Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Trump and Pence: Neoconservatives, Manifest Destiny, and the End of Days

In 2008 I published a book on the form and evolution of liberal government in the west, titled, Governmentality, Biopower and Everyday Life (see here).

In that book, I describe the rise of "neoconservative" government in the US. Neoconservativism adopts a utilitarian approach to religion but neoconservative leaders have made alliances with Christian conservatives.

Many of President Trump's policies and value orientations exemplify the "neoconservative" government and his alliance with Pence illustrates the marriage of convenience between neoconservatives and Christian conservatives.

This alliance is dangerous for peace because the Neocons and Christian conservatives both believe in America's "Manifest Destiny" and are willing to deploy force to ensure its realization.

The Neocons' festishization of force disallows them from recognizing human precarity and vulnerabilty, while the Christian conservatives eagerly await the end of days.

Here is are some excerpts from my book that describe this unholy alliance between those who would be gods and those who seek to realize revelations in their lifetime:

Neoconservative and Christian Pastoral Government

Neoconservatism is primarily an American-articulated and promulgated rationality of government, but such is American influence in the world today that its effects are global. The neoconservative rationality is an odd blend of principles and value orientations derived from classical laissez-faire economic liberalism and American conservative and libertarian thought.

Importantly, neoconservative authorities reject the welfare-state and reject what they perceive as dangerous liberal-inspired individualism in “private” life, while simultaneously embracing rugged individualists, particularly of the market-variety (see Micklethwait & Wooldridge, 2004).

In the last twenty years, neoconservative authorities have made alliances with conservative Christians, particularly with right-leaning evangelical Christians. It is therefore not surprising that neoconservative discourse is heavily inflected by a self-conscious Judeo-Christianity and its governmental operations are often unabashedly theological.

The guiding ethos of the neoconservative-Christian nexus is a sense of cultural exceptionalism and a willingness to invoke sovereign authority, guised in pastoral terms. Although neoconservatism and neoliberalism are united by their support of classical liberal economic policy, they diverge sharply on the matter of the state’s relationship to its subjects.

Neoconservatives radically reject neoliberalism’s secular agnosticism and express caution regarding citizens’ capacities for autonomous self-regulation. Neoconservatives embrace religion and advocate for the state’s sovereign role in fostering the spiritual morality of its citizens through state-supported philanthropy and through sovereign efforts to unleash market disciplines.

Irving Kristol, an important founder of neoconservatism, identified the tradition’s intellectual founders as disillusioned liberals who grew up during the 1930s and 1940s (see Gerson, 1996b), although others dispute this account of the movement’s roots (see Norton, 2004). According to Kristol, neoconservatives’ experiences with the Great Depression and the 1960s counter-culture significantly shaped their attitudes about welfare, the state, and American culture. Neoconservative attitudes about these issues serve to differentiate their position from neoliberalism, even while both schools of thought hold similar positions on the economy and market.

As explained by Irving Kristol, a movement founder, neoconservatives believe market capitalism is intrinsically linked to the morality of citizens since capitalism requires trust between business associates and fosters self-discipline (Wilson, 1995).

However, according to Kristol, the neoconservatives’ experience with the social and economic effects of the Great Depression made them more open to state intervention and regulation than either neoliberals or traditional conservatives. Thus, neoconservatives do not share traditional conservative “anti-state” attitudes and steadfastly favor the cultivation of national patriotism. Moreover, although neoconservatives favor tax cuts, they are more tolerant of budget deficits than traditional conservatives and neoliberals (Kristol, 2003)...

The neoconservatives believe that American culture has achieved a pervasive state of moral degradation, fostered by the welfare state, cultural universalism, and personal narcissism.  Neoconservatives favor the use of the state to dissolve welfare-state apparatus, thereby redressing the culture of dependency through market disciplines.

…Starting in the 1980s, neoconservative authorities began forging alliances with Christian social-conservatives based on a common desire to re-moralize citizens using Judeo-Christian values. Christian organization such as the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Christian Coalition helped politicize Christian citizens, who elected neoconservative officials during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Neoconservative political authorities subsequently used state apparatuses to implement desired reforms, particularly in relation to state-supported religious philanthropy, religious education, and the regulation of sexuality. Moreover, neoconservative political actors appointed Christian conservatives to a wide range of political posts in the federal and state governments (Krugman, 2007).

Unlike nineteenth century Christian reformers, contemporary Christian conservatives affirm wealth and private industry... Accordingly, conservative Christian attitudes toward wealth and business can be described as a discourse of “evangelical capitalism,” promoting individual responsibility and market discipline, while simultaneously working against government sponsored programs believed to foster dependency (Nadesan, 1999a)...

Moreover, the discourse of evangelical capitalism invokes ideas of America’s Manifest Destiny (discussed presently), thereby theologically inflecting expansion of America’s market (see Frank, 2000). The theologically inflected political doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” offers a pastoral model of global governmentality for neoconservative and Judeo-Christian citizens who believe in America’s cultural and spiritual exceptionality.

The doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” was articulated in 1845 by a journalist, but drew and elaborated upon the American governmental ethos, what Coles refers to as American “civil religion” (Coles, 2002). Manifest Destiny functioned explicitly and implicitly as a racialized narrative articulating the moral superiority of American-style liberal, democratic capitalism.

Manifest Destiny traded upon the idea that the United States of America was “exceptional” among other societies and before God (Coles, 2002; Stephanson, 1995). As Stephanson (1995) described it, American nationalism was, and continues to be, understood as both “prophetic” and “universal” (p. xiii).

The early doctrine of Manifest Destiny formally articulated a prophetic mission to spread through intervention (and war) the American way of life, although subsequent articulations at times emphasized “mission by example” (Coles, 2002, p. 407). Across time, direct and indirect appeals to America’s “Manifest Destiny” have served to articulate national (i.e., racial) unity against internal and external threats to the economic security and (imagined) racial (i.e., “white”) purity of the state, even when political actors have been motivated by sectional interests.

In effect, although the meanings attributed to Manifest Destiny have changed across time, it has served as an organizing signifier for Americans’ racialized national identity and cultural exceptionality.

Within the contemporary United States, Christian conservative, neoliberal, and neoconservative foreign policy principles, practices, and problems of government find legitimacy in appeals to racialized constructions of origins and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. In particularly, the precepts of America’s Manifest Destiny blend with Straussian political precepts in neoconservative approaches to domestic and foreign policy.

As Norton (2004) argued in Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, the Straussian-influenced neoconservative policy agenda has directly shaped U.S. intervention in the Middle East, engineering its policy toward Israel, and its efforts toward regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq (see also Drury, 1999; Postel, 2003).

Students of Strauss, such as Harvey Mansfield, instructed Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol, while another student, Joseph Cropsey, taught Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky (Norton, 2004; Urban, 2005). Within the academy, within conservative think tanks, and within the political apparatuses of the second Bush administration, these neoconservative thinkers and activists have endeavored to remake America and the world according to neoconservative and neoliberal principles of government (see Chapter Six).

Neoconservative governmentalities favor the use of military apparatuses to supplement market and philanthropic based technologies of global government. In effect, neoconservatives favor reinvigorating older conceptions and practices of sovereignty.

Conservative Christians’ belief in “End Times” theology, as recently narrated in the Left Behind novels (see Standaert, 2006), has fostered support for neoconservative policy initiatives in the Middle East and unilateral support for Israel.

The series, conceived by religious activist Tim LaHaye, sold over 70 million copies over the last decade (Standaert, 2006). Its paranoid depiction of a United Nations controlled by the forces of evil contributes to conservative Christians’ support for unilateral policy agendas and hostility toward secular approaches to global government. Neoconservatives have cynically appealed to Christian conservative anxieties and paranoia when peddling policy initiatives...


The convergence of neoconservative and Christian conservativism in the top offices of the US executive branch promise to hasten the "end of days," as we are seeing with the escalation of global tensions.

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