(This is the fourth in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)

To recap briefly, “Political Fundamentalism” is the mutation of christian fundamentalism that allows it to appeal more broadly to the highly secularized by equally dogma-reliant anti-intellectual populism that permeates our culture. Whereas there has long been cause for some concern about the fanaticism and cooptation by the Republican Party of right-wing evangelicals, I had always maintained that dogmatic ideology rather than merely religious fanaticism was the real problem, and that religious fanaticism in our highly secularized society could only go so far. This mutation into a secular fanaticism, equally rigid and dysfunctional, equally tyrannical, and equally anti-intellectual, is far greater cause for concern.

Political Fundamentalism is the continuation of the Inquisition, adapting to a changing world in an attempt to prevent the world itself from adapting to changing circumstances and insights, creating an obstruction to the continuation of the growth and application of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Political Fundamentalism can be found all over the political ideological spectrum, just as religious fundamentalism can be found all over the religious spectrum, and, in both cases, the differences in ideological particulars are less compelling than the similarities in attitude. But the currently most dangerous form of Political Fundamentalism in America is the right-wing version, comprised of the three elements already named.

“Constitutional Idolatry,” the first element I wrote about, is the conversion of an historical document meant to provide a somewhat flexible legal doctrine and framework into a sacred text the caricature of which must be rigidly adhered to according to some non-existent and impossible literal interpretation. And “Liberty Idolatry,” the second element I wrote about, is the reduction of the concept of “liberty” to one divorced from consideration of interdependence and mutual responsibility, defending freedoms independently of consideration of the harm they may inflict on others or on all.

The third element in the unholy trinity of Political Fundamentalism is Small Government Idolatry. It is a fixed belief that smaller government is always better, that lower taxes and less spending are always better, that “government is the problem” (as Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed, ushering in a movement that will long be the bane of our attempts at designing and implementing reasonable proactive policies and public investments). Like its strongly intertwined fellow travelers, Constitutional Idolatry and Liberty Idolatry, it is a fixed belief, impervious to reason and evidence, insulated from compelling counterarguments or sensible attempts to achieve balance and moderation. It is a force for the contraction of the human mind, opposition to reason and knowledge, and obstruction of progress, at a very real and tragic cost in increased human suffering and decreased human welfare.

An argument against Small Government Idolatry is not an argument for big government (just as an argument against Constitutional Idolatry is not an argument against the Constitution, and an argument against Liberty Idolatry is not an argument against liberty). It is an argument in favor of doing the analysis, in favor of applying our principles knowledgeably and rationally in the context of a complex and subtle world, on a case-by-case basis. It is an argument for facing the responsibilities we have to one another and to future generations, utilizing authentic economic analyses rather than ideological pseudo-economic platitudes to balances the demands imposing themselves on government against the real economic and fiscal constraints that must discipline how these demands are met.

A blind commitment to “small government” is both humanly and fiscally irresponsible, for most economists, other social scientists, and lawyers recognize the inevitably large role that modern governments must play in modern economies, even independently of the demands that a commitment to social justice and improved equity impose on them. I’ve frequently referenced the role of information asymmetries in creating an absolute imperative that we continue to develop our regulatory infrastructure to keep pace with the opportunities to play the market system to individual advantage at sometimes catastrophic public expense. We’ve seen examples in the Enron-engineered California energy crisis of 2000-2001, and the financial sector collapse that nearly catalized a second Great Depression in 2008. Designing, implementing, and enforcing functional rules of the game for our complex market economy is an essential function of government, and one which already destroys the notion that a government too small too meet that need is preferable to one large enough to do so.

It is also fiscally, as well as humanly, irresponsible to let the problems of extreme poverty, child abuse and neglect, frequently unsuccessful public schools, high rates of violent crime, poor public health and inadequate healthcare for many, and other similar and related social problems, all of which form a mutually reinforcing matrix of dysfunctionality and growing problems that both undermine the safety and welfare of us all, and end up costing us far more to react to (with astronomical rates of very expensive incarceration, and other costs of dependency and predation) than it would have cost us to proactively address.

The fiscal concerns that the Political Fundamentalists identify are not to be disregarded, or treated as irrelevant, but rather are one set of considerations among many, to be included in a complete analysis rather than treated as always and forever dispositive independently of any application of reason or knowledge to the question of whether it is actually dispositive or not. The challenge of self-governance requires utilizing our fully developed and focused cognitive capacities, applied to all available information, in pursuit of intelligent and well-conceived policies. It is undermined by the imposition of an a priori set of fixed certainties that are impervious to both knowledge and reason.

We need, in our political discourse, less fundamentalism and more analysis, less idolatry and more (and better) methodology, less false certainty and more foundational humility. We need less deference to fixed and static beliefs, and more to our process by which we test our beliefs and improve upon them. We need less commitment to ideologies, and more commitment to working together as reasonable people of goodwill, doing the best we can to confront the challenges and opportunities of a complex and subtle world.

Yes, Denver Post’s most insane and inane columnist, John Andrews, published a column today advising that we need to defeat Harvard Law graduate, former Supreme Court clerk, and current CU Law professor Melissa Hart for CU regent, because we have to protect the university from professors ( And he doesn’t just mean protect governance of the university from any representation of faculty at all (there are currently none on the Board of Regents), but actually protecting the academy itself from its traditional definition as the home of academic discipline. Instead, Andrews assures us, the people want it to be more representative of popular opinion, and so we should impose a rule that the university affirmatively hire professors more representative of popular opinion.

Here’s what Andrew’s doesn’t get: Scholarship is a discipline, a methodology through which to distill observation and interpretation in ways far more useful for understanding systemic, causal relationships than any previous approach. Imposing on it some a priori requirement to represent a certain spectrum of lay beliefs is completely antithetical to its purpose, and what has set western science apart as a robust system of thought.

And it is precisely the kind of Medieval approach to knowledge that science and scholarship have whittled away at, this imposition of arbitrary cultural beliefs rather than subjecting them to the lathe of systematic scrutiny. One would have hoped that the battle over whether arbitrary opinion or systematic thought subjected to scientific methodology is superior in accuracy would have been settled by now, since we have about 400 years of experience pretty decisively settling it. But, alas, it is not to be so. Andrews quotes that any handful of random people know more than a cross-section of experts on the subject of their expertise, parroting a popular but absurd ideological conviction.

Andrews’ examples all prove his error: The stimulus package did avert an economic disaster, and was cost-effective, in light of the non-partisan CBO’s conclusion that it created between 1.3 million and 3.4 million jobs (do the math). Roosevelt’s New Deal spending, despite the information-deprived ideology to the contrary, resulted in about five years of phenomenal economic growth during the Great Depression, until FDR, seduced by this success, tried to implement budget-balancing measures.

Arbitrary opinion “benefits” from neither being tested, nor allowing itself to be tested, so that it can always declare itself correct despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And Andrews wants to “storm the gates” (in the words of his preferred candidate for regent) of the last refuge of systematic academic thought in America, and reduce it to just another ideological echo-chamber, under the delusion that he and his fellow Inquisitors are doing just the opposite.

Like his predecessors over the centuries, those products of scientific methodology that are inconvenient to his ideology are heresies, and the fact that the academy systematically dispells the absurdities that his camp clings to (evolution is a myth, etc.) means that it must be a left-wing ideological echo-chamber. Because in Andrews’ Bizarro world, all belief is arbitrary, but his arbitrary beliefs are absolute truths.

The Inquisition is returning in full force, folks. John the Inquisitor has long been writing such drivel, and the Denver Post has long been irresponsible enough to privilege it with column space (along with others, like Vince Carroll, who contribute to the vacuuming of intelligence from the minds of his loyal readers). “Political Fundamentalism” is a force to be reckoned with. And we had better reckon with it, very, very assertively.

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Deceptive political advertising: My favorite is the anti-Perlmutter ad, in which one young woman says to another that Ed Perlmutter voted to provide convicted rapists with Viagra, since, apparently, the health care bill failed to create a new exclusion specifically for convicted rapists. As a spokeswoman for the Perlmutter campaign aptly put it: “The bill also doesn’t stop Martians masquerading as humans from getting a proctological exam.” This ad was brought out to replace one that Adam Schrager had reported made two claims that were absolutely false ( The left is not completely clean on the issue of false campaign advertising, and I’m not sure that the two sides are not equally culpable. But the right doesn’t seem to have any moral compass whatsoever. It appears to me that they will say anything, do anything, lie about anything, to dupe people into giving them the power that favors those who historically have most benefited from and least needed government’s favors.

The irony of dogma: After writing an essay (Personhood, Politics, & Truth) in response to Susan Greene’s column taking umbrage with being booed for daring to state that there is some moral complexity to the abortion issue (, another pro-choice reader of Greene’s column took me to task on the comment board for pointing out the basic similarity between a late-term fetus and a newborn baby as part of an illustration that a pro-choice position survives acknowledgement of facts that are not convenient to it, and that our willingness to put all such facts on the table rather than sweep them under the rug is essential, in all matters, to governing ourselves intelligently. I’ve found that it’s almost inevitable that, as soon as you argue against dogmatic certainty, someone who is dogmatically certain finds something in your argument that is offensive to them. And it is usually someone with whose conclusions you agree. Part of the irony in this case is the weakness of the argument she finally relied on to “prove” that there was no room for argument (you can find it on the message board of Greene’s column that I linked to above). True-believers can’t tolerate even those who agree with them, if the latter can’t also agree with their insistence that there is no other way of thinking.

This dogmatic intransigence has many facets, and is such a large part of our basic political dysfunctionality that it merits focused attention and frequent repetition. One left-wing poster posted an oversimplistic model of “corporate fascism” on the fairly like-minded blog SquareState, announcing that he welcomes all reasonable criticism, and then defined reasonable as “not harveyisms,” meaning not any kind of analysis that does not already agree with his. (If he hadn’t mentioned my name, I wouldn’t have noticed his model. It turns out that he’s someone who has gone ballistic several times when I’ve challenged his on-line counsel to Democrats not to vote for Michael Bennet, on the basis of the same shallow analysis mentioned just above).

And, of course, dogmatic intransigence is the foundation of “Political Fundamentalism”, which characterizes Tea Party adherents as well as the two posters I just described. It shouldn’t matter whether your issue is reproductive rights, corporate political influence, or the caricature of “fiscal responsibility” that Tea Partiers claim as their main issue. If it’s strong enough to prevail within your mind, then it should be strong enough to accommodate all facts and arguments. We should be secure in our positions not by insulating them against challenges, but by honing them in response to such challenges.

Some positions have no legitimate arguments at all, such as those that are outright predatory or bigoted. The challenge then is to make that case. But if a postion can pass a minimal threshold test of presenting some legitimate points, no matter how committed one may be to the position that opposes them, those arguments should be acknowledged before being dismissed, and then dismissed by counterarguments that do not simply disregard or sidestep them. That is what robust public discourse should look like.

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(This is the second in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)

There’s something fascinating about the Tea Party, about the combination of grass roots energy, passionate conviction, profound ignorance, “Constitutional Idolatry”, and well, popularly imposed political dysfunctionality. The similarity to, and overlap with, its previously most robust incarnation, in the Christian Fundamentalist movement that has been such a major presence in conservative politics since the 1980’s, is striking. But it’s the continuation of the progress of this particular populist disease, like the nation’s auto-immune system attacking the body it was activated to protect, triggered in opposition to real infections, but doing the nation far more harm than those infections ever would have.

Mike Littwin coined the title phrase in his excellent column on the Tea Party phenomenon in today’s Denver Post ( I’ve always thought that the two sides in the debate whether the Tea Party is an organically arising grass roots movement, or a creation of wealthy corporate conservative donors manipulating and exploiting popular angst to their own advantage, missed the obvious: It’s a synergy between the two.

The Tea Party isn’t the only example of political fundamentalism in America. There are political fundamentalists on the left as well, those who think that the Tea Party, Obama, and the OFA, in which all actors are a “faux”-something-or-other, are all involved in “a pincer movement” controlled by “corporate fascists,” launching a concerted assault on all of the “true”-something-or-others (as one particularly shallow and intolerant-of-dissent left-wing blogger put it on SquareState recently). Michael Bennet, of course, and the Obama/OFA organized “theft” of the Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate primary are the principal mustache-twirling villains in the story (with Andrew Romanoff tied to the tracks as a steam engine chugged toward him?).

The similarities between these conflicting fundamentalisms are far more significant than the differences, in much the same way that the similarities between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists are far more striking than the differences. They are all edifices of assumed truths, oversimplified constructs informed by superficial understandings of complex dynamics, constantly reinforced with post hoc rationalizations and interpretations. And they are highly militant, utterly uncompromising (indeed, seeing any compromise as betrayal), trumpeting some kind of call-to-arms or another against some externalized enemy that renders the inherently innocent populous mere dupes of the all-powerful villains.

But left-wing fundamentalism in America, while certainly no better than right-wing fundamentalism, is far less of a threat, because it has attracted far fewer adherents. In a country in which a significant portion of the electorate calls Obama and Michael Bennet “socialists,” the overwrought left-wingers who call them willing agents of corporate fascism are about as significant as a disheveled guy on 16th Street Mall wearing a sandwich placard announcing impending doom. (I’m not disputing the alarming role that corporate money plays in American politics, but rather its reduction to an oversimplified narrative  of “good guys” and “bad guys”, the former defined as all those who both agree on all points with the speaker and refuse to make any compromises, and the latter as any who either disagree with the speaker on any point or work within the system as it is, whether to reform it or to preserve it.)

It is right-wing political fundamentalism in America which marks the progress of the disease that has been incubating since our conception, a sort of proud anti-intellectualism that generally has privileged ignorance over knowledge, false certainty over humility, and dogma over analysis. Many who were concerned about this undercurrent of American culture saw Christian Fundamentalism as its most threatening incarnation, but Christian Fundamentalism was never something that would grow beyond certain bounds: The country as a whole had become too libertine, too materialistic, and too pragmatic for it to have spread much farther than it already had.

However, like a virus that “knows” it had found the limits of its reproductive vitality, and mutates in order to be able to spread, Christian Fundamentalism secularized itself, transforming itself into political fundamentalism, replacing biblical idolatry with constitutional idolatry, altering its memes to better resonate with more people, focusing all of its self-destructive militant energy on causes which any uninformed individual can easily embrace.

With this mutation of American fundamentalism, the disease is raging like a fire through the polity, a mania, made only more robust and threatening by the attempt by wealthy corporate interests to foment and co-opt the spread of the disease itself (Systems Analysis, Politics, and the Uneasy Alliance of Ignorance and Privilege). But it may be more accurate to say that the disease is co-opting the wealthy corporate interests: True to the auto-immune disease metaphor, the virus has co-opted the central nervous system in an out-of-control synergy of self-destruction. And it is a phenomenon truly worthy of concern.

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