Glenn Beck’s The Blaze is fairly important to the rising tide that is the libertarian movement. I know because I occasionally listen to Beck in the mornings. No, it’s not because I consider him a preeminent source of legitimate news—talk radio should only ever exist for its entertainment value—but love him or hate him, Beck has endeavored to become a popular face of the movement.
The zany Beck is, I concede, one hell of a broadcaster. Unfortunately he is sometimes indistinguishable from the sensational chatter of a radio station in the Grand Theft Auto video game series. This was the guy whose views were extreme by Fox news standards and may even be why he left. You see, the thing about libertarians is that their cynicism gives voice to plenty of conspiracy theorists in their ranks. In general, I think the following categorical statement best represents the two groups: all conspiracy nuts are libertarians but not all libertarians are conspiracy nuts. Beck, at least while he was at Fox, fell into the former camp.
Of course, all conspiracy nuts are just nuts until a guy like Edward Snowden comes along and proves they weren’t bellowing for nothing. The next thing you know they have a major news platform like The Blaze. The fallout of the NSA’s spy programs directed a number of long-time Democrats and Republicans away from the establishment. Because libertarianism is at its core a conservative philosophy, it has seen an influx of once traditional Republicans. I have no doubt the Blaze attracts ex-Republicans by the swarm. (Notice the “FAITH” section, guaranteed to make any disgruntled Evangelical feel right at home.) The familiar voice (Beck’s) and reliable opposition to everything Obama is a seductive mix.
However, the libertarians of my generation are a bit different. These are the 20-somethings who grew up watching the mainstream media snub Ron Paul while passing a joint around. A lot of them aren’t religious, or more precisely, are less religious. This foreshadows tension between religious and secular-minded conservatives.
For example, a consequence of society’s acceptance of homosexuality puts private property rights against individuals. In Lexington, I wrote a column on a religious t-shirt company (called Hands on Originals) that cited religious beliefs in its refusal to print shirts for a gay pride rally. This supposed injustice was magnified tenfold in a progressive city with a gay mayor. Even though I despise discrimination sanctioned by religion, I immediately took to the defense of the business, citing private property rights. My editor cautioned me given such arguments can and probably were used against African Americans in pre-Civil Rights times. Eventually we worked something out where I attached a serious warning to the piece: if a law forces a religious person to serve a gay patron, it must work in reverse. In other words, the same law would force a homosexually owned business to serve, say, the fiery zealots of the Westboro Baptist Church. I never received any commentary on that article so I remain unsure of how my warning was received.
But a similar situation has played out internationally. Check out the Blaze’s recent article on the Chymorvah Hotel, a British Bed and Breakfast that denied a room to a homosexual couple. The top comment reads “What’s wrong with being happy?” A commenter named Texas-Freedom (predictably) writes “We’ve arrived at the time in which having FAITH will put you out of work, out of business, and generally leave you at a lower level of society.” Another: “Having faith will only have negative consequences when you try to force it on someone else.” The reply: “Accepting gays will only have negative consequences when you try to force it on someone else.” Clearly no consensus has yet been reached.
But on the subject of Switzerland banning Burkas, no one at the Blaze seems to mind much about religious freedom. There the top comment reads “If you don’t want to integrate, GO HOME!” Another writes “How anyone alive can still be ignorant of the evil that Islam represents amazes me. I especially like that the Swiss have said No More Mosques.” (You would think the two faiths do not worship the same God.) I don’t mean to press too strongly for a connection between intolerance of homosexuality and Islam by readers of the Blaze. (There is, no doubt, a definite streak of purely American xenophobia at work.) Nonetheless, Glenn Beck’s news site provides an informative window to examine the mingling of religious and secular minded readers, who, despite their religious differences and in response to a highly invasive federal government, have suddenly found themselves on the same side of the conservative coin. As Matt Drudge recently tweeted, perhaps the American political landscape can—now anyway—best be classified as authoritarian versus libertarian?
So here’s hoping that conservatives learn to accept their awkward atheist bedfellows. Ultimately, however, Evangelicals will be the ones who need to show the most restraint. Men like Glenn Beck are quick to cast the secular as forces of darkness or evil bent on destroying America (I mention Beck’s schizophrenic belief that CNN planted an atheist in the devastation of a tornado.) Moreover Evangelical Christians readily exhibit a hyper-sensitive persecution complex that parallels the liberals’ cry of a “war against women.”
Remember, Evangelicals, that this country owes a lot of its success to a secular-minded Thomas Paine. Religious libertarians would do well not to marginalize the voice of such a statesman today.