The Conservative Pope and the Reformation

While I was in the hospital, I did not do much reading. I did not do much of anything except catch up on Adult Swim and all the television shows my wife is appalled that I like so much. Looking at you, Archer.

But a number of friends all separately sent me Matthew Continetti’s piece in Commentary about the coming conservative dark ages.

I see the point he is making, but I look at it differently. William F. Buckley became the standard bearer for conservatism. If he said something was conservative, the odds are that it was. And if he said some thing, some idea, or some group was not part of the conservative movement, people listened.

With him gone, we are seeing the shadows creep back in from Mordor that we thought had been permanent exiled. The alt-right white nationalists are on the prowl.

In turn, we are seeing a lot of clear voices that once were flag planters for conservatism turn out to be for sale to the highest bidder. But this, I think, is not new.

During the Bush Administration we saw a lot of conservatives turn into Republicans. The conservative movement became a wing of the George Bush Republican Party. Those who wrapped themselves in party first were some of the first out of the gate to cheerlead Harriet Miers. If Bush said something was conservative, a good bit of the conservative movement fell in line without question.

Only around the time of TARP did parts of the conservative movement shake loose. With the rise of Trump, we are seeing the same. Some in the movement have decided to sign on — not for principle, but for access to power and money. Even worse, we are finding some are really cheap dates to the Trump party.

I don’t see this as a conservative dark ages though. I see it as the ideological version of the reformation. Pope Buckley has died. There are now a multitude of voices. All anyone needs is a blogspot account to start writing. The crazies are coming out, many with heresies to the movement.

Ultimately, it will take conservatives of good will to fill the void of one man. We may not always be aligned, but the liberty conservatives favor over equality is a universal value. When one group starts mouthing off about their particular grievances and it being their turn for payback, be it Black Lives Matter or white nationalists, conservatives can and should denounce it. We cannot and should not define contrarianism as conservatism.

The fathers of the Protestant Reformation did not always agree with each other and Protestants and Catholics agree on little. But where they do agree, they speak clearly together. We have seen this in just the past year with an interdenominational gathering in the Vatican on marriage. Russell Moore and Pope Francis agree on marriage.

Where conservatives disagree, but find no heresies, they debate, choose to disagree, but treat each other with respect.

It was reassuring when we could put the burden on one man. But all of us are responsible for liberty and all of us committed to conservatism have to commit to each other to keep the fire burning. There are going to be attempts to co-opt conservatism by nationalism. But nationalism is not a universal value and provides no assurance of liberty.

We are not headed to dark ages, but we certainly are headed to a time when the happy warriors of the right must work more closely together, if not on shared policy, then on the shared ideals.

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Erick Erickson

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