Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions that Matter in Right-Wing America

Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions that Matter in Right-Wing America

by Linda Kintz

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822382102
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 07/02/1997
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 568 KB

About the Author

Linda Kintz is Professor of English at the University of Oregon.

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Between Jesus and the Market

The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America

By Linda Kintz

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8210-2


Sacred Intimacy

Our world is reeling from the ravages of feminist rebellion against God and God-given authorities. —Beverly LaHaye

We learn identity letter by letter. —Gayatri Spivak

The remarkably clear yet thoroughly contradictory framework of mother, family, property, nation, and God links together a wide variety of groups and discourses, sealed by the resonance of a very particular form of familiarity. This chapter deals with the most important element in that familiarity: the belief that the fundamental definition of a woman is her identity as a nurturant mother. In postmodernity, because women are able to do all kinds of other things, too, such a belief has to be learned, and somebody has to teach it. Though conservative women have been involved in the more obvious political activities of monitoring school boards, circulating initiative petitions, distributing voters' guides to support political candidates, and running for office, their most important political contribution may well be their role in the construction of feelings of sacred intimacy. The deepest, most inarticulable feelings are those learned prior to the entry into language by means of the caregiving of mothers. That intimate caregiving begins to structure what, at birth, is primarily an unformed mixture of drives and the earliest forms of psychic identity. It will be into these networks of physical and psychical organization that language will later be inscribed.

The contradictions that might otherwise trouble this symmetrical structure can seem irrelevant, because familiarity has neutralized them through affect, through the strong emotions and feelings that are experienced as enigmatic and inarticulable. These are the kinds of feelings that are most deeply ordered prior to the child's learning to speak; this cultural ordering might be referred to by the term Julia Kristeva uses, the "semiotic level of culture." The enigmatic nature of feelings, the fact that they are considered to be unreadable, has a long history, which means that we are far less able to analyze and understand feelings than we are to differentiate among complex abstract systems of thought. In some ways, as we try to understand contemporary American culture, we find that the critical theories we are using have yet to be adequately historicized to fit an American context. The charismatic religions and regional cultural differences of the American South, Midwest, and West have never fit comfortably into a European model that saw reason to be opposed to feeling in a binary that privileged the unemotional, supposedly objective perspective. Similarly, the American relationship to property has a very different emotional resonance than does the European one, which originated in a culture in which the ownership of land was related to aristocracy. In part because of secular analyses that have too often coded feeling and spirituality as irrational and feminized, religious conservatism and its understanding of media have been able to appropriate feeling in the int erests of masculine privilege in a way that often leaves their secular critics unable to understand quite what happened. Part of what happened is that absolutist Christianity has situated meaning in the heart of Christ rather than the head of Man, continuing a rhetorical tradition that has long been a part of American religious discourse.

In following lessons about that heart and its influence on what matters, I begin with a discussion of Desires of a Woman's Heart, a book by Beverly LaHaye, who founded Concerned Women for America in 1979 in reaction to NOW'S claim to speak for American women, an important event in what conservative women saw as the disruption of the true American story, CWA has long claimed to have six hundred thousand members, though exact numbers are hard to come by. LaHaye's book is a kind of informal textbook designed for use in the prayer chapters that are the grassroots units of CWA'S structure. As in many books of this kind, produced by Christian publishing houses and designed for group use, at the end of each chapter is a set of questions for reflection and discussion, extending the personal space of prayer and biblical discernment out to the influence of a larger community of believers. The groundwork is also laid for everyday life's homogeneity and sameness, as loving familiarity is made available to others but only so long as they are converted to its terms.

LaHaye's contribution to the pedagogy of familiarity begins with basic terminology as she divides women into two groups: true women and radical feminists. Here feminists, increasingly marginalized as radical and extremist, are described as women who want to exclude all gender difference in order to be just like men; who want to shrug off all authority whatsoever; who want to jettison all family responsibilities in their careerism; who hate men; who are responsible for "rampant individualism"; who insist on abortion on demand; who have misled men into thinking they should not respect women; who have destroyed all civility and courtesy in public life; who have become so masculine in their appearance that few men are attracted to them; who, because of their selfishness, want only self-advancement; who have caused sexual harassment because they insisted on sexual liberation; who confuse the roles of men and women; and whose victory will rob us of "all love, compassion, gendeness, and warmth in all of our relationships." (73) The cultural disintegration that must be addressed and remedied will thus have been brought about because of a central problem: the confusion of gender identities that should be kept absolutely separate. It is this confusion that causes homosexuality, divorce, sexual abuse, promiscuity, social awkwardness, emotional distress, and suicide. It has also led directly to a much larger national crisis of identity, for just as individuals require a firm, stable identity based on absolute gender differences legitimated by God, so too does the nation. Unless they are grounded in God's inerrant Word, both nation and individual are left with a void at the center of their identities, and, like Ralph Reed, LaHaye draws on Pascal to describe this void: "Before we knew Christ, we were not complete. We had a God-shaped vacuum within our souls."

This version of feminism will be unrecognizable to most feminists. Yet to understand its appeal, and to assess why this appeal to many women seems stronger than that of feminism, it is important to follow LaHaye's text on her own terms, for if pointing out empirical errors worked, then all the time and effort taken by feminists to do just that would have succeeded. Something else engages the women who are LaHaye's audience. First of all, and most obvious to someone, like me, from a small town in the Bible Belt of West Texas, is the familiarity, even the ordinariness, to my eyes, of LaHaye's middle-class appearance; the respectable, fashionable though not flashy, style of dress; and the soft, gende tone of voice, her sweetness. It may be, as the Republican pollster Frank Lunz has always known, that the place to assess the popular sense of "America," now that technology has reduced the dominance of urban culture, is in a small town, an imaginative space too many academics seem unable to enter.

The demographics of this appeal are both representational and regional, for this kind of niceness and respectability link the small towns in the West, Midwest, and South to the mythologized nonspace of the suburbs. The West, in particular California, where Beverly and Tim LaHaye helped found the Moral Majority and where the campaign to elect Ronald Reagan president originated, has helped shape the rise of radical conservatism. Richard White, in an apdy tided history, "It's your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West, traces the West's influence on national politics after World War II. In particular, political parties in the West long ago became less important than the marketing of candidates, as single-issue politics of the initiative and referendum process were linked to the politics of personality and anticommunism. Trademarks of western politics, they became trademarks of national politics in general. In addition, the trend toward political campaigns run by public-relations firms originated after the war with the involvement of Campaigns Incorporated of California, which hired itself out to interest groups rather than to political parties. In the mass marketing and advertising strategies of such campaigns, candidates began to tailor themselves according to marketing strategies rather than political positions: "Again, the West created what would be a national pattern." (576)

California's weak political party system also allowed for the growth of the power of lobbyists. Though prior to the 1950s westerners strongly supported the New Deal, by 1960 the liberal majority had dissipated. In contrast to northerners and southerners, westerners were already more focused on individual opportunities and less interested in a government that could mediate between social groups or provide services individuals could not provide for themselves. And importantly, as we will see in chapters 4, 5, and 6 on the continuing influence of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier mythology, "although couched in terms of frontier self-reliance and older western self-images, western individualism in its most recent form is very much the product of an urban, prosperous, middleclass West whose very existence was the result of federal programs and policies." (576) White describes the rise of the New Right in the West as a "coalition of resentments" against the federal government, against moral laxity, against the social justice and cultural movements of the 1960s, and against immigrants, in particular after the Immigration Act of 1965, which changed the ethnic mix of immigrants by dropping the system of national quotas. While earlier immigration had been largely European, this change led to an increase in immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and India. The results of that change could be seen most clearly in western cities.

But the feature of westernization of most significance for popular conservatism and popular culture is what White calls "plain folks Americanism." This is an identity that, while often racist, was also influenced by other factors, such as the populist and libertarian traditions of the West and South and Pentecostalism, with its strong beliefs in traditional values, personal responsibility, and the work ethic. Though earlier populist attacks on those who did not work had been focused on elites, those attacks shifted in the sixties to an attack on the minority poor and radical whites. These traditions joined the sensual and spiritual traditions of fundamentalist and evangelical religions, whose importance in Southern California Nancy Ammerman traces, to the emotional traditions of country and western music:

Both western religious fundamentalism and country and western music had their strongest roots in Texas and Oklahoma and among the California migrants from those states. Plain folks Americanism spread easily to working-class whites who were neither migrants from the rural West nor Protestants. They, too, shared the strong anticommunism of the rural emigrants and were sensitive to accusations of communist influence. What had once been a despised regional culture became an expression first of white working-class culture and then of a larger political movement, the New Right. (601)

The way such plain folks Americanism gets translated into the entrepreneurial terms and popular culture of people who are neither western nor Pentecostal nor working class nor lovers of country music will occupy several later chapters. Though in that earlier period, plain folks Americanism was hostile to minority and feminist activism, it nevertheless drew on a similar postmodern language of equality, special status, and identity politics to describe itself in terms of self-discipline and hard work. As such, it offered a sense of group pride and special status for the ordinary folks considered to be the real core of society. Plain folks Americanism was thus linked to "invented, borrowed, and inherited traditions" to allow ordinary people, mostly white, to claim their status as real Americans. Ronald Reagan's election as governor of California, in White's analysis, was made possible by tapping the roots of this Americanism, taking advantage of the construction of a pure center threatened by objects of fear and disgust: "He had found the necessary enemies. Reagan had made urban demonstrators, striking farm workers, black rioters, radical students, criminals, and wasteful bureaucrats from Johnson's War on Poverty his targets. He lined them up like ducks in a shooting gallery. Each time he shot, he won big political prizes." (603)

Another characteristic of the West that will be important to this study is the way attacks on government and postmodernity were made in terms of a West that never existed:

Those Californians who most ardently believed in these "traditional" values were often themselves newcomers to the state. The New Right sank its strongest roots among the modern immigrants to the West who came not as a part of groups or to seek Utopian ends but for individual advancement. These were the residents of the suburbs, particularly the suburbs of southern California, which were the fastest-growing and most rapidly changing section of the United States in the 1960's. Southern California was a land of migrants who were not particularly Western in origin.... It would have been difficult to find a less likely site for a defense of traditional values.

But the rapidity of change in southern California was, in fact, the point. The New Right prospered in southern California because the pace of change was frenetic. In southern California, except when race was concerned, boundaries seemed permeable. Ethnic and religious division mattered less than elsewhere. People were mobile; community ties were weak; and the aspirations that brought migrants to the regions were overwhelmingly individualistic and material, not much different in fact than those that had prompted the gold rush more than a century earlier. Spectacular success always seemed possible, and that made failure all the more demeaning. There was no failure as bitter as western failure.

The California New Bight wanted it both ways. They wanted the opportunity for material success unhampered by government controls, but they wanted government to halt social change and return society to an imagined past. (606)

And it was not only the Right that was influenced by the West. The suburban white middle class also produced radicals, hippies, New Agers, who, like the radical conservatives and libertarians, viewed social problems in individual terms.

Ronald Reagan's significance to the rise of the New Right also had to do with his persona as both actor and corporate representative, his beliefs perhaps as much about expediency as about deep belief in traditional values, White argues. Such utilitarianism and the performative abilities it depends on currently define Newt Gingrich's political performances. And the very concept of utilitarianism will be central to many later New Right discussions of culture. Reagan tapped deeply into the West's resentment of the East, even though the East was no longer Wall Street but Washington and even though his support came, in fact, from an informal "millionaires' club" of Southern California businessmen. Reagan's success was also directly linked to the growth in the 1970s of religious broadcasting and the evangelical revival of the 1970s; 50 million adult Americans were reported to have had born-again conversion experiences in 1976, one of those being Ronald Reagan.

Tim LaHaye, then of San Diego, was a member of the original board of the Moral Majority, formed after meetings with Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, Ed McAteer, and Howard Phillips in hopes of splitting the Catholic vote within the Democratic Party by forming a visibly Christian organization. LaHaye was also in charge of registering evangelical Christian voters for the Reagan-Bush reelection committee in 1984, having already established the American Coalition for Traditional Values (ACTV), funded primarily by television ministries. According to Sara Diamond, LaHaye traded his religious organizational support for appointments in the Reagan administration drawn from a talent bank of born- again Christians available for government service. Many of the institutional structures of the New Right were developed during the days of the Contra counterinsurgency in Nicaragua when government support for the Contras was illegal. The formation of intricate networks of both religious and secular groups to provide them with nongovernmental funding and support provided a training ground for the sophisticated electronic and direct-mail capabilities and networks that have since propelled religious conservatism into such prominence.


Excerpted from Between Jesus and the Market by Linda Kintz. Copyright © 1997 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

ONE Sacred Intimacy
TWO The Heart of the Matter
THREE Kitchen Table Politics: The Folking of America
FOUR Tender Warriors
FIVE Postmodern Hunters and Gatherers
SIX Riding the Entrepreneurial Frontier
SEVEN God's Intentions for the Multinational Corporation: Seeing Reality True
EIGHT Warriors and Babies
Selected Bibliography

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