Monday, April 6, 2015

comments on Kruse's NYT piece on Christianity and "capitalism" in the mid-20th century

A few comments on the Kevin Kruse NYT piece on "A Christian Nation", as excerpted from his book h/t: Chris Lang). The article is worth a read-- and is somewhere between provocative and imprecise. (I'll need to do more research on one of his claims!)

Great points:
1.) It's a grandfather thing much more than a Founding Fathers thing.

2.) He's strong on the importance of the American civil religion, esp. post-WWII (including the litany of changes in 1953-56). Hopefully, this is old news to people-- at least those who care about such things.

3.) He's useful in noting the linkage of Christianity (in some circles) with at least lip-service to "capitalism".


Clearly/probably missing or mis-emphasized:
1.) He does not have nearly enough on the post-WWII fears about Communism and the USSR (and its massive contribution to the trends he's describing).

2.) He uses "Libertarianism" in a way that leaves us guessing whether he's chosen the right term. My guess is that he means a.) fiscal conservatives; b.) more likely, anti-New Dealers (at least in its degree); or c.) ironically, crony capitalists. (I'd guess C, given the title of Kruse's book and his description of Graham indicates confusion here on pro-market Libertarianism and pro-business crony capitalism.)

3.) Perhaps he covers it in the book. But it's worth a (big) mention to note the stronger and earlier connection of clergymen to Progressivism (including some of its most repugnant elements), the Social Gospel, and the Christian Left (or Socialists if we're going to use Kruse's approach to terminology).

4.) Were there intellects or prominent writers in the area of "Christian Libertarianism" during this time frame? (Why have I never heard of the people he cites? UPDATE: This is certainly not definitive, but Fifield does not have his own Wikipedia page and Vereide only gets a small page mentioning that he started the "national prayer breakfast".) This would be surprising since Keynesianism and faith in government efficacy were so strong at this time. Even in econ, guys like Hayek and Mises were very much the exception-- and even pariahs.

5.) Eisenhower is a really interesting figure. He brought a "spiritual" emphasis to the White House. But it was, by most accounts, a relatively-tepid *public* spirituality, with a heavy dose of American civil religion to combat the (godless) Communists.


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