Friday, October 28, 2016

Democracy, republicanism and ... pornography?

I try to check in periodically on the blog of our old friend the Rev. Wade "Sword-of-Vengeance" Burleson to see in which strange corners of the Christian Right he's handing out.

In Principle, Courage, and Will Equal Real Leadership Istoria Ministries Blog, Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance is fed up with this here democracy nonsense. Because it give power to "the masses."

Bro. SOV typically starts his post with some sort of misdirection. Here it's lamenting the lack of Great Leadership. He uses Winston Churchill as an example. Then he gets down to the real point:

Great leaders arise in times of crisis. Mass opinion, mass desires, and mass thought are not as important in existential crisis as are principles, courage and iron wills. When a nation is in trouble, great leaders lead because the masses become increasingly irrelevant.

This is why America's Founding Father's [sic] feared democracy. The Founding Father's [sic] knew that democracy prevents great leaders from taking the stage. The only principle that guides politicians in a nation dominated by the masses is "Do others like me?" The only principle that guides the masses of people in a nation dominated by democratic rule is "What has the government done for me?"

Only world war, world conflict, or unthinkable natural disasters give the needed opportunity for a new set of great leaders to arise - leaders who live by principle, courage and will. In those nations accustomed to domination by the masses, great leaders sit on the sidelines.

It seems to me that the path of the United States is spiraling toward worldwide conflict. The only good news from this prediction is that the door may be opening for a restoration of great leadership in America.
Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance's claim that the Founders "feared democracy" was always a favorite trope of the John Birch Society and has become a kind of common current for the Radical Right, which of course dominates the Republican Party now. The JBS didn't invent it, but it was a saying they loved.

The idea is really a dime-store version of a real distinction that was a substantial difference for political theorists of the 18th and 19th centuries. There were republicans who wanted a separate state based on some kind of representation of the people by the government, even if the people represented were only a small part of the population ruled. Democracy stressed the consent of the governed and the individual rights of citizenship. Democrats of that day were republicans, but not all republicans were democrats.

The Bircher position also relies heavily on a deliberately superficial reading of the debates over the Constitution, The Federalist Papers in particular. The Founders were thoroughly immersed in classical education and were familiar with the history of Athenian democracy and dictatorship, of the Roman Republic and the Empire. Democracy in the classical tradition tended to be associated with mob rule and anarchy. And in the formal argumentation that Madison, Jay and Hamilton made in the Federalist Papers, they were making the argument that the proposed Constitution would provide good representation for the people on the basis of wide representation. But also that it would be stable and not inclined to mob rule.

In the Founders' day wide representation meant widespread white male suffrage. But the Birchers in their republic-not-a-democracy artgument are not making a making a point about the inadequacy of white male suffrage.

In the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the delegates in practice used the terms democracy and republic interchangeably.

Tom Paine in his book The Rights of Man talked about how Athenian democracy failed because it was a form of direct democracy that became impractical once the population of Athens became too large for the citizens (free men) to workably process the increasingly complex business of governance of the city-state. In this view, a government form like monarchy could only emerge because the Greeks had not yet come up with a system of representation. But the lesson he took from it was that the representative government in a republic was a form that enabled democracy, government selected by the people, to work for a community larger than a small ancient Greek city-state.

I already feel like that amount of discussion gives the Bircher argument more attention than it deserves on the substance of it. Because it's really a nonsense argument. The majority of the Founders knew they were creating a democratic republic of free white men. Which in itself was a revolutionary concept and practice in the world of that time. And while there may have been some like Alexander Hamilton, who Jefferson regarded as a closet monarchist, who used classic republican arguments as a way to discredit more democratic tendencies. But the notion that the Constitution was based on fear of democratic government as such is substantively untenable. It's nonsense, in other words.

It's worth noting in this regard that when Jefferson, who the Hamiltonian Federalists regarded as something like a Jacobin, led the formation of what we now know as the Democratic Party, it was originally called the Democratic-Republican Party, because the two concepts were so intimately linked in the general public understanding of the time. And it was actually referred to as Republican Party in its first decades. It was only after the Federalist Party collapsed because its policies were so unpopular that the Jacksonian movement started calling it the Democratic Party to emphasize the movement's mission to strengthen and expand democratic governance beyond the class-based limits of the time. (The original Jacksonian vision was far away from the 20th and 21st centuries' idea of democracy. But that's a later chapter of the ongoing story.)

But as sometimes happens when you follow up some chain of thought from the Christian Right, following up Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance's argument led to some weird places.

The article Bro. SOV linksa in the quote above is Why Our Founders Feared a Democracy (2008) by one O. R. Adams Jr. It's on a website called American Traditions Magazine. Adams is listed on the homepage as the editor.

The homepage also features several paragraphs about a book by Adams, As We Sodomize America - The Homosexual Movement and The Decline of Morality in America, which is available for download at the site's Books section. Goodreads has a summary of the book, which it lists as having been published in 2000. Goodreads says:

Examines the homosexual movement as an integral part of the moral decline in this country during the past forty years, and presents ideas on how we can regain our values. The eight most common sexual acts of homosexuals are graphically described, all of which are vile, unnatural, and completely unacceptable in any moral society. Once you have read the facts, you will understand why this behavior cannot be tolerated and, in light of God's grace, can indeed be changed. [my emphasis]
Graphic descriptions of vile, unnatural acts for the good Christian reader who wants to stay on the right path.

Yeah, it's creepy already.

This brought to mind St. Reagan's Presidential Commission on Pornography, aka, the Meese Commission after Attorney General Edwin Meese. As reported by the New York Times (Edwin McDowell, Some Say Meese Report Rates An 'X' 10/21/1986):

The reason it is objectionable is that the report - issued last July, 14 months after Attorney General Edwin Meese 3d announced formation of the 11-member commission -describes and quotes extensively from material sold in adult bookstores.

Consequently, the Rutledge Hill edition comes wrapped, with a warning on the back cover that the book contains "extremely explicit content" that "will be offensive to most individuals."
I recall reading at the time it was much in demand at Christian bookstores! But McDowell's report seems to report the opposite:

After New York publishers declined to reprint the "Final Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography," which the Government Printing Office issued last summer in two volumes, Rutledge Hill Press of Nashville scored something of a publishing coup by rushing it out last month in an inexpensive one-volume edition.

But while the book has sold more than 30,000 copies to anti-pornography organizations, it has run into unexpected resistance among religious bookstores. Although their sympathies lie with the report's call for a nationwide anti-pornography campaign, many are refusing to stock or display the book for fear that the vulgar language in it and its graphic descriptions of sexual acts will offend their customers.
It was at least ironic that the report that was supposed to condemn the dire effects of looking at dirty pichers itself provided some of the same provative material itself. I've at least wondered how many conservative Christians decided that it was urgent to familirize themselves with the Meese Commission report when it was published.

It sounds like As We Sodomize America may provide similar resources for the curious.

I looked up the publisher listed at Goodreads for the latter work, WinePress. I found their website which says the publisher is out of business and contains some polemics about how the group apparently behind was being persecuted for their Christian faith. Publishers Weekly reported on the story (Lynn Garrett and Ann Byle, Self-Publisher WinePress Goes Out of Business 01/22/2014):

WinePress Publishing, a Christian self-publishing company, has closed its doors, according to an announcement yesterday on the company’s Web site. The house had been plagued in recent years with accusations of fraud, complaints from authors and former employees, and financial problems. WinePress itself had filed a number of lawsuits against its critics and unhappy authors.

Last May, WinePress staff member Malcolm Fraser was convicted on two counts of first-degree child rape and two counts of first-degree molestation of a child. Fraser was a staff member of WinePress Publishing and a pastor of Sound Doctrine Church in Enumclaw, Wash., which owns WinePress. Fraser avowed his innocence, as did WinePress executive publisher Timothy Williams, who retired as senior pastor from Sound Doctrine Church five years ago and stated that no church funds had been used in Fraser’s defense.
By this time, I was too grossed out to dig into it any more.

Yes, checking out Christian Right websites can sometimes can sometimes seriously gross you out.

No comments: