Evangelicals bring the votes, Catholics bring the brains


EXCERPT: Catholics make up a disproportionate share of the intelligentsia of the religious Right in the United States. Although they constitute only a fifth of the US population (and white Catholics make up less than 12 per cent of the US population), they maintain a high profile among conservative think tanks, universities and professional organisations. On the US Supreme Court, four out of five Republican-appointed justices are Catholic, despite evangelicals making up a substantial portion of Republican Party support. To understand Catholic overrepresentation on the US Supreme Court, and how Catholics in some sense became the brains of American conservatism, we must look to the history of Catholic education in the US.

[...] The birth of the modern conservative movement coincided with the postwar growth of Catholic universities. In 1955, a pathbreaking conservative magazine, the National Review, was founded and edited by William F Buckley, Jr, a Catholic. [...] When evangelicals mobilised politically in the 1970s and declared a ‘culture war’ against the menace of secularism, they put aside their longstanding anti-Catholicism and reached out to Catholic conservatives. Catholics proved to be perfect partners. Unlike evangelicals, conservative Catholics could draw on research universities, law schools, medical schools, business schools and other intellectual-producing institutions in the fight against secularism. Evangelicals’ suspicion of higher education since at least the days of the 1925 Scopes trial over teaching evolution meant that they had built few institutions of higher learning. Their bible colleges and seminaries were meant to create believers and converts, not intellectuals.

[...] So, Catholics contributed a disproportionate share of intellectuals and professionals for the religious Right, while evangelicals provided the bodies and the votes. Unlike the Jewish intellectuals clustered around neoconservative publications, Catholic conservatives were more reliable on cultural issues such as abortion. It is no small irony that Notre Dame has become the most important centre for the historical study of evangelicalism. In 1994, the influential historian, and evangelical, Mark Noll called the lack of rigorous intellectual activity among evangelicals a ‘scandal’. Ten years on, he celebrated ‘the increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics’ for the ‘improved evangelical use of the mind.’

How long the Catholic-evangelical alliance in US politics will continue is hard to say, but it is still going strong. One only needs to look at the nomination of the Catholic Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now confirmed, he replaces Anthony Kennedy, another Catholic [...] Catholic intellectual life in the US is not solely conservative, and Catholic conservatism sometimes cuts across the Left-Right divide in the US (on immigration and the death penalty, for example). But it remains the case that Catholic intellectuals are overrepresented in the US conservative movement. By virtue of their 19th-century separationist anxieties and their investment in institutions of higher learning, Catholics have become the brains of the religious Right in the US.

MORE: https://aeon.co/ideas/evangelicals-bring...the-brains

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