The term “Theocons,” the title of Damon Linker’s book, has been around since the mid-90s. But the doctrines they support have been around much longer, many dating back to the early days of the Catholic Church. The movement first appeared in force in modern American public life immediately after a Supreme Court handed down Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision making abortion legal and safe. And, after millions of words, much of its momentum is still fed by abortion controversy.
Linker describes a less visible, but very influential component of the Religious Right that is conservative Catholic in its origins, beliefs, and leadership. They have combined with Protestant conservatives and, on occasion, with Orthodox Jews, to achieve substantial success--but may have reached their high-water mark with the presidency of George W. Bush.
Theocons have not been hiding in the shadows the last 40 years, only to burst forth recently. Rather several are highly respected scholars who have written scores of books and hundreds of articles illuminating their thoughts, and have held high academic posts. However, today, they are likely to be found in subsidized conservative “think tanks,” such as the American Enterprise Institute.
Linker is well positioned to tell their story. He is former editor of “First Things,” the political, intellectual journal of the theocons. He served two older leaders, Richard John Neuhaus (1936-) and Michael Novak (1933-), and George Weigel (1951-), biographer of Pope Paul II, “Witness to Hope” (1008 pages).
Of significance, Neuhaus and Novak--like their most of their secular brothers, the neoconservatives--arose from the far-left nascent revolutionaries of the 1960s. But, unlike others, their revolutionary aspirations were quietly rooted in a deep piety. And, when they saw cherished causes peter out, they looked elsewhere, eventually to hook up with the far-right ideologues that spawned the Reagan administrations.
Neuhaus became a Lutheran pastor, and, in 1990, a Catholic priest, ordained with his friend John Cardinal O’Connor at his side. He was positioned to accelerate his task of “re-politicizing” the Catholic Church in America, instilling Christian influence into the political arena, overcoming what he called” Naked in the Public Square,” his 1986 seminal work conceiving theoconservatism.
For interested Kansans, Neuhaus’ religious journey preceded but paralleled that of Senator Sam Brownback‘s, who went from main-stream protestant to evangelical Christian to right-wing Catholicism in three quick jumps. Brownback is one of the prime promoters of theocon concepts,” the culture of death,” and ’the culture of life.“
Editor-author Damon Linker relates he accepted the editorship of “First Things” because he opposed apparent restrictions on the political participation of serious believers in politics and government. But soon he saw the bigger picture, and was spooked.
He realized the theocons’ ultimate purpose is for America to adopt an orthodox Christian governing philosophy, including reaffirming the Church’s insistence that Catholic public figures must uphold the teachings of the Church. With this self-revelation, he found it time to go--and sound the alarm.
But, as evidence of the influence of theocons in and out of the Church, Catholic bishops attempted to intimidate and embarrass Catholics office-holders who favored abortion choice by denying them the Sacrament of Communion. Fortunately, a few local priests failed to get the message.In the year 2000, preparation met opportunity with the election of George W. Bush, and the theocons began having their way.
They, like neocons, cheered Bush on in attacking Iraq. Weigel wrote the amazing phrase that “all constitutionally elected public authorities enjoy ‘a charism of political discernment,’ ” a gift of the holy spirit that aids him in his decision-making. This supplemented their “just war” belief that America must assume its providential role in enforcing divinely sanctioned order in the world. Try that one for size.
But war was not their only product. With Bush, they could advance the sexually-inspired doctrines of the Church with regard to marriage, abortion and contraception. The president and “Father Richard” (Richard John Neuhaus) became Oval Office confidants. Neuhaus is personally credited with convincing Bush to endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Oh yes, 52% of Catholics voted for Bush in 2004, just one part of theocons success..
Dr. Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org