Conservative Public Theology. [Schade]

Dana Milbank argues in today's Washington Post that race and nationality are becoming de-coupled as the USA moves into a future where 'white' people no longer are the majority.

The United States is experiencing a rapid decoupling of race and nationality: Whiteness has less and less to do with being American.
The Census Bureau forecasts that non-Hispanic whites, now slightly more than 60 percent of the population, will fall below 50 percent in 2043.

I say that the demographic shift threatens the ideology of white nationalism: the belief that the USA is ordained to be the nation of the European whites who settled here and their descendants. Even though there were people here before the Europeans came, and even though there have been people from other continents here all along, white nationalism holds that the European settlers are destined to rule North America. Whites belong here; everybody else has to earn their place here. It makes a mystical, emotional, and sentimental identification between this country, the USA, and 'the American people' who are predominantly European. Rationally, everyone knows that it is not true that the USA is made up of white people, but at the level of mythos, it is true. Everybody knows who Sarah Palin is talking about when she talks about "real Americans." White Nationalism is the close coupling of race and nationality that Milbank refers to.

White Nationalism is not the ravings of rightwing extremists out in the woods. White Nationalism is the default conception most whites carry about the country.

As the actual demographic basis for white nationalism goes away (you can't argue with the numbers), it becomes more and more based in a mythology. Patriotism becomes increasingly identified with a mythic story: the red, white and blue festooned story of a wilderness conquered by pioneers, a revolution for freedom and liberty, the miraculous divinely-inspired creation of a new government by the founding fathers, the tragic intra-familial conflict between white people in a Civil War, but their eventual healing and reunion and finally, the slow steady progress of democracy. Mythic patriotism is a series of stories with the triumphant and blessed white Europeans at the center. The indigenous peoples have been pushed to the margins in the narrative. The stories of Asian and Latin peoples have been reshaped to fit the Ellis Island template of the European immigrants. The story of the enslaved Africans and their descendants stays alive as a barely repressed shadow story. It is forever being enclosed but forever escaping from its box. It has the power to refute and untell all American mythology.

Because white nationalism increasingly relies on mythology, it comes to be experienced as a religion.  Modes of thought characteristic of American Protestantism come to be used when thinking about the country. Patriotism becomes piety, expressed in ritual gestures. The founders become the patriarchs. The Constitution becomes inerrant scripture. Marble monuments on the mall become temples. White Nationalism is becoming a Public Theology.

From Ed Kilgore at Political Animal discerns the increasingly religious character of what is being called "constitutional conservatism."

... I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of “constitutional conservatism” is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It’s always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as as emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of “traditional culture” is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn’t—all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or “foreign” delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America. (emphasis added.)
 What Kilgore calls "traditional culture" is the mythic America that is the lost paradise of white nationalism.

If White Nationalism and Constitutional Conservatism make for a profoundly reactionary public theology, how does liberal religion offer a different vision of the people, the government, and the culture? 


  1. "When fascism comes to America, it will arrive wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

  2. I won't read this until next week at Ferry Beach, but might a humble admirer just express the sense of pleasure and well-being derived from looking at that photo?

  3. Martin4:22 AM

    I'm not so sure that UU offers a different view. As the recent UUWorld reader survey shows, UU is a primarily white religion ( There is a lot of emphasis on the past white "heroes" of the religion. When other races are mentioned, the narrative is of special UU whites rescuing them. Also, UU as a whole is mostly focused on the US with a little dabbling with the European history and even smaller dabbling in the European present. What happens in the rest of the world doesn't seem to matter. That said, I do believe women have a stronger role in UU than in the "constitutional conservatism" Ed Kilgore describes.

  4. Anonymous4:34 PM

    Boy, you guys have an anti-white bias to go along with your anti-conservatism don't you!
    Yes, the vaunted 7 Principles are on full display and you wonder why the "religion" has shrunk to a political action committee with empty pews.

  5. I guess you know your blog has arrived when the comment threads start attracting trolls!


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