I am currently reading The Conservative Soul by Andrew Sullivan. I don't consider myself a conservative (I don't really subscribe to any one political philosophy, to be honest), but Sullivan is one of my daily reads, and I like the way he analyzes current events.
In the book, Sullivan claims that modern conservatism has strayed far from its original purpose. According to Sullivan, true conservatism means keeping tabs on government spending and expansion, and promises individual freedom and rule of law. However, under the Bush administration government spending reached an all-time high, torture became acceptable, and many conservatives favored religious dogma over civil liberties. So what went wrong? Sullivan sums it up in one word: fundamentalism.
In fundamentalism, things are either black or white; no greys are allowed. All authority resides in one person/book/ideology. For fundamentalists, whether they are secular (Marxists and Nazis) or religious (Islamic and Christian extremists), the goal is for all citizens to submit to this one authority . . . often by any means necessary.
The result, according to Sullivan, is the Bush administration. An administration that used torture as a interrogation, passed all spending bills, and proposed a Constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
So how can conservatism bounce back? Sullivan's alternative is a "conservatism of doubt." Ultimate truth exists, but, according to Sullivan, it's so beyond our human understanding that we can never fully grasp it. While the fundamentalist never doubts, Sullivan says the conservative knows there is at least a 1% chance that s/he might be wrong.
Sullivan makes makes some good points. To me, however, the problem isn't believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God; it's believing that one's own interpretation of the Bible is infallible. As Shakespeare once said, even the devil can use Scripture for his own purposes. And unfortunately, for many fundamentalists the Bible clearly says that if gays are allowed to marry, or if we don't blow up Iran, then God will rain fire and brimstone on America. Or something like that.
As far as Sullivan's "conservatism of doubt," he's got a good point. We humans are imperfect, so there is a good chance that we've got it all wrong. I'm not sure how it translates into politics (I'm only three quarters through the book). But I will say this; contrary to what fundamentalists believe, America is not a "Christian nation." We are a nation made up of various races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, income levels, etc. It would be foolish for the government to cater to only one group of people while completely ignoring the needs of others. But this is what fundamentalism does.
What do you think?