 2010 sweep. The continued hostility of the bourgeois masses to the Clerical agenda appears to be helping Romney solidify his support in the countryside, the suburbs, and smaller cities.

Of course, Romney himself is the very opposite of a populist. As president, he would offer four years of technocratic, corporate power. Yet at the same time, a Romney administration—contrary to the claims of Democratic operatives and at times also the mainstream media—would not embrace the savage worldview of Pat Buchanan, Sara Palin, or even Rick Santorum. It would be establishmentarian in a “sensible shoes” kind of way. Mormonism, as an old friend raised in the faith told me, combines “a Pentecostal theology with an Episcopalian mentality.” Expect something like George H.W. Bush, with a religious twist.

The prospect of four years of plutocratic rule under Romney is no cause for celebration for those who would like to see greater social justice and reduced inequality. But it may prove less damaging to the country than allowing Obama’s new, secular priesthood to wreak damage on the economy that could take decades to unwind.


  1. Compare this with the energy behind what’s going in in California, Illinois, New York and in an extreme case Greece. Those folk deem it wise to believe further promises despite visible failure. There will come a reckoning for the media that spun and hid these facts. Food and Fuel expenses are up because the guy in charge forced us to burn 4 of 10 ears of corn as car fuel, being he’s ‘green’. Let the corn crop not have a good year or China buying … Who is hurt by that? Every meat product in the store is corn based. Corn oil is broadly used in dozens of other food products. All those will go up and who’s budget is harmed the most by stuff everyone has to buy everyday? ‘The Rich’– no, a few bucks more on gas and food isn’t much to them. But if gas money is an issue— and: Look at the explosion in food stamp users! You’d think there was a clue there! But, no, Obama hurt them and they voted for him anyhow. Buckle up, the crack salesmen are doing a land office business, the ones who promise ‘more’ are going to keep winning for the same reasons folk are sure buying lottery tickets when their monthly goverment checks come in is a good idea.

    And wow did you see the news this morning? Everyone lost $250 / $10,000 in their retirement stock accounts — before lunch today. And the press– the reports are merely ‘post election, the focus returns to Europe’s woes, sunspots, and no mention of who it was that won. The stock futures tanked once it became clear who won. That’s what happened.

    And remember how hard the whole world is teaching that tobacco use is a very bad idea. Marijuana, well, let’s make that legal! Hey! Like that line in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ ‘You don’t eat no meat! Ok. I’ll make lamb.”

    “Forward” is a true promise, because ‘down’ is also ‘forward’.

  2. Wesley J. Smith

    A few points:

    1. I think O convinced the young that R would take away the sexual revolution. I made fun of the ad in which the star of Girls equated voting for Obama with giving up virginity. But it was brilliant. It really caught the zeitgeist of our moment and brought the young out to vote.

    2. After the loss, I was chided about demographics on Twitter by a liberal friend. All I could think was that they will ride the decline like Slim Pickins rode the atom bomb in Dr. Strangelove. But they will have free birth control and the POTUS will know who the hip hop stars are. And when things get worse, the answer will be more liberalism–just like here in California, where Democrats gained more seats in the legislature yesterday to the point that we now have a supermajority of one party rule. In other words, the worse things get here, the power of those causing the decline just keeps growing.

    3. Finally, the USA may have become California last night. Our slide to an O second term began decades ago with San Francisco, which used to be ridiculed for its hyper liberalism. Then that liberalism took over the state: Our governor; lt. governor, attorney general, both our US Senators, and Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader, are all from SF. It is the political coronary artery for the entire state, and it eclipses all other potential centers of political power, despite those with far higher population. The AG, Kamala Harris, is a future national star and very left wing. I predict she will replace Feinstein or Boxer eventually, or perhaps, replace Gov. Brown.

    So, SF begat CA, which now begat liberal USA. It’s all cultural; including a distinct anti-orthodox Christian disdain because of its perceived moralism, and about being part of the group, an embrace of collectivism and a rejection of individualism, properly understood. (Individualism today is deciding on your tattoo designs.) Very concerning, and perhaps irremediable.

  3. macedonianreader

    Listening to a radio show this afternoon on my way to work, the host was interviewing a “Freedom Works” guest and he was talking to the fact that Republican Leaders have had a problem or even a complete lack of will in explaining their plans or platforms for economic reform. The host said he offered Mitt Romney a ten minute, free-time piece to explain his plain to create 12 million new jobs, unedited with questions sent to him so he had time to answer. Romney refused. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe he ever explained that during his campaign.

    The guest went on to say that Republicans usually do well when they explain their plans; Americans actually buy it. He went on to cite examples of Paul, Rubio, among others as successful orators of their plans.

    This is a complete breakdown of the GOP. They completely missed the ball in incorporating the Ron Paul movement that could have put the election over the top for Romney. Not only is GOP completely missing the Classical Liberal aspect of their party and adherence to the Constitution, but had they adopted the rhetoric of Ron Paul they would have garnered a good chunk of that anarcho-socialist-chomsky vote that calls itself the “Libertarian Party” today, which hung on to Ron Paul merely because of his strict adherence to the 10th Amendment. Today’s Libertarians like to believe that the GOP has to drop the social portion of their platform, but folks like the Paul’s Amash’s and DeMint’s will tell you that all the GOP has to do pick up the Constitution and be consistent with it, domestically and internationally.

    This is entirely on the GOP and I am pulling for a Rand Paul/Justin Amash ticket in 2016. If they go the route of Gingrich, Santorum, or even Rubio in 2016 – they will lose again.

  4. This is true Mr Smith Slim Pickins was a view of Orange County and San Diego in the 1960’s, the conservative bircher people. In 1964 Orange County gave Barry Goldwater 55 percent of the vote and San Diego 50 percent. Fast fowarded today Orange County gave Romeny 53.6 percent of the vote and San Diego Obama won with 49 percent. The old red counties like Orange or San Diego in calif go low for Republicans since whites are more liberal than 20 years ago and hispanics trend toward the Dems because of lower incomes and Asians tend to be attractive to the Democratic Party.

  5. It seems we should be concerned about a so-called conservative narrative in the US, amplified by the consumption of self confirming media via the Internet, leading to the puzzlement you describe. I say “so-called” conservative, because the “conservative” movement in the US does not really support the status quo, which is the true essence of conservatism, and the conservatism that I espouse. No Orthodox Christian would deny that we live in a fallen world, where our political choices will be fallible and must be undertaken with prayerfulness and discernment. How in the world one would characterize Obama’s actual actions as “socialist and his policies portend[ing] serious structural problems (perhaps even economic collapse)” is mind-blowing, repudiated by a simple Wiki search of the definition of socialist. I sometimes think that, to “conservatives” a socialist is someone who disagrees with them.

    I am unhappy with several of Obama’s social approaches to policy, but he is an intelligent and thoughtful leader who did not get us not any expensive wars without an exit strategy. Most of our current deficit is due to two wars fought under Bush combined with his administration’s regulatory incompetence, a consequent economic collapse and a necessary reflation that was done urgently and somewhat sloppily by the Obama administration. Remember, giving money to corporations is not a hallmark of socialism. About 1/3 of our current deficit represents corporate welfare. I still don’t understand how we can trust to govern those who do not trust the process of governing. Is it not foolish to assume hat action NE consequence re coincident? Why are we blaming Obama for the consequences of actions taken more than four years ago?

    I read voraciously and listen to both sides of he issues. It seems to me that “conservative” arguments don’t hold much water, and the sad part is there is a genuine conservative argument to be made. We need an intelligent and thoughtful counterpoint to Obama, not a strident, irrational subculture that is growing progressively more disconnected from the world of ideas and from reality. The current economic arguments appear to be nothing more than duelling opinions in the absence of empirical data. OTOH, the battle between Keynesians and classicists is playing out right before our eyes and it is crucial that we observe DATA with equanimity and some attempt at objectivity uncolored by per-existing prejudice. Data always trumps opinion, if one is at peace and not succumbing to the delusions of one’s own narratives. Remember that God’s will HAS been done and our choices are all individual, not collective and so is our salvation, in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse

      Dino, you are all over the map here but just to take one example: you can’t blame Egypt, Libya, and Syria on Bush. That’s Obama’s doing. Remember though that there is little difference between liberal and neo-con foreign policy except that neo-con tends to be a bit more circumspect.

    • macedonianreader

      Dino it seems that Obama hasn’t gotten us in any wars because he has taken it one step further, instead of breaking the Constitution by overstepping the Congress like his predecessors, he does this, and then doesn’t even mention his “crusades” to the press. In fact, we usually find out after the fact that we just demolished a terrorist along with the hundred bystanders in a 100 mile radius. Drone warfare is entirely Obama’s and it is 100% more insidious than our past endeavors. Who knew we were bombing Yemen? Well we surely found out the day after Obama was re-elected. He decided to do it via executive order after the results came rolling in.

      But I agree, the narrative is faulty. However, not because it’s a liberal conservative one, but because it’s a neo-conservative one (held by both parties) vs our Constitution and those that would actually protect and follow it.

  6. George Wiegel pointed out on The World Over that there is no “Catholic” or “Evangelical” (nor, I suppose, “Orthodox”) vote per se, but that these denominations all split between churchgoers and non-churchgoers. It seems that orthodoxy (in the general sense) is becoming the chief predicator of how Christians vote. A clearer proclamation of the Gospel does seem to be indicated.

  7. Fact check: the neocons are the most aggressive interventionist and irresponsible/immoral faction in US foreign policy circles: they are most certainly not “more circumspect” than liberal Democrats – in fact they are even now on the vanguard of an Iran attack. That fact alone warranted Romneys defeat.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse

      Maybe so, but probably not. Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, now Syria, bombing of Serbia, and so forth. I won’t argue the point because either way “aggressive interventionist” is common to both.


  1. […] Collapse of the Christian Consensus?, Nov 7th 5:12 pmclick to expand…Seeking the Episcopacy: Salvation not Reputation […]

Leave a Reply to Harry Coin Cancel reply