The relationship between theory and practice is always tricky, but when it comes to politics it can get so out of whack that you really do wonder what motivates people after all. For instance, why are Southerners all Republican now? It was the Republican party who served as the aggressor (at least in the Southerner’s eyes) during and after the Civil War. My grandfather swore that he would never vote for a Republican, and I’m pretty sure he kept that promise. Even growing up in the 1990s, in my small Mississippi town, I remember that all of the city and county officials were Democrat. There usually weren’t any Republicans even on the ballot. And yet, by some magical twist of history, almost all the Southern states vote Republican on the national level, and almost all conservative-minded Christians in the South believe that the ideals of the Republican party are more or less consistent with a Biblical world and life view and philosophy of governance. Is this change simply because of Civil Rights? It’s hard to say.
Again, there’s the case of my grandfather still voting Democrat late into the 20th century and even until the start of the 21st century, and he was hardly a progressive-minded man, at least when it came to social issues. And most Southerners are not just Blue-Dog Democrats or Dixiecrats, opposing the Civil Rights’ issues but still retaining older Democratic values of labor protection, agrarian values, and suspicion towards unchecked corporate power. Not at all. The Republican transition is mostly complete, especially on the fiscal matters. And yet, Mississippi still manages to bring in more Federal subsidies than any other state (at least I think it’s still #1 in that category). As I said, it’s a very strange world. The moral issues probably have as much to do with the transition as anything, as the Democrats did kind of become the party of revolutionary morality, but even here there are a lot of questions that could be asked.
So I’ve been gone a long time again. What can I say? I’ve been busy and having fun. However, I do have news that might be of interest to some of you.
Next Thursday, Jan. 12th, I will be presenting a paper for the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, LA. My panel is called “People of God? The Role of Political Hebraism in America,” and it meets from 3:00 to 4:30pm. I’m presenting on the 19th cent. Presbyterian-Catholic debates of John Breckinridge and John Hughes. Here’s an abstract:
The notion of religious tolerance in early 19th century America was hotly contested, and perhaps nowhere do we see how hot that contest could get as in the debates between John Breckinridge and John Hughes over religious principles and American liberty. Their political dialogue reveals a mixture of Enlightenment ideals and specifically theological convictions, and as it was in early 19th century America that the new religious tolerance was most clearly put to the test, an examination of the intellectual assumptions involved is helpful in locating the distinctive contours of the new Liberal settlement. There was not an easy or obvious settlement, as the history of anti-Catholicism in America has shown. Although anti-Catholic bigotry was involved in some of the controversies of the time, it is also the case that some of the specific arguments of the anti-Catholics reflected the matrix of political, philosophical, and religious ideals upon which the American settlement was founded, claiming a specifically Protestant foundation for Liberal religious toleration. The Catholics, on their part, pointed to aspects of the Protestants’ own history which contradicted their new sentiment. My investigation will seek to highlight the conflicting demands of religious communities and American civic liberty, identifying the basic principles and the rhetoric of ecclesiastical self-representation. It will also illustrate that certain theories of natural rights were themselves dependent upon religious or transcendental commitments, a fact which Revolutionary secularity did not always aim to highlight, but which became obvious in debates such as the one between Breckinridge and Hughes.
I would also like to compare the intellectual features of Breckinridge and Hughes’ arguments with the claims about developing secularity made by the contemporary writers Philip Hamburger and Eric Nelson. While the relevance to Hamburger’s work on the American notion of separation of church and state is obvious, Nelson’s treatment of the 16th and 17th century Hebraicists might seem much more remotely pertinent. In many ways, however, John Breckinridge’s Protestant version of religious tolerance directly mirrors the early modern moves highlighted by Nelson, and his own religious tradition was an heir of that earlier British thought. In this respect, it may be possible to show that the American development of secularity was a continuation of and not a departure from earlier modern Liberal views.