More Democratic Virtues

Paul Harvey

Our previous post, on Jon Shields's Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, sparked an interesting discussion. I mentioned in that post that I hope to do a comparative blog post this summer on Jason Bivins's Religion of Fear together with Shields's work. Will be a while before I can get there, but in the meantime, Jason Bivins has agreed to let me post his comment on the Shields book; this won't count as a guest post, as Jason's guest post will come sometime soon we hope. In the meantime, this is just to continue the conversation:

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a while. It is, of course, a fascinating subject and I’ve only read the sample chapter PUP has put online.

Just to respond to Paul’s mention of my recent book in his post, what strikes me on my incomplete engagement with Shields’ work is that the sorts of “democratic virtues” he’s out to uncover in a *certain* sector of NCR politicking aren’t necessarily inconsistent with the political religions of fear. Rather, what seems to be most salient about post-1960s conservative Christianities in the U.S. is their very polymorphousness, the way in which certain features of liberalism are used against other features, or the way in which doomy declension narratives can necessitate (even demand) the kinds of engagement Shields is describing.

What fascinates me is not just that there exists in the NCR an ethos of civic engagement; there is a rich literature which acknowledges this (Nomi Stolzenberg, Jeff Spinner-Halev, even my own Fracture of Good Order, and others) and to which Shields is making an important and distinctive contribution. Rather, what compels me are the modes of coexistence between the participatory impulse and its more frightful counterpart, and how they’re strategically (selectively) framed. Here, the world is doomed and cannot be reshaped; elsewhere, a reformist spirit is championed. Here we encounter strident intolerance; there we hear references to MLK and “just getting a seat at the table.” Both orientations and both discourses exist simultaneously in these cultures, at least from where I sit and write, and the way they’re given emphasis and deployed is where the action is. Just my two cents.

All of which is to say that I think Shields is right, too, and that the complexity he documents (and which Paul notes) is also there when seen from the other, more frightful side. I’m eager to dig into the book, and congrats to Prof. Shields on both publication and publicity!


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