In The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, historian J. L. Talmon writes, “The totalitarian democratic school . . . is based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics. . . It treats all human thought and action as . . . falling within the orbit of political action.” He goes on to say that totalitarian democracy believes liberty “to be realized only in the pursuit and attainment of an absolute collective purpose. (p. 2)” Talmon was writing in 1952, but his words seem particularly relevant today.
The radical right claims to have a political “sole and exclusive truth.” As politicians, they court another group with claims to the one and only truth: Evangelical Christians. As these two groups have consolidated their power over the last 40 years, it has become increasingly dangerous politically to disagree with the “party line.”
In Iowa, three judges were unseated this month for invalidating an unconstitutional law. The law banned gay marriage. It violated the Iowa state constitution. In general, the courts are supposed to invalidate unconstitutional laws. Judges, especially those who sit on state supreme courts, are supposed to decide matters of law without regard to politics. Except in totalitarian democracies. Those working for the absolute collective purpose will force everyone to conform.
Iowans who think it was their idea to give these judges their walking papers are mistaken. Nearly $1 million in political action funds came rolling into Iowa from out of state. These funds financed attack ads on the judges. They came from places like New Jersey and Mississippi.
Even worse than the fact that out-of-state funds influenced a state election, is the fact that one of the biggest in-state donors to the cause of unseating these judges is the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC). IFPC received more than half a million dollars in 2007 from the United States federal government. The federal grants made up half of the organization’s budget. The money was not used specifically for the anti-gay campaign, but non-profits and think tanks survive on grants. Without them, the doors would not stay open. So the federal government is or was helping the radical right deny human rights to gays.
As usual with the radical right, sauce for the goose is not good for the gander. When the radical right talks about the health care law, they claim the federal government is interfering in private business. When someone in New Jersey decides that a judge in Iowa should get fired because gay people might be able to marry in Iowa, it’s a different story. It certainly is not intrusion into other people’s business.
Who has sex with whom is, by all accounts, the business of the radical right. It is a favorite tool of politicians on the right to garner the evangelical vote, along with abortion and immigration. These are called wedge issues, and they cater to the single-issue voter. The number of single-issue voters is increasing, perhaps because society has become complex, or perhaps because politicians encourage it. Wedge issues arouse fear and loathing, especially in single-issue voters. They also make American society increasingly difficult to navigate for a growing number of citizens.
The politicians of the radical right probably do not believe that by denying gay people property rights will make them stop being gay. Some of their single-issue voters probably do. One can only wonder if non-Christians are next on the hit-list, and who gets to define “Christian.”
It’s not difficult to understand why politicians on the radical right enjoy stirring the pot on divisive issues. It brings them power. What is difficult to understand is why anyone would want to live in a society where everyone must subscribe to some absolute collective purpose to survive.