I am currently working on several projects, all of which grew out of my dissertation. The first two concern “civil religion then” (the American Liberty League) and “now” (Occupy Wall Street, the climate change movement). The last project, exploring the political lives of physicians, originated in my study of the Townsend Plan and its progenitor, Dr. Francis E. Townsend.
America’s Lost Conservatism: The Collected Public Works of the American Liberty League, 1934-1936
According to George Wolfskill, the American Liberty League (A.L.L.) was the “most articulate spokesman of American conservative political thought” against the New Deal. In nearly two hundred publications, the A.L.L. presented intellectually coherent arguments against executive usurpation of Congressional authority, asserted the importance of states’ rights, and argued that private property was among Americans’ core civil liberties—all of which became central components of mid-century conservative political thought. Despite this importance, however, nowhere can one find the organization’s major writings.
I am compiling an edited volume of the American Liberty League’s collected works. The book will contain excerpted copies of all significant League materials, footnoted to provide historical and political context. Also included are supplementary essays: one detailing how the League was formed, its major players, and the role in played in the 1936 election; a second essay exploring the League’s civil religious underpinnings, building out of my dissertation work; a final concluding essay will discuss the possible lessons that the League may have for modern politics, for both conservatives who have lost their way and liberals who are attempting to trumpet the “Constitution” and “American institutions” as a rallying cry against the current Administration.
Soulless? The Future Civil Religion of the Nones
As I argue in American Political Thought, civil religion is more than a collection of symbols or rituals. It is a process: the belief systems that result from political and religious lives running parallel to each other. And while America is still a majority Christian nation, it is increasingly clear that faith — in particular on the political Left — no longer feeds into the American civil religion as traditionally understood.
I am working on two pieces that address this core question, suggesting that scholarship re-evaluate religious nationalism on the Left. While the Religious Left may be on the decline, the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious Left is in the ascendancy.
The first argues that a distinction between pro-establishment and anti-establishment civil religion, essentially Puritan and Quaker variants, may help us understand the SBNRL at Occupy Wall Street. The article details the historical and theoretical explanations for this distinction, and applies it to OWS.
My second research project, along with Matthew Hodgetts. It borrows Matthew’s concept of “In-It-Togetherness,” a global ethos against climate change, and combines it with the existing literature on civil religion. This project demonstrates, through real-world political events, that just such a global civil religion may be closer to reality than previously believed.
Trust Me, I’m a Doctor
Americans dislike politicians. A lot. They do not trust them personally, and at the moment don’t think they are fit to run the country. At the same time, we have witnessed several high profile figures — Ron and Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Tom Coburn, and others — who share one thing in common: they are physicians.
This next project will offer a first-of-its-kind exploration of “doctors as candidates” through a truly mixed-methods approach. It will include historical analysis, rich survey collection, and survey experiments to help answer the central question: do “doctors have a cure” for what ails American politics?
The first leg of this project is now getting off of the ground. I will be working with my former dissertation chair, James Morone, in the experimental survey.