The religious energy behind National Conservatism is no longer in the shadows
For roughly the last eight months, the Left-leaning sectors of the American media have been warning about an emerging “threat to democracy”: Christian nationalism. For instance, according to a recent piece by a trio of political scientists in the Washington Post, the Right, with its rhetoric about “an ongoing religious war against White Christian national dominance”, is increasingly adopting an “ethnocultural nationalist ideology” that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is “at odds with liberal democracy.”
Here in Miami, on Day Two of the National Conservatism conference, the message is clear: yes, we’re religious and we’re nationalists — deal with it.
First, conference organiser Yoram Hazony brought the Old Testament thunder with a speech entitled “After the Revolution—What Happens Next?” Hazony’s thesis, in brief, was that the year 2020 marked the final death of American liberalism at the hands of “woke neo-Marxism.” “If you’re somebody like Andrew Sullivan or Bari Weiss who actually thinks that the old liberalism should continue, then you’re in a tiny minority,” the Israeli scholar said. “You’ve been dispossessed. And what we’re seeing now is a completely new America”.
The question is what can stand in the way of this “woke neo-Marxism.” For Hazony, an Israeli Jew, the only sufficiently powerful force in the United States is Christianity. “If America is going to change, it’s going to change because you” — now directly addressing the conference attendees — “decide that Christianity is going to be restored as the public culture of the United States.”
And who will be the instrument of that restoration? Cue Josh Hawley, the populist Republican Senator from Missouri, who delivered a keynote speech nominally about the Left’s war on American history. It did not take long, however, for the real theme to appear:
For an American politician, it was a surprisingly erudite speech — Hawley quoted Fustel de Coulanges, the British historian Larry Siedentop, Charles Taylor, Tertullian, and even Gandalf to argue for the Christian origins of modern conceptions of individual liberty; he also discoursed at some length about Herbert Marcuse, arguing that woke “repressive tolerance” is, in effect, an attempt to plunge America back into the Nietzschean hierarchies of the ancient world.
Hawley ended with a story about the destruction of the Serapeum, the gist of which shouldn’t be too hard to puzzle out:
In AD 390, a crowd of Christian believers gathered at a pagan temple known as the Serapeum in Alexandria, a shrine to the god Serapus. A few years before the virulently anti-faith emperor Julian had attempted to throttle Christianity and purge Rome of Christian influence. Among other measures he seized control of the education system, he barred Christians from teaching, he demanded that all students in the empire study in the ways that he approved.
On this day in 390, in the shadow of the state’s recent persecution, this group of believers gathered at the temple to take a stand. In the center of the temple, we read, there was a statue of the god clutching a three-headed serpent. The legend went that if any impious hand should dare to violate the majesty of the god, the heavens and the earth would instantly return to their original chaos.
One soldier stepped forward carrying an axe. All we really know about him is what the historian Rufinus tells us, that ‘he was better protected by faith than he was by his weapon.’ But at that moment, this man made a choice to challenge the powers and principalities of his age… He climbed a ladder to the top of the statue, lifted his battle-axe, and with all his might, drove it home. Onlookers reported that as the blow fell, the god’s jaw broke away, and as it did thousands of rats came surging out of its rotten insides.