In the politics of these just barely United States, both the Republican and the Democratic party are “liberal” in the broad sense that they value liberty or freedom from state domination. They differ however in wanting liberty in different domains of life.

In short, Republicans want liberty in the economic domain, but aim to regulate morals. They wish to restrict or even eliminate transgendering, gay marriage, and abortion, based on a broadly Christian vision of society.

Conversely, Democrats promote liberty of personal choice regarding sexuality and reproduction, based on a secular vision of society. They would however like to regulate the economic domain and limit the extent to which competition results in extremes of wealth and poverty. Although it often goes unspoken, in this regard the Democratic vision of society also has roots in Abrahamic religion insofar as it emphasizes the obligation to care for the poor. This can be seen in recent claims that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Symbolically, it may be said, they don’t want the Inn to bar its doors and leave Mary and Joseph out in the cold.

This crossover between wanting to regulate either the personal or the economic domain is a bit confusing, but relatively easy to recognize. But when we go into greater detail, we run into further complications and surprising contradictions.

Cross fertilization

It seems that Democrats believe that unregulated economic activity would pull us into a rather savage state of nature in which a Darwinian struggle for existence may well allow a few large predators to hoard resources and leave the remaining population in poverty. This they feel would be morally unacceptable, so government regulation must impose a more benevolent and intelligent design on the economic domain of life.

All well and good, but further reflection gives rise to some puzzling questions. On the one hand, Democrats seem to believe that “we” decent people do naturally sympathize with and want to care for each other. But if this were the case, how could economic activity ever get to be so ruthless as to require vigilant moral correction?

On the other hand, secular liberalism seems to assume that there is no general consensus among people with regard to substantive values and what constitutes a good human life. But if this is so, on what basis do that think that “we” will agree that extremes of wealth and poverty are morally unacceptable? Is this where Democrats allow Abrahamic religious values to sneak in? If so, could they ever bring themselves to confess it?

Democrats also tend to assert that, as long and sad experience has shown, people cannot be relied upon to care for each other on a personal and local basis, so it’s self-evident (to them) that a large impersonal bureaucracy must be assembled to administer social services. Perhaps it is because they envision a rule-book-run Great Society providing stable form to social life that they can readily imagine a widely heterogeneous mix of people still being able to hang together in a fairly coherent manner. On this view, there is no social security in interpersonal life: we cannot count on each other to care for those who are falling through the cracks. But thank God we have the social security administration to fill the void in our hearts left by the disintegration of caring communities!

Danse macabre

In contrast, Republicans seems to have faith in the power of a more or less homogeneous Christian culture to guide people in caring for each other on a local and personal basis or through private charity. In other words, they see a thousand points of light out there, and who knows how many more. But how then can they see the unregulated Darwinian struggle for existence in the economic domain as a good thing? Perhaps under the surface of apparently ruthless competition they see the invisible hand of a Calvinist God who predestines both the success of the good and the failure of the bad…?

That would at least go some way toward explaining how in their view the good successful people can witness the suffering of this game’s losers with such placid indifference, if not pleasure. Is it because good Christians rejoice when evil times overtake the wicked, thus doling out the righteous vindication they so richly deserve? And by the way, are there people out there who think Trump must be good because he’s financially so successful? Is his bank account a sign that he is one of the elect, who can with confidence look forward to re-election and the final rapture?

In any case, to the extent that it is a private matter, religion, although widely diffused, evidently does not in the Republican vision provide the substantive values required to maintain the coherence of the nation as a whole. The government is obliged to step in and ensure the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and to protect the lives of unborn children.

Furthermore, some Republicans want to take vigorous action to ensure that society “remains” ethnically and linguistically quite narrowly homogeneous. Trumpets when not blaring are whispering to each other, “Let’s make America white again!” For it is self-evident (to them) that a multicultural society would be a fragmented and anarchical society—which is to say, no more a genuine community than a disorganized religion would be any sort of religion at all.

And what the Trumpets want is not a society governed by abstract principles, but a genuine community of feeling nourished by the ancestral blood flowing through our veins as we so proudly stand in combat boots on occupied soil.

Blood and Soil