Thinking In Public

October 7, 2020

The Dawning of the Age of Entitlement? A Conversation with Author Christopher Caldwell

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is Thinking in Public, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 

My guest today is Christopher Caldwell. He has long been a part of the nation's public conversation, a public intellectual, an author, and writer. He was known for many years as a writer for The Weekly Standard. He's also written as a columnist for The Financial Times of London. His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and a myriad of other publications.

In 2010, he wrote a major book, entitled Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. His most recent book and the topic of our conversation today is The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties. That's actually the topic of our conversation today, not only the book, but what it means to look at American history from the 1960s to the present, since the 1960s opens an entire avenue of conversation, and that's why I'm looking forward to this conversation today.

Christopher Caldwell, welcome to Thinking in Public. Christopher, you have really been in the nation's intellectual conversation for a matter of decades now at The Weekly Standard and elsewhere, The Financial Times of London, and The Claremont Review, places such as that. Your most recent book, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, has engendered a good deal of conversation, and that's why an author writes a book. Tell me the conversation that you wanted to bring about by the publication of this book.

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, that's a very confusing way into it. I'm not sure I do necessarily want to start a conversation when I write a book. What I usually try to do when I write a book is to figure something out in my own mind. Once I have it figured out, I'm pretty content whether the conversation starts a lot, although I don't deny that this has started a kind of conversation.

Albert Mohler:

Well, I'm going to stick with my point for just a moment. A book is a public argument, and you intended to make a public argument. I am sure you intended there to be some effect to your argument. I assume that has something to do with why you write your columns and why you served for so long at The Weekly Standard. A part of what I try to do is to help thinking Christians think through these arguments and understand what they are, where they come from, what they mean, and where they lead, as ideas and arguments have consequences.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yeah. Well, the book has arguments in it, but I think of the book as more of a narrative than an argument. It's a history. It's not a manifesto. It's a story of the United States between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the election of Donald Trump. That's a very kind of special period. I would say if you had to call it the age of something, you might call it the age of the baby boom, because it begins just as the Baby Boomers are all born, and once they're born, they constitute 38% of the population of the country. Once they get older, that is in the first Reagan administration, then they constitute considerately more of the electorate and even more than that of the possessors of disposable income. It runs down to the age of Trump, which I think is when the baby boom politics kind of runs out of gas and you begin to see new politics on the horizon, for good or ill.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. I was born in 1959, so the Kennedy assassination came when I was barely four years old. So, the span of your book is just about precisely my lifetime. My own intellectual awakening, my own understanding of political identify, all of that forged in the context of what you write about in this book. The title could have been many things, “An Age Of…” I kind of think of will and-

Christopher Caldwell:

I had my own preferences.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. But entitlement works as a way of at least getting into the conversation, but I want to get to the key kind of spinal column of your book, which is that there are really two Americas, in the sense of two cultures, each driven by an interpretation of The Constitution, and thus two constitutional regimes, one under some continuity, an explicit, intentional continuity with The Constitution of the United States, and another that you really date specifically to The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its aftermath. Spell that out for us.

Christopher Caldwell:

Right. If I had had my druthers, I might have called this book The Two Constitutions. You are right to see that as the spinal column of the book. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a very complex topic. It's hard to grasp even when you start talking about it. For one thing, it was presented to the public as the way to solve a highly specific, very local problem. I would not even say limited to The South. I would say limited to the parts of Mississippi and Alabama where there was very serious violence going on let's say in the early 60s against The Civil Rights Movement. Right?

Christopher Caldwell:

I think that there was a consensus in the public that that ought to stop, but there was not so much of a consensus that there was a race problem at all elsewhere in the country. If you look at the polling from the early 1960s, you find that about 80% of Americans, and overwhelming majorities in the North, and the Midwest, and on the West Coast, believed that the blacks that they lived among were actually fairly and equally treated. I think that there was a very strong sense that this was a regional problem that was being solved, but that in itself doesn't exhaust the ambiguity of this act, because the act is not really limited to race at all. I think that the people that today we call activists were quite aware of that from the beginning. The Civil Rights Act protects people based on not just race, but gender, religion, immigrant status, ethnic origin.

Albert Mohler:

National origin.

Christopher Caldwell:

And other groups have been added, Vietnam veteran status, gay, lesbian, gender identity, that sort of thing. It's a very, very versatile way of conducting government. Now, the way it was supposed to work to desegregate the South is instructive here. The problem I think with southern segregation is that it was a product of democracy, that people voted for it and people supported it, so a way had to be found to get around that democracy, to overrule it from Washington, and so Washington got a lot of tools. A lot of behaviors that had been legal were declared illegal.

Christopher Caldwell:

The understanding of the First Amendment—freedom of assembly to mean freedom of association—was withdrawn from our usual way of looking at The First Amendment. You had a huge investigative apparatus in Washington, and you had the activation of courtrooms and bureaucracies to do things like actually re-try cases that were criminal cases, to exert control from Washington over elections for the first time since Reconstruction. There's an answer to this. There's an answer to why this was necessary. People will say, "Well, it was necessary to go around democracy that way, because The South's democracy was a flawed democracy."

Albert Mohler:

And I get that. I get the argument.

Christopher Caldwell:

That is certainly true, but if I may finish, the problem was all democracies are flawed democracies, and these tools wound up being able to be used for almost anything anywhere.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. I would take the narrative back to say especially the second decade of the 20th century with Wilsonian Progressivism and the idea that the state at the federal level should be the doer of good to effect social change. Of course, this led to the Progressivist's interpretation of the Constitution, the rise of what we would now call an administrative state and all that, back to what Wilson was arguing long before he became president of the United States. When he was a political science professor he was arguing for this.

Albert Mohler:

I am the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm a Southern Baptist. I am of the South. I want to be ruthlessly honest about the horrors of racism and segregation, legal segregation, Jim Crow segregation in The South, but I'm not going to let The North off at all. When you consider that four years after The Civil Rights Act of 1964 the cities that had the greatest unrest on racial issues in the United States were not in the South, but were in places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit,  and Chicago, and so it was a national problem. But when you look at your argument about The Civil Rights Act of 1964, you're not making the argument that the civil rights part was wrong, but that the federal government basically set the precedent of the fact that it was going to overturn and correct what it saw as wrongs brought about by democracy at the state and local level.

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, yes. Here is where I really insist that I am presenting a narrative, rather than an argument, because I do not believe that I'm re-litigating the arguments of the summer of 1964. What I think I'm doing in this book is talking about how this act had the seeds of a totally different way of doing politics and how it developed step by step, first of all, with Lyndon Johnson's executive order regarding federal contracts, the very rapid expansion of the EEOC, the addition of different civil rights things, civil rights in residence, civil rights in residential housing, civil rights through affirmative action in both hiring and universities, civil rights in busing and school, most of which things were really explicitly warned against during the discussion in 1964 and held to be absolute impossibilities. It's about an evolution and not about the legislation itself.

Albert Mohler:

But in this conversation, we're doing something that is habitual in America and I think unhealthy. That is we're talking about something without defining terms. We're talking about civil rights without defining what we're talking about, because that was the problem in 1964, as well as the necessity. There was going to be a Civil Rights Act of 1964. The question is, what would it say? The question is, how would civil rights be defined? They weren't defined. As a reader of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I will say one of the problems is that rights aren't defined. We have this phrase. We have The Civil Rights Movement. We have The Civil Rights Act. But what are civil rights? What does the world civil mean before rights?

Christopher Caldwell:

Literally, etymologically, they are the rights of citizens. I think the original understanding of The Civil Rights Act of 1866 or '67 I believe was to convey to our black citizens their full rights as citizens, but you’re right. It rapidly became very confusing, because the pillar on which the civil rights regime, if we can call it, is constructed is The 14th Amendment. The basis of The 14th Amendment is equal citizenship, and yet so much in the legal structure that arose out of The Civil Rights Act is about drawing distinctions between citizens based on race, and so it's a very confusing matter legally.

Albert Mohler:

What I want to help people understand is that when we talk about civil rights, The Civil Rights Movement was explicitly about ... And I say explicitly. That's not to say in every case it was about, but it was explicitly, publicly about rightfully demanding that black citizens in the United States be recognized to be full citizens and that their rights as full citizens be guaranteed. Those rights were enumerated in The Declaration, the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Then they were articulated in The Federal Constitution to include everything in The Bill of Rights. Then in The 14th Amendment, it was also guaranteed that this should include ... I should say the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments together, that this would also include the right to property, to the ownership of property, and to the vote. When we talk about civil rights in the 1960s, no one was talking about the supposed right of a man to marry a man. That was so far off the screen it's not even fair to bring it into the imagination here.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yes. That's right. Again, this is why I describe the book as a narrative. It's not that we've just been arguing about the same law for the last 55 years. It's that the law created an entire new way of doing politics. That's why we describe it as a second constitution, which is often, it turns out, at loggerheads with the first.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. This idea of civil rights, I just want to help to kind of play this out, to help people figure out what's going on here. The civil rights, the rightness, the moral urgency of The Civil Rights Movement had to do with very real wrongs that had to be addressed, and because the states and the municipalities were not addressing these grave moral wrongs, the federal government stepped in. But once the federal government stepped in in that case, it became the forum and the lever for everyone who had a cause they wanted to declare as a civil right to use the same course and force of the federal government, and thus we get Roe v. Wade, 1973, which isn't genetically from The Civil Rights Act, but intellectually it is, and then, of course, Obergefell, same sex marriage, all the rest.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yes. It's very interesting. In the beginning, you had a movement that was based on righting the United States' great historic wrong. It was given a lot of passion by that, but it was also given a lot of specificity by that. I think that Americans thought that it was required by history, but it was also limited by history. As long as we were talking about making amends for historical misdeeds, there's a lot for Americans to argue about and disagree on, but I think that all Americans understood that. That made a lot of intuitive sense to Americans, whether they liked The Civil Rights Act or not, but you very quickly moved on from there. In fact, by the time you get to 1978, the Supreme Court actually repudiates the idea that this is any kind of restitution or making of amends historically. It's about this ethic of diversity.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is followed very quickly, in the next five years, by the emergence of Second Wave Feminism that was energized by The Civil Rights Act and by the inclusion of gender, or sex actually, in The Civil Rights Act to claim that their own grievances needed to be addressed by the federal government with another wave of coercion that was not only in corporate America, and in the military, and things like that, but especially effective in higher education. By the way, I think the best line in your book, and you're a good writer, but the best line in your book is when you say, "Gloria Steinem wasn't fighting to become a member of The Elk's Club, but The Metropolitan Club." So, there was a class issue here that was really clear as well.

Christopher Caldwell:

Right. I should point out that in my book I do talk about how the racial civil rights element in The Civil Rights Act is interwoven with other currents that are going on quite independently at the time, like the rise of feminism, The Vietnam War, and certainly the class consequences of the way people were sent to war, and of the way people felt about the war, and that sort of thing.

Albert Mohler:

Well, morally speaking, the world is filled with injustice. We see injustice all over. Part of the American experiment has been the remediation of injustice, but the fact is that at every turn it seems that when The United States is turned to remediate a perceived and rightfully perceived injustice, what follows is what is denied at that time as being possible. There are people who warned in 1964 that we've got to put an end to legal segregation, but this act is actually going to open up endless litigation that will lead to a transformation of society far beyond the issue of race. They turned out to be right, but they were written off as cranks in 1964.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yes. Well, the problem is that you start adding onto the groups that can avail themselves of The Civil Rights Act. Right?  Everyone starts to use this alternative means of political empowerment that is suing rather than legislating. You now get legislation, you now get laws that are really problematic in a couple of ways. One is they're not really laws. They don't have majorities behind them. They don't reflect the folk ways of the country. But the other thing is in order to activate these laws, you need a story that you can bring before the court. The story is one that has to, because it's a court case, the story has to have a criminal in it. It has to have a villain in it. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, in the minds of Americans, it was about the images of the Birmingham fire hoses and Bull Connor that they were seeing on TV. But as things spread out from southern segregation, who is the villain that's keeping women down? It's the traditional American male. Who is the villain that's keeping gays down? It's heterosexuals. The act of putting this civil rights type of law creation into play gets more and more hostile actually to a larger and larger number of Americans. You reach the point where not only Southern blacks, but blacks nationwide, can use it. Immigrants can use it. Non-English speakers can use it. Women can use it. Gays can use it. Transgender people can use it. You basically, by a sort of a process of a photographic negative, you create this downtrodden or let's say constitutionally downtrodden minority that is the rural, white male, who is the only person who doesn't have access to this new and more powerful set of laws.

Albert Mohler:

When you talk about the narrative and the Supreme Court or a court decision having to have a villain, I think of how that logic kind of crashed on a case like Bakke. When The Supreme Court said, look, it's not fair that anyone should lose a seat on a medical school, UC Davis in that case, in order that someone else can have it, but since there were only, I don't know, let's say 80 slots, if they were saying this person must have it, then some other person will not have it. Since then, it appears to me that the court has increasingly tried to say, ‘we’re going to deny the fact that we are creating certain victims, or certain people are going to be denied goods because of our intention to provide them for others.’

Christopher Caldwell:

Right. I mean, that's obviously what affirmative action is, and yet it's really striking how hard it is to say that in public. I find the Bakke case a really fascinating case for a couple of reasons. One is that was before the days when we had recognized a particular debt to Vietnam veterans. Allan Bakke, I mean, he was not just a guy. This was not just a close judgment call. Allan Bakke was an extraordinarily bright guy, and he was highly qualified for entering the UC Davis Medical School. I believe his scores were, all of them, in the high 90th percentiles, 97, 98, 99th percentile. The average admission, the average person admitted in the minority program that he was complaining about had scores in the 37 ... or it wasn't really a close call.

Christopher Caldwell:

What doomed Bakke's application or what made it possible to reject him is that the UC Davis Medical School said he's too old. He was 33. He was really old for a med student. The reason he was too old is because he'd served two tours in Vietnam with distinction, so he was an honorably discharged Vietnam veteran. That's why he was applying to medical school at 33, and that really counted for nothing. It's a curious difference. But the other thing I find really important about the Bakke case is that for just this reason that you described.

Christopher Caldwell:

They didn't want to see Bakke hurt. The justices didn't want to see Bakke hurt, but they didn't want to get rid of affirmative action either. They would have had to admit that this was discrimination, so they reclassified the rationale for affirmative action as diversity and defined diversity as a positive thing, which really ought to be a matter for discussion. It should not be a matter of law that this abstract thing, diversity, is a positive thing. But we now are dealing, as you implied earlier, with very vague words. You have a very hazardous thing in a democracy or in a free society where the people don't really know what the law is. They don't know what they're allowed to do and what they're required to do, and that's a very corrosive thing.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. That's a part of what has led to the frustration—because you talked about the narrative beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy and then leading to the election of Donald Trump—trying to understand what happened just on the conservative side of the political spectrum during those years, because it was Republicans in the Senate who saw to it that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. It was Southern Democrats who were opposing The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, it's a complicated thing. I think that more Republicans voted for civil rights proportionately than Democrats, but the party balance in both houses was so lopsided that any achievement, anything that made it through Congress was going to pass with predominantly Democratic votes.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. But getting it over the line, it was the Republican Senate leader working with President Johnson who got it over the line. The point I want to make is that conservatives in America believed in 1964 that addressing the race issue was absolutely right, but they didn't know what they were setting loose was a far greater movement that would go far beyond race and even, like you say, thanks to the Bostock decision handed down by The Supreme Court a matter of months ago, it now turns sex into gender as nothing more than a social construct. It's a law of unintended consequences here, but the point that you make in the book, or at least the narrative that you're telling, is that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 basically represents a different way of understanding America's constitutional order, but that leads me to a question then.

Albert Mohler:

Are there any limits at all on this new constitutional order? The obvious question is, what's next? We're told that's a slippery slope argument, but it's not, in the sense that there are already movements demanding. One of them, by the way, is that civil rights, which means civitas and citizenship, is now being routinely argued by many, especially in The Democratic Party, that non-citizens are owed full civil rights.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yeah. This is a complicated thing. I don't think it's just a different way of understanding our constitution. I think that it's an alternative way of organizing a political society. Whether by custom or through just deference to The Supreme Court or whatever, this new constitution can overrule the old constitution. Nobody voted for gay marriage, but we have gay marriage. We live under this new constitution. Our old constitution does not have full effect.

Christopher Caldwell:

Now, it is very curious when you consider one of the things that I look at in the book. I spend a lot of time on gay marriage in the book. One of the very curious things about gay marriage is that a lot of Republicans ... I was in Washington in the 1990s. A lot of Republicans were tempted to say, "Well, look at what they're doing in Hawaii. They're talking about men marrying men. We should really pin that on The Democratic Party," and a lot of the discussion inside the Republican Part was, "No. That's too ridiculous. It'll look like we're just piling on and we're being lunatics," and yet, 10 years after that, you had it in Massachusetts, and 10 years after that you had it nationwide. That seemed to be the end. What could you do after that? But now we have transgender.

Christopher Caldwell:

Who knows? Maybe it will be another group. I believe there's a need for a crusade. I think that people feel the need for a crusade, but I'm not so sure it will be a small minority. It might be possible to apply this model of government to society as a whole, to sort of begin to ... I don't know. Let me just say I can't predict the future. I can't predict what the future group will be.

Albert Mohler:

Well, I'm not really asking you to predict the future, except to the extent it's safe to say there are groups lining up to demand to be next in line. That's not prediction. That's just fact. There are groups right now lining up to be the next in line.

Christopher Caldwell:

It's quite natural. It's quite natural, because it is a more powerful instrument for changing society. It has, up until now, been the last word.

Albert Mohler:

As you think about the same sex marriage decision, and you do deal with it at length in your book. You have kind of the winning argument in this case, in the Obergefell decision, was from of course the majority opinion written by Anthony Kennedy, of course, no surprise there, going all the way back to Lawrence v. Texas and Windsor. The basic argument that he has used is what Justice Scalia lamented as the ‘oh, sweet mystery of life’ clause, that everyone gets to define their own meaning of existence. As just a matter of the English language, there is absolutely no end to that paragraph ever.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yes. It's that people have no responsibility to ... Society must accommodate itself to any individual's wish. You might call it an Achilles heel of American society, and it's one that has been present in American society for a very long time. Another example of it is just the litigation that we have in our society. In terms of our institutions, we are free, but any American citizen can be subject to harassment in a courtroom by a lawsuit, and it tends to happen more and more. This doesn't exist in Europe. It's a very American thing to believe that society must accommodate itself to your needs.

Albert Mohler:

And to every need, and even the definition of existence. I'm not sure that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the first to say this. He tended to say things extremely well. "Everyone's entitled to his own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to his own facts." But when it comes to The Supreme Court, it's basically saying you're entitled to your own moral facts, but that undermines the entire idea of the civitas, talking about civil rights. That undermines the entire idea that we are about a common project, in which at least there are some basic affirmations that must be shared amongst all American citizens.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yeah. Well, that's the problem.

Albert Mohler:

Now, you kind of interestingly entitle two of your big chapters ‘Winners and Losers.’ I think most of us as Americans hate to think in a zero sum game, and it's not exactly that, but when you're thinking about the narrative of the years you're telling, who are the losers in this?

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, I think it's this process that I've been describing to you. It turns out to have been an extremely powerful and in fact an unanswerable tool if you can show yourself to be a minority of any kind, not just racial, but religious, or of ethnic origin, or gender, or whatever, who can show himself put upon. When I talk about winners and losers, I talk about those who won basically from this whole transformation that started in the 60s.

Christopher Caldwell:

This worked out very well for people who could make such arguments as minorities in courtrooms. It turned out very well for people who benefited from the prosperity of the last 50 years. Most things do work out well for the prosperous, but there's a very, very large class of people who neither have the standing of minorities in the courtroom nor the private means to escape from this newly contentious political system. We discovered, to our surprise, in 2016, that those people may actually be a majority or constitute enough of the country to elect the president. That was the perspective from which I was writing this book.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. What's very interesting to me is that the moral urgency of racism, as concretized in Jim Crow segregation, was a moral wrong the nation had to address. If localities and states would not address it, the federal government eventually would address it, but then the federal government would set itself up to be the arbiter of these issues at infinitum. I think you're pretty honest in the book as that being not only something that happened, but something of an inevitability in one sense or another. But the interesting thing is that the logic of this now is arguably to the detriment of those who brought the righteous cause of The Civil Rights Movement to the nation's conscious in the 1960s.

Albert Mohler:

I think it's a fair argument that many of those who've come thereafter claiming these rights have actually done so at the expense of the African American citizens of the United States who brought the original cause of civil rights. I think intersectionality, for instance, as a part of critical race theory and all the rest. In other words, it's not only the white guy in the blue collar job in Milwaukee who has been culturally made a villain in this. Even the older civil rights leaders of the 1960s are now being castigated as being, if nothing else, then not appropriately embracing feminism and the homosexual movement.

Christopher Caldwell:

I'm not sure I agree with that I think on a couple of levels. First of all, I think that the pressing emergency that you talk about in 1964 was really to bring blacks under Jim Crow the rights of citizens. That was the great achievement. I think it's true that they have not always benefited from this newly configured society. I mean, you can point to a lot of persistence of poverty, a persistence of crime in black neighborhoods. That's a shame, but I'm not sure that it's exactly the thing that that legislation was meant to address. On the subject of intersectionality, I really don't think very much of intersectionality as this, for our viewers, as the doctrine that comes up in many of these university activist classes, where people try to figure out whether they're suffering more as an ethnic minority, a woman, or a person in a different sexual community. Intersectionality strikes me as very unimpressive as a theory of politics. What it really is it strikes to me is a form of coalition building. I have to say if you're going to wield power in a system that's built on winning rights for minorities, minorities are by definition minorities, and in a democracy, they're going to have to bind themselves together in a very disciplined way if they're not to have their gains disputed by the majority. That's what I think intersectionality is, and I think it's an absolute necessity to The Democratic Party as it's now constructed.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. No doubt about that, but I want to note carefully that even with the issue of race and racism so much on the nation's forefront right now, the intersectionality movement has seen, as an ideology ... Movement's not the right word, but as an ideology underlying all of this, it makes it impossible really to deal honestly with a lot of the issues of race, even racial injustice, because now you have to bring this coalition you talk about. There's a radical distinction between the leadership of The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and The Black Lives Matter Movement of more recent years.

Albert Mohler:

One of those distinctions is that you can't now just talk about the presenting issue of A or B. Everything has to be on the table in order ... I understand the reality of political coalition making, but morally dealing with these issues has been made much more difficult by intersectionality, which just reduces everything to power. So, you can't even deal with truth anymore. That's my point. I think this has been to the radical disadvantaging of the actual needs of the African American community. I realize that's a controversial argument, and many in The Contemporary Civil Rights Movement would argue with me.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yeah. Some would agree with you. I think that one of the things that you see happening now is I mentioned an attempt to apply some of these principles to all of society. I think there may be an attempt to sort of intensify the let's say involvement of courts and bureaucracies in a lot of things that we just assumed were normal social life. I think that those who think of themselves as inheritors of The Civil Rights Movement, they're not short of projects to carry out. I think that they think that there's a lot to do, as you've seen in the last month or two. But I don't think they necessarily feel themselves at odds with the people who waged the original civil rights struggle. For instance, if you look at the homage to John Lewis after he died among the sort of Black Lives Matter marchers and the people who sympathize with them, I think they very much feel like they very much are in his direct line and his direct heirs.

Albert Mohler:

Well, John Lewis lived long enough, unlike many of the other civil rights leaders, he was, after all, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, to have enthusiastically joined the Democratic Party in its embrace of abortion, and gay rights, and same sex marriage, and all the rest, but that was not at all true of the older civil rights leadership. You still see the fact that on say the ... I'm speaking to you as a Christian theologian. It's not by accident that the main leaders of The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s were identified as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, you go down the list. It's a very different, almost explicitly anti-Christian, in any cognitive sense, movement now.

Christopher Caldwell:

Yeah. I should make clear that I am not speaking to you as a theologian. I'm not making a moral or a religious point of any kind. It's more of a point based in political sociology. I think that if you want to go back just to revisit this issue of how intersectionality grows out of civil rights, during the movement for gay marriage, one thing that was very often discussed was that black communities tended to poll much more negatively on gay marriage than other communities did. How were these activists, the Democrats, going to square that circle? It was actually a nightmare for them, but actually, in the event it turned out not to be. The political imperative of forming a coalition turned out to be more powerful than the moral misgivings around making such a coalition.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. Here we are in the year 2020. I'm not asking you to comment directly on the 2020 presidential election. You in the book basically, with the rise of Donald Trump ... but you've been writing as a conservative thinker in the United States for decades. Where is The Conservative Movement now? Where is it to be found?

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, I think that was a very easy question to answer under Reagan, and that was the brilliance of Reagan, that he was able to put together a conservative movement that was very simple. The Conservative Movement under Reagan was Christians and capitalists. The two of them came together, even though they didn't always have much in common. The one thing they did have in common was anti-communism, which was really the passion of a very small number of people, but it was something that all Americans kind of vaguely shared. Between those three groups, Christians, capitalists, anti-communists, the Republicans picked up a lot of people out of what used to be called the working class, and this became a really invincible political coalition.

Albert Mohler:

For decades.

Christopher Caldwell:

I believe that the capitalists, different things happened to different parts of that coalition.  The first thing that happened was we won The Cold War, and so anti-communism ceased to be a glue that held together the Republican coalition. Second thing that happened is that a lot of people got really rich and capitalists did what they will do, which is go out and pursue their own sort of hedonistic gratification. They found eventually if they were rich enough for long enough, they found a much more natural home in The Democratic Party. If you look at any nice, small town in ... I grew up in the Northeast. Any of these nice, small towns that used to be thought of as rock-ribbed Republican towns in New England, or on Long Island, or in New Jersey, they're all monolithically Democrat now. The final thing I think is that Christians were disappointed in what Republicans got for them. I don't think this meant that they left the party by any means, but it meant that they went about it with less enthusiasm.

Christopher Caldwell:

What has happened now is that The Republicans, minus these rich people, the entrepreneurs let's say, have become a much, much more socioeconomically modest party. They are the party of The Heartland. They are the part of 85% of the territory of the United States, but they don't control any of those let's call them like those circuit junctions where the decisions really get made, and they're very, very far from the power system that I describe in this book, The Age of Entitlement.

Albert Mohler:

 They're very far from the engines of cultural production, and they know it and feel it. I wanted to ask that question, because I think you're right about the fusionism of Reagan, and Republicanism, and the conservatives. You could throw some Libertarians in there, but that's coming apart. I think a lot of conservatives don't understand why it's coming apart. Corporate America will do what they see in their best interest, period. Part of what happened is they saw China as an enemy, but then overwhelmingly saw China as a market, just to take that as one example.

Albert Mohler:

So, now you have American corporations trimming their sales, changing their messages, even changing the maps and even their airport destinations in order not to offend the Chinese communists. That's not conservative in any way you look at it. Then you have Silicon Valley and all this. It's tied to a radical, progressive moral regime, which by the way turns on itself. The CEOs of Facebook, and Twitter, and Google are under attack by their own employees, because they can't stay on the progressive edge. But the election's going to define reality politically in one sense, but we're in for a long process in this country of defining what it means for American to be a constitutional republic. Your book helps us to think about what's at stake, and I appreciate that.

Christopher Caldwell:

Well, Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me on.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely. I hope we'll talk again. God bless you, sir. A conversation is not only an event. Morally speaking, it's a privilege. It's always a privilege to be able to talk to someone and have an exchange of ideas. Whenever you put two minds in a room or two minds in a conversation, well, incredible things can happen. The best kinds of conversations, the ones I enjoy the most are the conversations that are about big ideas that are actually risk taking, to get particular and to point to historic examples, to try to understand history. I appreciate the fact that Christopher Caldwell says that he's written a narrative. A narrative means story that helps to understand time. History itself is, by definition, narrative in form. This happened, and then that happened. This is what these things mean. Over time, we should get better at the story. That's a part of the discipline of history, yes. It's also a part of intelligent, Christian conversation. We want to be always attentive to trying to understand how we can go back and tell that narrative, tell that story better.

Albert Mohler:

The events from the 1960s are explosive in the American mind, for that matter even Western Europe, where 1968 also was explosive with riots, and university unrest, and political revolution. The sixties on both sides of the Atlantic, but speaking as an American, here in the United States the sixties were the groundbreaking, explosive decade that set the tone for just about everything we're talking about right now. At least a part of the conversation today helps us to understand that, even though that's so, folks in the 1960s didn't want to see it and often denied that these consequences could come about or even would become imaginable. But we're living in time in which those things that we were told weren't imaginable in the 1960s have become actual. As I tried to make clear in the conversation today, that's a process that's ongoing. There are others getting in line to make their argument that the civil rights explosion now must include them, and their group identity, and their political movement as well.

Albert Mohler:

Now, this is contested territory, but there are some moral urgencies that are just really important to understand. When you go back into America in the 1960s, the reality is that legal segregation in so many parts of the United States and institutionalized racism in so many parts of the United States simply had to be addressed. There was a vast national consensus that correction had to happen. That brought about The Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there was also at that time a moral urgency that got directed in very different ways over the course of successive decades with Second Wave Feminism and other movements, including of course what became known as The LGBTQ Movement, coming along in line. Institution by institution in American society and court decision by court decision there's been an expansion, a vast expansion without the American people in many ways having much of a voice even in what would take place in the courts, and not to mention the arenas of cultural production, such as higher education.

Albert Mohler:

A book like this is an argument. I think Christopher Caldwell was a little offended by the fact I called it an argument, but if you are publishing a book, if you author a book and put it out before the public, it's an argument, even if it, by the way, is a fictionalized novel. It still is in some sense an argument. Some would say, "Well, it's a story." Yes, but a story's an argument. We as Christians understand that in a very powerful way. There is no story that is not at base some kind of argument. It's a privilege to be able to have a conversation that sometimes even risks argumentation over issues that are really important. Christopher Caldwell's a very influential writer in the world today. I'm glad I had the conversation with him. I'm glad we had the conversation in public.

Albert Mohler:

As I always say, the best conversations are those that go on. That means not only the conversations that go on between two people, but sometimes it's an act of Christian intellectual virtue that the conversations go on inside our own heads.

Thanks for joining me for Thinking in Public. If you enjoyed this conversation, you'll find more than 100 further conversations at albertmohler.com under the tab, Thinking in Public. Thanks, again, to my guest, Christopher Caldwell, for joining with me today. I hope you'll join me again. Until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

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