Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Majority No Longer Moral?

James Skillen


March 15, 1999

"I no longer believe that there is a moral majority." "I believe that we probably have lost the culture war."

Thus laments Paul Weyrich, President of the Free Congress Foundation, in a February 16 letter to friends. Weyrich was a leading architect of the "conservative revolution" that got Ronald Reagan elected president in 1980. He coined the term "Moral Majority" for the organization's founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

The election strategy won some major victories, says Weyrich, but those who "accept and live by the old rules of Western, Judeo-Christian culture" are losing the war. "The culture has continued to deteriorate." Political-correctness ideology is winning the day.

So, what must be done? The time has come "to separate ourselves from this hostile culture. . . . We need some sort of quarantine," says Weyrich. Conservatives need to turn off their TVs, tune out the dissonant noise, drop out of this culture, and "build new institutions for ourselves: schools, universities, media entertainment, everything—a complete, separate, parallel structure."

But wait a minute. Millions of Americans who share Weyrich's moral commitments have been building alternative institutions for decades. Long before the growth of the home school movement, which he lauds as a separationist model, there were Christian and Jewish day schools, CBN, Christian radio stations, and burgeoning new churches. If these institutions represent what Weyrich wants, why did he not see years ago that they did not constitute a coherent cultural majority. If these institutions do not represent what he wants, how could he ever have believed that cultural conservatives constitute more than a small minority of America's citizenry?

In either case, his earlier political strategy was built on sand. Yet the new strategy is only another means to the same end: conservatives trying, through alternative institutions, to reconstitute themselves as the majority to save America.

Weyrich needs more than a new strategy. His basic assumption is wrong. America never was and is not God's "new Israel." Our republic—a political community—is not a single moral/cultural community. The political question is how to do justice to all citizens, whether or not one cultural group constitutes the majority. Every group should be free to build homes, schools, colleges, and entertainment industries as well as to participate in the shaping of political life.

What we need is to relinquish the win-everything/lose-everything politics of cultural majoritarianism, which leads Weyrich and others to oscillate between driving for dominance and fleeing for purity. The U.S. should become a genuinely pluralist republic. There ought to be equal public funding of diverse school systems, including Catholic and Protestant schools. This is the just alternative to pitting home-school separatists against a government-monopoly school system.

There ought to be equal opportunity and public funding for religious as well as secular social service agencies. The law of Charitable Choice in welfare reform is already helping to bring about this transformation.

We also need a new electoral system that establishes proportional representation for multiple parties. This will overcome winner-takes-all elections and help mitigate the crass partisanship of so many legislative battles.

Both Weyrich and his opponents need to adopt a new and more humble vision of the political community. Christians in particular should relinquish the civil-religious ideal of the United States as a mono-cultural, mono-moral "City on a hill" and help build a republic that gives equal treatment to all faiths and cultural communities.

—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
   Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”