Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Right religion history

At The Corner, Jonah Goldberg argues that, contrary to complaints from secular conservatives, "In many respects religion is less central to intellectual conservatism than it was 40 years ago." (Emphasis in original.) As evidence, he cites debates between Brent Bozell, Stanton Evans and Frank Meyer in which all seemed to have "a sincere desire to know God's will." I have my doubts about Goldberg's argument. For one thing, Meyer converted to Catholicism shortly before his death (although granted, I'm not sure at what point he actually abandoned the atheism he'd imbibed as a Communist).

But a better indicator, it seems to me, is the Sharon Statement, drafted by Evans and adopted by young conservatives in 1960 at William F. Buckley's Connecticut estate. It was only by a close vote (44-40) that these conservatives decided to put the word "God" in the statement, and when they did it was to say: "That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force." The manifesto was, as Glenn Reynolds might put it, religious but not too much.


Gil Weinreich said...

Buckley and his group were correct. Absent a shared view in God-given rights, we would all be at the mercy of the clique in power. Of course the founders said it best:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men...

Kenneth Silber said...

Whether the slim majority in the Sharon group was correct or not, I think the closeness of the vote, and the paucity in their manifesto of what are now known as "social issues," suggests that religion was present in conservatism in 1960 but less than dominant.