What if political conservatism, properly understood (as it almost never is) not as the propagation of ideology, but as ideology’s negation, naturally avoids James Davison Hunter’s critique of over-politicized Christianity, and, furthermore, absorbs some of Hunter’s best insights?

This was, if I’m not mistaken, one of the percipient points that Matthew Lee Anderson made in response to Professor Hunter at a recent event, in what was – incidentally – one of the most satisfying responses to the book I’ve yet encountered.

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Posted by Matthew Milliner

Matthew J. Milliner is associate professor of art history at Wheaton College. He is the author of The Everlasting People (2021) and Mother of the Lamb (2022).


  1. Matt: It’s nice to see a blog post from you on Mere O. Who defines conservatism as “ideology’s negation”? How we can be sure that definition is political conservatism “properly understood”? Isn’t American conservatism, as Patrick Allitt points out in his recent book, a heterogeneous tradition?


  2. I tried watching the video for the AEI event but there’s no volume – just moving images. Is this a problem relative to my MacBook? After following the troubleshooting tips with no success, I gave up and listened to the audio version.

    Two immediate reservations on the introductory remarks before Dr. Hunter spoke and Mr. Anderson responded. First, I feel there’s something disquieting about AEI’s Project on Values & Capitalism, defined as “an initiative aimed at elucidating the congruence between the values of Christian faith and the American system of democratic capitalism.” Yikes! I’d love to hear what Christian cultural historian Eugene McCarrahar, author of the forthcoming book The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination, would say. It wouldn’t be pretty.

    Look at the words in the description of the project and the realities they name.The word value is a successor to “v” words that once prevailed: virtue and vice. Values flatten and relativize the old polarity, swallowing up vice. It’s now all about “your values” and “my values.” So, I’m uncomfortable speaking about “the values of Christian faith,” which already suggests a moral accommodation to our age.

    Next, I’m uncomfortable speaking about congruence with “the American system of democratic capitalism.” The word “congruence” assumes too much, namely a harmony where there might be conflict or a relation where shouldn’t be one. Does this word choice imply an assimilation of the church into a foreign polity (the American system of democratic capitalism) when the church ought to acting as a counter-polity that critiques and challenges it? I view the church as sand in the oyster, rubbing against the system rather than being a part of it. And no, I’m not an Anabaptist. This analogy originates from my understanding of the Reformation doctrine of two kingdoms.

    Second, I’m leery of all this pop sociological talk about the uniqueness of each successive generation, whether it’s the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and now Millennials. (Hunter’s remarks here are spot-on.) There’s a discourse at work here, and I want to know about its career. When did we start talking this way? Why? I’m fairly sure that generation after generation passed in medieval Europe without this peculiar, if not obsessive, need for self-definition.


  3. […] Milliner’s synopsis about my reply to James Davison Hunter is accurate, even if his praise is overstated. And make no mistake–it is. […]


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