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The New Evangelicals and the Future of the United States of America

Pabst, Adrian (2013) The New Evangelicals and the Future of the United States of America. Review of: The "New Evangelicals": Expanding the Vision of the Common Good by Pally, Marcia. Telos, 165 . pp. 179-184. ISSN 0090-6514. (doi:10.3817/1213165179) (KAR id:37695)


The United States remains the only global superpower but domestic division linked to partisan politics and the ‘culture wars’ opposing secular liberals to religious conservatives is undermining the strength upon which US supremacy ultimately rests. Recent decades have witnessed the failure of mainstream political traditions to craft a common vision around which the country can rally in order to flourish at home and act as a force for good abroad. The neo-conservative dream of turning the Religious Right from a ‘moral majority’ into a permanent political hegemony failed amid the ruins of military adventures and the worst economic crisis since 1929-32. But neither Clinton nor Obama managed to offer a genuine alternative to the Republican-inspired settlement that was first ushered in by Nixon and then developed by Reagan, i.e. foreign military intervention and the complicit convergence of ‘big government’ with ‘big business’ – whose twin failure is now manifest for all to see.

In the US and the rest of the world, there is a still a common misperception that Democrats are progressive while Republicans are conservative. While there might be some truth to this, it is arguably the case that both are fundamentally liberal. Beginning with the 1960s, they have progressively embraced social-cultural and economic-political liberalism. Neo-cons, Tea Party militants, and conservative Democrats will strenuously deny this characterization and profess their traditionalist credentials. But both the Republican and the Democrat establishment have implemented policies of liberalization, notably the extension of commercial contracts into hitherto non-monetized areas of human activity and an increasingly aggressive individual rights culture that have left US society simultaneously more atomized and interdependent.

Instead of contesting the liberal consensus that has defined US politics for the past forty years or so, Democrats and Republicans use the ‘culture wars’ to deflect from the growing disconnect between the governing elites and the people, condemning the US to partisan paralysis and an institutional stalemate which merely perpetuate the settlement that both sides secretly support.

Lasting political change will only come from genuine cultural renaissance and religious renewal. Sustained Catholic immigration from Central and Latin America has already transformed the demographic landscape, with the traditionally dominant WASP population now in a numerical minority that has so far prevented an intellectual revival and instead reinforced a siege mentality – the so-called ‘angry white men’ in the Midwest on whose support the GOP has relied for too long.

But perhaps even more important than the growing Catholic influence linked to the Hispanics is the emergence of the "new evangelicals," as Professor Marcia Pally shows in her eponymous book. Indeed, large sections of US evangelicals are developing a kind of post-liberal vision that seeks to transform modern secular politics and economics. Until the First World War and again during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and the 1960s, they were in fact politically progressive. As Pally argues, Evangelicalism has nearly always been anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian, economically more egalitarian (against corporate banking and wealthy landlords) and socially interventionist on behalf of the common good – running social programs for the poor, vastly expanding popular institutions like the US postal service and providing some of the earliest critique of laissez-faire capitalism (while being committed to a free market economy).

Pally’s brilliant book is both a tour d’horizon and a tour de force. She provides not just the best analytical overview of the vast and complex evangelical landscape across the United States but also links this to some of the most important US debates on politics and religion, notably the myth that the Religious Right speaks for America’s evangelicals – championing neoliberalism, militarism and theocracy. Her argument that the "new evangelicals" break away from this association and renew their own progressive tradition suggests that US evangelicalism cannot be mapped on the secular spectrum of the liberal left vs. the conservative right. Thus, the ‘new evangelical’ blending of greater economic egalitarianism with a new social conservatism illustrates how post-liberal politics straddles the divide between the purely religious and the exclusively secular in the direction of the common good.

Item Type: Review
DOI/Identification number: 10.3817/1213165179
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
J Political Science > JK Political institutions and public administration (United States)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Adrian Pabst
Date Deposited: 26 Dec 2013 15:47 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 11:24 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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