Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should we save the Republicans from the religious?

With this somewhat presumptuous title, I am referring to efforts by many Objectivists to influence the internal soul-searching of the Republican party in light of their defeat in the 2008 U.S. elections. Efforts have ranged from Paul Hsieh's op-ed published in the Denver Post, to various letters to the editor. But while these worthwhile efforts serve a purpose beyond the nature of the Republican party, I have been considering whether on the political level, the future will not leave us ultimately with a very different political situation.

I have recently had the pleasure to read C. Bradley Thompson's Antislavery Political Writings, 1833-1860: A Reader in which the activist and political history of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century are recounted. It was fascinating to see how at first, in the early 1830s the abolitionist movement avoided politics altogether, and focused on "moral suasion," via public lectures and publications. In this respect, there is a clear parallel to the spreading of Ayn Rand's ideas throughout the culture. After the first few years of this effort, however, the movement split with some members pursuing political change directly and others continuing to try to influence the culture from the outside. The initial political efforts were by all accounts pathetic, though eventually a completely new party emerged that supported the essence of the abolitionists ideas: The Republican party which went on to win the 1860 elections. What is interesting about this is that when the abolition movement started with the publication of the Liberator in 1831 that party did not exist.

Why should we assume that we can change the Republican party so as to adopt our ideas? From listening to talk radio recently it appears that religious Conservatives have no intention of leaving the party. If anything, it might be claimed that the de-emphasis on religious ideas at the top of the most recent presidential ticket (despite the Palin selection) lead to a decrease in evangelical enthusiasm for McCain and help bring about the Obama victory. Also, while the religious trend in the culture continues it appears highly unlikely that the Republicans will choose to be less sympathetic to the concerns of what appears to be their single largest constituency.

These are depressing times for many reasons. The financial crisis is likely to get worse because a government dominated by Democrats is unlikely to pursue massive cuts in spending, taxes, and regulations so as to free the economy and allow a recovery. Culturally, we are still split between despicable nihilist and potentially dangerous religious elements. From a national security perspective numerous challenges remain. And yet, I would say I am optimistic about the future because it seems we have never had a better chance to successfully expand our influence and thus ultimately to change things for the better.

I am not here arguing for the immediate formation or support of a third party. Clearly, the Libertarian party has never been either right or viable. Nor are there any alternative realistic possibilities presently. However, if, as I expect, we are successful in our efforts and manage to increase our numbers and the numbers of our sympathizers substantially in the next 10 years, then we will face a choice as to the correct political path to take. If at that time the Republicans are still the party where religious Conservatives feel at home then I think we should, perhaps with support from many frustrated Republicans and perhaps even some Democrats form a viable alternative principled, secular pro-Capitalist party. Thus I believe we should let the religious have the Republican party and hopefully, they will ultimately go the way of the Whigs of the 19th century.