Mike Huckabee and the Dilemma of American Conservatives

Mike Huckabee’s version of "New Testament compassionate conservatism" may bother many on the right, but the positive feedback–in the form of events like the Iowa caucuses–is a sign of the Republicans’ core problem in moving forward this election year.

That problem, simply put, is that Americans in general are less and less willing to be self-reliant, and a desire to be self-reliant is a key ingredient in a conservative society.  There are three reasons for this:

  1. The population is aging; it simply requires more social services, services that family and church are either unable or unwilling to give.
  2. The grown of urbanisation breaks down traditional communities–well, most of them–and makes the government the only binding agent people have.
  3. The financial profligacy and indebtedness of Americans makes them, to use the old homeless advocates’ favourite slogan, one paycheck away from the streets.  With the credit crisis, this is literally coming true for many people.

Huckabee’s response to this–a more interventionist government, driven by his take on New Testament imperatives, isn’t to many people’s taste on the right, but is certainly resonates with the population in general.  Americans want to be taken care of more, and that’s why Reagan conservative and libertarians alike are finding they have an uphill battle in the current political environment.  The Republican party must come up with a way to address this effectively, or this country will be a one-party state (or effectively one.)  But is Huckabee’s plan an effective one?

From a political standpoint, if both parties’ goal is to expand the government dole, then why have two parties?

From a Biblical standpoint, Huckabee’s idea overlooks the fact that the New Testament doesn’t envision the government as the primary agent of Christian benevolence.  That job belongs to the church, and the larger the role the state plays, and the higher the proportion of people’s incomes it takes to fulfil that role, the more the church is crowded out of that role.  It’s like the business of civil marriage: it’s something that the state should have never gotten into in the first place, and now that it has Christians are forced to "defend" it against same-sex intrusion when they’d be better off advocating its demise.

It’s still hard to say how far Mike Huckabee will go in the Republican nomination process.  But if his programme is advanced, we may see the same effect as we would see with moral legislation: the replacement of the church by the state as the primary instrument of advancing the Christian agenda.  And, as I commented in 2005, this would be disastrous for the church:

In the US, churches have enjoyed legal protection for their existence and activity as part of those “unalienable rights” this country was founded to enshrine. The left would like to see these eliminated, and Christians are right to enter the political arena to defend these. But many Christians have come to see the state as a key instrument of righteousness. In doing this, they run the risk of having the state do their job for them, at which point the church will become redundant. Today many Christians lament the low moral state of our society, and justifiably so, but seeing the state as the primary instrument to fix this problem will only weaken Christianity’s role in doing so. To a large extent, that is the problem with European Christianity.

And we all know where European Christianity is these days.

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