Excerpt from “Between Jesus and the Market – The Emotions that Matter in Right-Wing America”
Duke University Press, 1997
By Linda Kintz
From the Introduction:
…By dismissing arguments that are not articualted in the terms with which we are familiar, we overlook the very places where politics come to matter most; at the deepest levels of the unconscious, in our bodies, through faith, and in relation to the emotions. Belief and politics are rational, and they are not.
Because of this doubleness, the book is organized according to a dialectic that will repeat itself over and over in these texts: the relations between a rich complexity of beliefs, on the one hand, and the reductive clarity available from a structure of vaguely symmetrical layers, on the other. Here a wide variety of groups can retain many of their differences while they are loosely joined under the umbrella of a remarkably clear and comprehensible cosmology, in which certain things can be changed on earth even if the general hierarchy or order cannot, because, like fate, the natural order is beyond the range of human effort; it is in the hands of God. This is a cosmology built on a narrow interpretation of natural law, in which the only natural form of sexual activity occurs within the monogamous traditional family, where gender differences and heterosexuality are absolute. These are the fundamental elements of a universal moral order, its truths absolute, not relative or situational, with ethical behavior based at the deepest level on the Ten Commandments: God’s “driver’s manual” for human behavior. As this book will show, this is argued not only by religious conservatives, but by secular figures who have framed the language of the free-market conservatism advocated by Newt Gingrich and the Republicans elected in 1994.
Though there are many permutations to this belief in both secualr and religious conservatism, its claims to clarity rest on a structure that was already part of American mythology and might be visualized as a closed set of concentric circles stacked one on top of the other and ascending heavenward: God, property, womb, family, church, free market, nation, global mission, God. Thier symmetrical relation is glued together both by the symbolic figuration of the proper woman and her activism, though the contradictions that risk unsettling this symmetry are obvious. Equally obvious, however, is the difficulty of trying to convince those who believe in this structure that such contradictions really matter, for attempts to do so rarely address the moral and emotional universe of its adherents. Understanding the things that matter in this moral universe is easier if the reader is exposed to their emotional appeal and the needs they address.
This leads to a concept that is very important to this study: resonance. In its general acoustical sense, resonance is defined as the intensification and prologation of sound produced by sympathetic vibration. In the context of this study, resonance refers to the intensification of political passion in which people with very different interests are linked together by feelings aroused and organized to saturate the most public, even global, issues. Resonance is the almost ineffable element that constantly threatens to collapse church into state when politics are made (traditional) family-like: “In the beginning God created the family,” in the words of Texas congressman Tom Delay. Here the traditional family takes precedence over both the individual right of privacy and the individual freewheeling capitalist, while it provokes a metaphoric resolution of the inherent tensions between cultural traditionalism and economic dynamism. These are resolved, as Allen Hunter argues, in a “systematically gendered view of the world…. The organic unity of the family resolves male egoism and female selflessness into a smoothly functioning expression of divine intent.”
In this conservative cosmology, resonance is created by familiarization, which the culture wars are all about, really. In fierce opposition to the influence of feminism, traditionalist conservatism has reconstructed the primacy of a narrow definition of moral culture and the family so that it is the mother’s responsibility to train children in familiarity. That is, her intimate training of them can repress critical distance. By doing so, it grounds a political system in things that are already familiar, excluding difference from the earliest moments of child rearing. Children are raised to feel and experience their own sensuality, their own bodies, in very particular ways, and to look for and find others whose feelings, values, and identites are intimately familiar to them. While the most basic elements in this construction of familiarity is the definition of woman primarily as mother and man as father and head of the family, its corollary is the claim that anyone outside the traditional family is illegitimate, in the legal, historical, and metaphorical sense of the word. It is here that the rational arguments of familiarization are made to work in the very matter of the body, where they will resonate.