Matt Lewis

Evangelicals and the betrayal of American conservatism

In his new book, “From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism,” D.G. Hart, author and professor of history at Hillsdale College, explores the impact evangelicals have had on conservatism.

Starting in the late 1970s, large numbers of evangelicals became politically active for the first time in their lives. Others — who had grown disenchanted with Jimmy Carter’s presidency (including Rep. Michele Bachmann) — switched their allegiance to the GOP.

This large influx of political neophytes immediately swelled GOP ranks, helping lead to the election of Ronald Reagan as president. But it also had long-term (and potentially negative) consequences — redefining what it meant to be a conservative. Some observers blame the rise of the Religious Right for ushering in an era of anti-intellectual, conservative populism.

Regardless of where you come down on the debate, it is a fascinating topic. You can listen to my full conversation with author D.G. Hart here.

  • Isaac Bickerstaff

    I listened to the interview. D.G. Hart isn’t an atheist hater of Christianity like Bill Keller.

    Its more a “high-church” vs “low-church” inter-mural tussle. He’s high-church and just doesn’t care for the low church types.

  • Isaac Bickerstaff

    By “Betrayal of American Conservatism” can we assume that D.G. Hart means how the some conservative leaders seek to betray a large, maybe the largest share of their own base?

    Christians have been slandered in fiction and in earnest since the Atheist Great Awakening that bloomed in the 1890s. Think Twain, Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. This animosity has continued in many quarters ever since and is based on mere prejudice. A prejudice that is unrecognized by its adherents and seems therefore to be sincerely heartfelt.

    I’m not surprised that most everyone on the left and some on the right wish to make the question of the hour, “Are you now, or have you every been, a Christian?”

  • Gordo

    Most people did not know this while he was in office but Ronald Reagan had deep faith which was clearly demonstrated in his personal letters (the letters also demonstrated a first-rate mind)..  Clearly his faith guided him but he did not wear it on his sleeve like Bachman and Perry, who seem to view God as part of their campaign.  As a believer I like the Reagan model for politiicans.  The “I am on a mission from God” politicians breed mistrust and paint a picture of believers as not serious and cartoonish.  In terms of intellectual aspects it was the Christian church that provided the climate and, often, the people and methods, for developments in literature, science, philosophy, innovation, abolition of slavery, social policy, and self-governance (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence).

  • JenChris

    Yes…thank goodness we have an ‘educated’ Black Liberation ‘theologian’ in the oval office. He’s sooooo ‘intellectual’. In fact, Neo-Marxist Progressivism a la Alinsky is the favorite intellectual philosophy of the oh-so super educated ‘intellectual’ class. Why, just look at the prestigious credentials of say…Sheila Jackson Lee or Nancy Pelosi. Wowie Wow! So smart! My tiny God believin’ mind just can’t grasp all the smarty-ness of those fancy ivy league elites! I sure do hope they tell us what to do – We God lovers don’t like thinking for ourselves – and we’re a-feared of book learnin’. How did this country ever survive a goofy evangelical like Ronnie Reagan? I sure don’t know…I can’t read fancy political books.

    Spare. Us. Your. Sanctimony.

    • JenChris

      From The back cover of Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals & Society”:

      The influence of intellectuals is not only
      greater than in previous eras but also takes a very different form from
      that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who have wanted to
      directly influence rulers. It has not been by shaping the opinions or
      directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals
      have most influenced the course of events, but by shaping public opinion
      in ways that affect the actions of power holders in democratic
      societies, whether or not those power holders accept the general vision
      or the particular policies favored by intellectuals. Even government
      leaders with disdain or contempt for intellectuals have had to bend to
      the climate of opinion shaped by those intellectuals.Intellectuals and Society
      not only examines the track record of intellectuals in the things they
      have advocated but also analyzes the incentives and constraints under
      which their views and visions have emerged. One of the most surprising
      aspects of this study is how often intellectuals have been proved not
      only wrong, but grossly and disastrously wrong in their prescriptions
      for the ills of society—and how little their views have changed in
      response to empirical evidence of the disasters entailed by those views.

  • Borntoraisehogs

    Most of these Talibangelicals know nothing of the Constitution and got involved in politics only to use government to impose their religious nuttiness on others.

    • BigotsRU

      And most of their religious nuttiness consists of perversions of Christ’s teachings.