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Opinion
June 30, 2011
Secularism will make it difficult for the constituent groups of the Democrats to hold together.

With the caveat that the human future is very hard to predict, much harder than, for example, the weather, I wish to make the following prediction—that the future of the national Democratic Party will be very bleak for a long, long time.  

This is a matter of personal concern to me, since I was once a fairly prominent Democrat in my little state of Rhode Island. I was a Democratic state senator for 12 years, two of those years as Senate majority leader; and in 1992 I was the Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in my congressional district. (Alas, I was defeated—“trounced” would be a more accurate term—by the incumbent, a pro-choice Republican.) For reasons of nostalgia, then, if for no other reason, I hate to see the party go downhill; but I’m afraid that’s what it’s doing and will continue to do for the indefinite future.

The cause of this decline has a lot to do with religion—or rather, irreligion. The national Democratic Party, I regret to say, has become America’s anti-Christianity party: the party of secularism and of what lies at the root of secularism, atheism. To justify this assertion, let me give a brief account of Democratic demography. There are six main constituent groups that make up today’s Democratic Party (each of these groups, I should note, overlaps with some of the others). One of these groups, the most important of the six, is atheistic and anti-Christian. A second group, while being nominally Christian, collaborates with the first group. The other four are not anti-Christian; if anything, they are pro-Christian. Over the long-run it will prove impossible, I contend, to hold this coalition of strange bedfellows together.

Family-heritage Democrats: These are people who are Democrats because they grew up in traditionally Democratic families. If they are white Southerners, this family tradition usually goes back more than a century, either to the period just after the Civil War or even to the era prior to the war. If they are whites outside the South, the Democratic family tradition may go back to the time their ancestors came to American from Europe, e.g., from Ireland or Italy or Russia; this may have been a century or a century-and-a-half ago. These Democrats are quite non-ideological; it’s just that being anything other than a Democrat would seem “unnatural” to them, and it would seem like a betrayal of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Besides, many have genuine personal admiration for Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy.

African-Americans: Of all Democratic constituency groups, none is more habituated—or perhaps I should say addicted—to voting Democratic than blacks. In a presidential election, about 90 percent of them routinely vote in favor of the Democratic candidate; and in the 2008 presidential election, when the Democratic candidate was himself a black man, 95 percent of them voted for him. They too are non-ideological. For many decades following the Civil War blacks (I mean those blacks who actually got to exercise their right to vote) were reliably Republican voters, and understandably so. After all, it was Lincoln and his party who won the war and abolished slavery; further, the Democratic Party in the South was a white supremacy party, while the Democratic Party outside the South, though only moderately racist itself, had few if any objections to the racism of the Southern wing of the party.  

But this began to change with the Great Depression and the coming of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. FDR was seen as the champion of poor people, and blacks were certainly poor; Mrs. Roosevelt was seen as positively pro-black (remember the Marian Anderson incident). President Truman racially integrated the armed forces, and at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, the party voted to adopt a civil rights plank (thus causing a walkout by the “Dixiecrat” section of the party). In the mid-1960s President Lyndon Johnson embraced the aims of the civil rights movement by effecting passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). All this may have caused a great defection from the party among Southern whites, but it guaranteed the future loyalty of African-Americans in every section of the country.

Hispanics: They are not nearly as solidly Democratic as blacks, but Hispanics are nonetheless strongly Democratic. In the presidential election of 2008, roughly two-thirds of them voted for Barack Obama. Some wishful-thinking liberal Democrats like to group Hispanics, blacks, and a few other non-white groups together, calling the whole group “persons of color” in the hope that this non-white bloc, while remaining strongly Democratic, will eventually (about the year 2050) become the majority of the American population; in the meantime these wishful-thinkers like to imagine that this non-white bloc will allow itself to be politically led by liberal whites.  

All this is very unlikely. Hispanics and blacks are culturally different from one another. Hispanic immigrants to the United States are less like blacks than they are like 19th and early 20th century European immigrants to the United States. In a country which has been, ever since the great work of Martin Luther King, essentially non-racist, it is highly unlikely that anybody can build a political coalition on the basis of being anti-white. Eventually, as Hispanics prosper, become better educated, and move up the socio-economic ladder, they will probably increasingly vote Republican. Hispanics, like the two groups discussed previously, are non-ideological. Their aim is to make a living and to get ahead in America, not to implement a philosophical vision.

Organized labor: Labor unions are still an important force in the Democratic Party, but five things should be noted about them. (1) Blue-collar unions, which once, in the early 1960s, represented about one-third of the American labor force, now represent less than 10 percent, a percentage that shrinks every year. (2) Today organized labor’s center of gravity is to be found in the public employee unions—unions made up of teachers (I myself belong to one of these unions, the National Education Association), police officers, fire fighters, and other municipal, county, state, and federal employees; these people are more likely to be lower-middle class than working class. (3) While most union members probably follow the advice of their leaders to vote the Democratic ticket, they don’t do so in an overwhelming way. Far from it. (4) The three great creative eras of American unionism have long since ended—the era of the craft unions (the Samuel Gompers era), the era of the industrial unions (the John L. Lewis era), and the era of the public employee unions (the Albert Shanker era). The creators have been replaced by bureaucrats, who are long on intelligence and hard work, but short on creative imagination and moral commitment. (5) Organized labor is somewhat ideological, but only barely so. It still pays lip-service to certain old semi-socialist ideas, but it does so without enthusiasm and with hardly any conviction.

Secularists: When I speak of secularists I have in mind people who are not just nonreligious but positively anti-religious, and especially anti-Christianity. They feel that Christianity is morally and intellectually harmful both to individuals and to society at large. America, they believe, would be a much better society if it could become a much less Christian society. And so, motivated at least in part by a concern for what they conceive to be the common good, they work to undermine or destroy Christianity in the United States. Normally secularists are either atheists or agnostics and, if agnostic, that kind of agnostic who is virtually an atheist. I mean by this the agnostic who, though unwilling to make a definite assertion that God is nonexistent, feels that the chances of God’s existence are no better than one in a thousand (or one in a million); and therefore it makes sense to base one’s life on the premise that God does not exist.  

As participants in politics secularists believe in many things, but these three are at the present day their most important beliefs: (1) They hold that there is a fundamental human right to abortion; that taxpayer money should be used to pay for abortions, especially for poor women; and that the government of the United States should work to promote abortion globally. (2) They also believe that homosexuality is, for some persons, perfectly natural and hence morally permissible; that there is a fundamental human right to marry a person of one’s own gender; that this right is implicit in the United States Constitution, and that a sane and sensible Supreme Court would recognize this right; and that persons or institutions (e.g., churches) who believe that homosexual conduct is immoral and that same-sex marriage should not be legally permitted are homophobic bigots. (3) They believe in what we may call the “omnicompetent state.” (This belief probably arises as a psychological substitute for their disbelief in an all-powerful God.) That is, they hold that for every social problem there is a solution that can be brought about by the action of the federal government.  

This is not to say, however, that they believe that a federal agency is the appropriate tool for solving all these problems. Sometimes such an agency will be the right tool; but often the right tool will be a non-federal agent stimulated or induced to act by the federal government—for example, state and local governments, private businesses, colleges and universities, other nonprofit institutions, or international organizations, either permanent organizations (such as the United Nations and its agencies) or ad hoc organizations set up to deal with this or that particular crisis. Thus it is the duty of the omnicompetent federal government to solve such problems as poverty, racism, sexism, under-achievement in math and science, AIDS, and global warming, to name just a few.  

About 40 years ago the influence of secularists in the Democratic Party began to expand rapidly; now they are not only an important section of the party but probably the single most important section. They are the “mind” of the party, its intellectual leaders. They serve this function in two principal ways: first, by creating almost all new Democratic ideas; and second, by distributing these ideas through the “command posts” of American culture, which tend to be dominated by secularists: I refer to the mainstream national news media, the entertainment industry, and the nation’s elite colleges and universities (including law schools).  

Secularism is chiefly an upper-middle-class phenomenon. That is to say, it is found almost exclusively among people who are either already upper-middle-class or have reasonable aspirations to become upper-middle-class. These people have fine educations, good jobs, and high incomes; and they have lifestyles suited to their levels of education, employment, and income, live in good neighborhoods, eat good food, drink good wine and beer and coffee, and have good taste when it comes to music, recent books, and the fine arts generally. Not all upper-middle-class people, it must be noted, are secularists, but the great majority of secularists are upper-middle-class.

Quasi-secularists: When I speak of a “quasi-secularist” I mean a theologically liberal Christian. Negatively defined, a liberal Christian is one who rejects the dogmatic principle in religion. When it comes to religion the liberal Christian “thinks for himself,” he doesn’t follow the voice of authority, neither the authority of the Bible nor the authority of the Church.  

Until about 40 or 50 years ago liberal Christianity was a Protestant monopoly, but since the time of Vatican II there has been a tremendous explosion of liberal Christianity among Catholics. Positively defined, the liberal Christian, being very modern and up-to-date, takes many—perhaps even most—of his beliefs and values from secularists. He is a “fellow traveler” of secularism. Liberal Christians are related to outright secularists much the way “pink” fellow-travelers were related to “red” Communists in the 1930s and 40s. The Reds had the ideas; while the Pinks, though reluctant to go all the way and become Reds themselves, admired many of these ideas, and supported them with numbers and respectability. Liberal Christianity, then, is an incoherent attempt to blend the unblendable, an attempt to merge Christianity with anti-Christianity. And thus we see liberal Christians (quasi-secularists) approving, in the name of Jesus Christ, such things as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and the doings of the omnicompetent state.

Can a strange-bedfellows coalition of this kind be kept together over the long run, a political coalition in which the “mind” is atheistic and anti-Christian while the “body”—that is, blacks, Hispanics, family-heritage Democrats, and most labor union members—is the opposite? Of course not. Sooner or later, as the body becomes aware of where the mind is leading it, members of the body will defect, becoming either Republicans or political independents.  

Among family-heritage Democrats this process of defection has been underway for a long time. Among blacks and Hispanics, the two American demographic groups least inclined to atheism and anti-Christianity, the defection hasn’t happened yet, except in very small numbers, but is bound to take place eventually. Even in the course of decline, Democrats will of course win elections from time to time (as they did in 2008). But if the party, while keeping the same “mind” that it has today, is ever to flourish again, it will have to convert America either to atheism or to a near-atheistic version of liberal Christianity. Such a conversion is of course possible, but I doubt it will happen.
 
About the Author
David Carlin 

David Carlin is the author of the book Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?
 

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