Coalition of the unwilling

William Stuntz of Harvard is an outstanding legal scholar, a creative and insightful columnist, and (based on what we can tell from a dialogue we had with him last November) quite a good guy. He wrote a well-received column late last year in which he argued that, despite their current differences, liberal intellectuals and conservative evangelicals represent “an alliance just waiting to happen.” Pressing his luck, he now returns to this theme, arguing that “the situation is even better than I’d thought. The intellectual left and the religious right not only could come together. Given the right kind of political leadership, they will.” Stuntz rests his arguments on four policy issues as to which, he thinks, there is a natural underlying affinity between liberal intellectuals and conservative evangelicals — abortion (yes, abortion), poverty in the U.S., poverty abroad, and spreading freedom/nation-building.
Stuntz’s piece is well worth reading because of his insights into each of these issues. But what if it turns out that two of the most deeply held beliefs of liberal intellectuals (more fundamental than their position on particular issues such as the ones Stuntz discusses) are (1) distrust of the exercise of U.S. power on behalf of U.S. interests, based on serious doubts as to whether the U.S. is a fundamentally decent society and (2) certainty that anyone who is deeply religious in the traditional sense is a hopeless rube? Would a coalition between liberal intellectuals and conservative evangelicals be possible under these circumstances? Surely not.
Stuntz knows many more liberal intellectuals than I do, but I know my share. In fact, I used to be one (or perhaps a pseudo-intellectual liberal). My experience is that the two propositions set forth in the preceding paragraph are articles of faith among this crowd. The first — distrust of U.S. power — is the searing lesson of the Vietnam era. The second — disdain for traditional religion — is the lesson of the culture war. I may be wrong about this, but before confessing error I’d need to see, at a minimum, a satisfactory explanation for the intellectual left’s hatred of President Bush that does not incorporate either of my two propositions, or others similarly fatal to the formation of a coalition with evangelicals.


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