Can free-market values survive in an increasingly secular world?

The above title is taken from Steven Malanga‘s recent must-read article published in Investor’s Business Daily posted here. Malanga is the Senior Editor of City Journal and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow. I’ve quoted him several times on this site (example here), and his book, “The New New Left,” needs to be read by Republicans everywhere.

Malanga’s op ed surely wasn’t read by our state party chairman Andy McKenna, who is quoted as saying things that are so foolish that the conspiracy theories are starting to sound realistic. What theories you ask? Here’s the summation of one theory: Andy’s dad, who is a big time Democrat, asked his son to help make sure that the Illinois GOP is so badly damaged while he’s chairman that it will take twenty years to recover after he’s out of office.

This past week Andy was quoted by the Daily Herald saying that he’s “excited” about the ouster of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that “I think we are a stronger party now.” Anyone living in Illinois with a functioning mind knows that’s not the case. McKenna didn’t stop there.

“McKenna has declared there will be no ‘litmus test’ in this election season when it comes to social issues for Republican candidates.”

Chairman Andy, having presided over four years of the IL GOP losing ground, now proves he’s not only a loser but a confused loser. Something has happened to cause Andy to think he can “declare” that there will be no litmus test on important planks in the Republican platform.

Some of us, of course, know what this is all about. Andy and long time state party pay-roller John McGovern are doing what they can to assist in a potential state wide run for the socially liberal Mark Kirk who represents the liberal north shore suburbs. We’ve written about Kirk just recently here.

Evidently Andy and John and Mark didn’t learn from the – just as socially liberal – Judy Baar Topinka statewide campaign in 2006. They think that social conservatives – an important part of the party’s base – will now meekly come around because Andy “declared” it.

Poor Andy’s bad judgment is well known. It’s my personal view that Andy is now more of a comical figure than anything. It would take a miracle for me to take anything he says seriously.

What does Andy’s continued “leadership” say about nearly every Republican member of the General Assembly, all 102 Republican County Chairmen, and the knuckleheads on the IL GOP State Central Committee? As most of these people remain silent about the next McKenna train wreck, it becomes increasingly more difficult to take any of them seriously.

Andy, John, and Mark are among the contingent of people who like to pretend that you will get limited government, functioning markets, and people behaving themselves generally as civilized people must – even as you deemphasize things like the value of unborn life and seek to prevent people from making judgments about others’ ill-advised sexual behavior.

Of course McKenna is not alone in his ignorance, and this is yet one more reason why the nation is in desperate need of enlightened leadership. Platform supporting Republicans are told the moral issues of abortion (life) and so-called “homosexual rights” (behavior) aren’t important to people and should be ignored by Republicans.

Steven Malanga’s 1150-word article covers centuries and distills perfectly the reasons guys like Andy McKenna and his ilk are terribly confused about the nature of the world they live in.

Malanga’s article tracks thought through the centuries – naming names like Wesley, Calvin, Weber, Franklin, and de Tocqueville. He notes the survival of culture in the West after the fall of Rome, the later rise of the Protestant work ethic, and then the rise of secularism late in the nineteenth century.

Malanga notes that beginning in the 1960s “the values of the Protestant ethic also began to disappear from our larger society…” He writes about what we have now:

“Scam artists perpetrate giant Ponzi schemes against their friends and associates. Executives arrange compensation packages that pay themselves handily for failure. Ordinary people by the hundreds of thousands seek a shortcut to riches by lying on mortgage applications. Heartless phony bailout schemes take the last dollar of people already in distress.

To survive all of this it seems capitalism needs a new dose of restraint. But absent a vast religious revival in the West, which seems unlikely, where will a renewal of the virtues of the work ethic come from?

That question becomes ever more difficult to consider because as religious practice fades and our institutions reject traditional values, so too does the memory of the role that these elements played in the rise of capitalism.”

Malanga sums it up here:

“The meltdown of the financial markets in the last few months has left us grappling with how we can keep markets free and principled at the same time.

The only debate so far is between those who want more government regulation-who want to impose from the outside via the regulator’s eye the restraint that our institutions once tried to instill in us-and those who think that more government will only undermine our prosperity.

Neither side seems to be winning the public debate because most Americans are probably equally as appalled by the shortcomings of the markets as they are by the prospect of more government control of them.

People instinctively know something is missing, just not what. A religious revival in America seems unlikely. Is it equally as unlikely that our institutions, most especially our schools, would once again promote the virtues that made capitalism thrive and Western societies prosper-not just hard work, but thrift and integrity, or what we once called the Protestant ethic?”

Back to Andy. The question is a simple one: how can America expect its citizens to learn and act morally if there is no litmus test regarding anyone’s behavior? The answer is – they won’t learn and act morally in public or private life, in the public or private sectors. Don’t expect there to be any moral standards without litmus tests.

Those who are squeamish about discussing morality and the social issues had better buck up. The GOP is a pro life, pro traditional marriage, and pro traditional values party. Andy, John, and Mark might want to think about skipping over to the anything goes Democratic Party.

For any readers who have doubts about the true nature of abortion or those attempting to advance so-called “homosexual rights,” I’d recommend that you spend a great deal of time at Jill Stanek‘s and Peter LaBarbera‘s websites.

Pro-Life Pulse

Americans for Truth about Homosexuality

©2009 John F. Biver