Among the Republicans

Prepping for my role as a blogger during the upcoming RNC, I read Among the Republicans by V.S. Naipaul, a reflection upon the 1984 Republican National Convention. Interesting is the extent to which Naipaul focuses on the rising New Right religion, in a sense that resonates with Burke's identification:

The invocation was being spoken, by a rabbi; and the piety seemed correct. The occasion, with its magnification of man, had a feel of religion. Not religion as contemplation or a private experience of divinity; but religion as the essence of a culture, the binding, brotherhood transcending material need. That, rather than political debate, was what people had come to Dallas for.

Of course, the "transcending material need" anticipates Thomas Frank and Andrew Gelman by a few decades. And what does this new religion offer? How to explain its success?

The fundamentalism that the Republicans had embraced went beyond religion. It simplified the world in general; it rolled together many different kinds of anxieties—schools, drugs, race, buggery, Russia, to give just a few; and it offered the simplest, the vaguest solution: Americanism, the assertion of the American self.

This echoes what I wrote in my essay on the 2004 election; that Bush's rhetorical success rested on his ability to reframe complex problems in simple terms, and especially on his ability to draw on a powerful notion of a beleaguered but stedfast "us" righteously opposed to a debase, highbrow, and/or polyvocal them (a bunch of sophists, really).

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