1. Religion & Spirituality
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi

End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi

The takeover of the Republican Party by conservative evangelical Christians is one of the most important political developments of the 20th century. The culmination of this takeover will play out through at least he first half of the 21st century and probably beyond, but will it have positive or negative consequences for American democracy? Most critics insist that the long-term consequences will only be negative — both for Republicans and for the republic overall.


Title: The End of the Republican Era
Author: Theodore J. Lowi
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
ISBN: 0806128879

• Offers a different, but well-informed, perspective on changes to the Republican Party

• Some aspects are out of date

• Argues that the Repulican Party has been fundamentally transformed by the Christian Right
• Argues that America's republican form of government has been put in peril by some of these political shifts

Book Review

One of these critics is Theodore J. Lowi, though he's a an equal-opportunity critic whose previous book, The End of Liberalism, went after the various contradictions and problems within liberal politics. In The End of the Republican Era, recently re-released with a new afterword, Lowi takes on the Republican Party and its transformation under the direction of religious radicals who fit very uneasily under the Republican umbrella.

The central focus off Lowi's analysis is ideology: how various ideologies drive people, how they help or harm the development of political alliances, and how the various ideologies have generally unrecognized implications which impact politics in significant ways. Much of Lowi's analysis will appear contrary to people's assumptions about politics and political parties.

He argues, for example, that the Republican Party has traditionally been a liberal one — more conservative than the Democratic Party, of course, but still "liberal" in the historic sense. The takeover of the Religious Right is transforming the GOP into a true conservative political party. This, then, is the first basis of the title of Lowi's book: the transformation from a liberal into a conservative party is effectively the end of the "Republican" era.

The second is Lowi's argument that this may lead to the end of America's republican experiment completely. At the very least, the coalition within the Republican Party between traditional conservative elites and populist evangelicals could fracture the party irrevocably. Political coalitions require the ability to tolerate disagreements, but the moralizing far Right rejects such tolerance as a matter of principle.

If a breakup doesn't happen, though, then the moralizing of the far Right will cause serious problems for the rest of the nation. According to Lowi, parliamentary democracy deliberately removes "morality" from political discourse because morality isn't something that is amenable to the negotiation and compromises that are fundamental to politics.

Both the far Left and the far Right have strong tendencies towards tyranny because of their moral absolutism and unwillingness to compromise on those moral absolutes. The possibility for democracy and liberty lies in between these extremes where adults of good will are able to set aside personal moral convictions in order to accomplish a political agenda in which everyone has a role to play. There is no far Left in America today to undermine the Democrats' ability to participate effectively in the democratic process, though there also may not be anything about contemporary liberalism to halt similar problems coming from the far Right.

End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi

End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi

Some people say that we cannot legislate morality, but the truth is that laws without morality are arguably unworthy of obedience. The fact that morality must lie behind any valid and worthy legislation is not the same, however, as moralizing the entire public sphere. The solution may lie with not allowing laws to be nothing but morality. Politics requires compromise and negotiation; morality does not. People must be willing to compromise on their moral vision in order to accomplish anything politically. Insofar as the Christian Right moralizes the political and economic sphere, eliminating the basis for the political process, they are a danger to America's democratic republic.

Lowi's book was written in 1995, and obviously events have progressed quite a bit since then. He doesn't believe, though, that any of those events have proven him mistaken — on the contrary, he argues that the continued power of the Republican Party is completely consistent with his ideas and arguments. He makes a convincing case, though it's not clear whether those who can do anything about these problems will be motivated to take action.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.