Meet Our Newest Theocrat: Christian Fundamentalist Senator Mike Lee Goes to Washington
A lot of people, including yours truly, have been discussing the Christian Reconstructionist underpinnings of the Tea Party for the past few months. Today, Jeffrey Rosen looks at a different theocratic influence which emanates from the Mormon branch. And highly influential it is since it forms the basis for "Professor" Glenn Beck's daily multi-hour demagogic crusade.
Rosen doesn't go into Beck's muddled blathering but rather looks at the man who took down a very conservative incumbent Senator of his own party --- Utah's Mike Lee. He's one of the "intellectual" engines of the Tea Party --- and he's a far right religious extremist:
Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of Rex Lee, a solicitor general under President Reagan, he attended law school at Brigham Young and later clerked for Samuel Alito on the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.
Like the Tea Party movement itself, Lee’s constitutional vision may appear to be an incohesive mixture of libertarianism and social conservatism, of opposition to federal power and support for tearing down the wall of separation between church and state. In fact, however, it represents an exotic but, in its own way, coherent idea of the Constitution, one that is consistent with certain familiar strains of legal conservatism and constitutional scholarship but at the same time is genuinely eccentric and extreme. Much of the Tea Party movement’s more-strident rhetoric, seen in light of this constitutional vision, may be best understood not as scattershot right-wing hostility to government but as a comprehensive, if startling, worldview about the proper roles of government and faith in American life.
Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, “The 5,000-Year Leap,” argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist “European” philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel. Skousen, a Mormon who died in 2006 at 92, was for years dismissed by many mainstream conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., as a conspiracy-mongering extremist; he was also eventually criticized by the Mormon Church. A vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.
Skousen’s vision of the Constitution was no less extreme. Starting more than 60 years ago with his first book, “Prophecy and Modern Times,” he wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders’ “religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy.”
This tracks with the other Theocrat/Libertarian alliances that we've discussed in recent weeks. And although one could easily see a sectarian battle breaking out in the United States of Gilead at some point, right now the fact that the Mormons and Christian fundamentalists have different prophets probably doesn't mean much. They are on the same track:
While Paul’s anti-Fed crusade is widely thought of as economic libertarianism, the roots of this combat lie in a theocratic reading of the Bible, arising out of the nexus between Paul (and now his son, Senator-elect Rand Paul), Howard Phillips and his Constitution Party, and Gary North and the Christian Reconstructionists.
For decades, the elder Paul, Phillips, and North have shared the libertarian economic philosophy of the Austrian School, which advocates a strict free market approach to an economy they portray in terms of individual choices and agreements rather than systemic forces. With respect to the Federal Reserve System in particular, they have argued against its fractional reserve banking, and its manipulation of interest rates to control economic ups and downs.
North, the architect of Christian Reconstructionist economic theory, and controversial libertarian economist Lew Rockwell both worked on Ron Paul’s congressional staff in the late 1970s. That collaboration continues today, even after reports during the 2008 presidential campaign that Rockwell had ghostwritten racist and anti-gay statements in Ron Paul’s conspiracy-minded newsletter in the 1980s and ’90s. They continue to collaborate through the Ludwig von Mises Institute, founded by Rockwell and the anti-“statist,” anti-New Deal economist Murray Rothbard, who believed Joseph McCarthy was “the most smeared man in American politics” in the 20th century.
Their work is also found at LewRockwell.com, where North currently writes, often in support of Paul. In promoting their libertarian economic views, Rothbard and Rockwell have, according to the libertarian Reason magazine, “championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives.’”
While each of these figures comes to the table from different places, they come together in agreement on Rothbard’s anti-statism, which dovetails with North’s views. For North, the Bible limits the legitimate functions of civil government to punishing “evildoers” and providing for defense. Reconstructionist theocracy, based on the Reconstructionists’ reading of the Bible, gives coercive authority to families and churches to organize other aspects of life. In this view—one that also meshes with Tea Party rhetoric—the Fed’s control of monetary policy is a prime example of federal government “tyranny.”
North argues that the Federal Reserve is unbiblical because it usurps power not legitimately held by civil government (because God didn’t grant it) and it promotes inflation, which he says is nothing more than theft from those who are not in debt in favor of those who are.
Mike Lee is a US Senator who also happens to be a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. And he's a Theocrat. A real one. I suppose there would be no need to be alarmed if he were just some outlier. After all, this stuff has existed on the fringe of American politics for a long time and a super right wing Mormon from Utah isn't exactly unprecedented. But now the good word is being spread far and wide on right wing media and a whole horde of politicians steeped in this theocratic view are coming to Washington in the guise of small government libertarians. It merits keeping an eye on at least.
[Originally printed here]