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Time to calm down

About the author

Roger Scruton is a philosopher, writer, political activist and businessman. He is a professor in the department of philosophy at St Andrews University and a scholar at the American Entreprise Institute. His home on the web is http://www.roger-scruton.com/.

It is clear from Todd Gitlin’s reporting and Anthony Barnett’s editorial comment that, in so far as there is an openDemocracy “establishment”, it would have voted for the Democratic candidate in the United States election of November 2004. There is absolutely no reason why a publication devoted to exploring and promoting the democratic process should not take sides, and one of the strengths of openDemocracy is that, even when it does take sides, it welcomes contributions that disagree with it.

It is perhaps worth saying, therefore, that in the coverage of this US election the left–wing press has not always behaved in an open and democratic spirit when it comes to describing the opponent. In particular there has been an attempt to summarise the new recruits to the Republican cause in a slogan designed to mobilise hostility and to marginalise the target. I refer to the “Christian fundamentalist right” that is regarded by the left–wing press as such a threat to the freedom and democratic traditions of America, and whose vote is supposed both to have secured the presidency for George W Bush and also is used to condemn that result as, in some way, illegitimate.

Slogans are sometimes necessary in politics. However, this particular slogan reminds me of the “Jewish plutocrat bolshevists” against whom Germans were invited to mobilise their democratic passions in 1933. The purpose is to stir up group antipathies, to replace thought with emotion, and to divide the legitimate nation from the “enemy within”. I don’t doubt that there are people who could be described as Christians, fundamentalists and right–wing – just as there were people around in 1933 who could be described as Jewish plutocrat bolshevists (György Lukács, for instance). But there are Christians who are not fundamentalists, fundamentalists who are left–wing, right–wingers who are not Christians and so on. The important point which this sloganising has endeavoured to obscure is that America has been and remains a largely Christian country, that many of those who do not live in the east coast cities live their lives by the Bible, that many of these in their turn are American patriots with a firm belief in self–determination, private property and old–fashioned marriage, as the right way to pass on your inheritance to your heirs.

Those positions are all controversial; but they are also all respectable, and have been the foundation of American society since the beginning. American democracy arose out of the Christian inheritance and critics of this inheritance ought to ask themselves why there are so few democracies that do not share it.

The important point to make, surely, is that the democratic spirit obliges us to respect our fellow human beings, not to the point of agreeing with everything they say or withholding criticism, since criticism too is a form of respect, but to the extent of acknowledging that they too have identities, they too have values and beliefs, they too have a legitimate say in elections, and they too have a right to prevail. I don’t see much evidence in the left–wing media that this democratic spirit really thrives there, and I would suggest that the true remedy is precisely a dose of what some people would call Christian fundamentalism, which is to stop stereotyping and to learn to love your (right–wing) neighbour as yourself.


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