On Dec. 4, 2021, I found a Facebook post that articulated the relationship of the right-wing Republican political operations to the religious right’s dominion theocracy movement. As Ruth Larson Case posted, “They have been working steadily behind the scenes for years & years. It’s no secret that the Republican Party/conservative Christianity is actively trying to turn this nation into some form of theocracy.”
As a retired reporter and editor, I usually don’t put much stock in or react to Facebook posts like this and am more than wary of conspiracy theories. But for years I had heard about dominionism and that Ted Cruz was part of the movement. The other thing I’ve heard about for some time is a book by renowned Duke University historian Nancy MacLean, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” But I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until diving into researching dominionism. That sparked a nagging recollection about MacLean’s book, so after reading Heather Boushey’s book review in The New York Times Aug. 20, 2017 Sunday Book Review I decided to read it. On Dec. 15, I got it through interlibrary loan.
You don’t need to read beyond the book’s Introduction (attached PDF) to see how she outlines how sinister is economist James McGill Buchanan’s so-called public choice theory; and his stealthy plan being fully the progenitor of the Republican-right’s agenda and concomitant behavior. This started in the late 1950s and certainly since the 1970s with the Koch Brothers involvement. That plan, which MacLean convincingly asserts is really a long-term movement, has unfolded before our very eyes. Even media at the highest level has written about the plan’s tactics as increased bitter partisanship while missing the big picture.
While Boushey’s review is a great summary of MacLean’s thesis, with some examples, MacLean’s introduction gives us the overview and context. So does The New York Times’ obituary for Buchanan noting, “[he] was a leading proponent of public choice theory, which assumes that politicians and government officials, like everyone else, are motivated by self-interest — getting re-elected or gaining more power — and do not necessarily act in the public interest.”
Importantly, Buchanan feared the expansion of government and government programs would result in taxing the rich to provide what the Republicans have called “entitlements” for the populace, a behavior he argued, designed to keep the political/government class in power and take money from the billionaire capitalist class. Meanwhile, one of the “stealth” parts of Buchanan’s scheme was based on his notion that the political-government-populace couldn’t be “constrained” — at least as long as the voters were allowed to vote their will.
As I said, I only recently realized that Buchanan’s approach melded with the dominionist movement when MacLean and the obit pointed out that Buchanan “amplified on” this so-called “public choice theory” from the 1950s onward and “argued for smaller government, lower deficits and fewer regulations — a spectrum of policy objectives that were ascendant in the 1980s conservative agenda of President Ronald Reagan.”
And part of that strategy was the Koch Brothers’ founding of the Cato Institute (and many other “think tanks” to promote public choice theory. How stealthy this was and some indication of its links to the dominionist movement is another PRA essay by Peter Montgomery in April 2015 in “The Public Eye.” In this article, “Biblical Economics: The Divine Laissez-Faire Mandate,” Montgomery outlines how melded these parts of the movement are; and, how subtle they are.
So, where Case’s Facebook post fell short was labelling these Christian zealots as agents of “7 Mountains Dominionism” thereby missing the Buchanan/MacLean connection. However, in short, those politicians openly or assumedly associated with the dominionist movement AND the radical right are both sides of the same coin. As allies of Buchanan’s plan, they are, as MacLean reluctantly calls them, a fifth column allied with others to end our democracy. And how convenient the Christian overlay on the movement is.
As for my research on dominionism, I found work by Frederick Clarkson; Ph.D., senior fellow at the non-profit think tank Political Research Associates helpful. In several articles in the PRA’s “The Public Eye” he and others make clear the movement is more complex than the 7 Mountains or 7M branch of the movement.
For example, in a Feb. 14, 2016, post, he writes, “The term ‘Dominionism’ was first popularized in the 1990s by researchers, including Chip Berlet, scholar Sara Diamond, and myself, who needed a term to describe the political aspirations of Christian Rightists who believed that they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions — including government — until the second coming of Jesus.”