The Republican Party of Jerry Falwell

The 2012 GOP nominating contest has witnessed the final triumph of an unlikely figure. I say “unlikely” because his name hasn’t been invoked much (if at all) by any of the candidates, nor has he been mentioned frequently by the press in its campaign coverage. What’s more, he died in 2007. Yet when historians someday go looking for the intellectual and ideological father of the Obama-era GOP, I suspect they will fixate on one figure above all others: the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

That may sound odd: After all, Falwell was a social conservative; and social conservatives, while undoubtedly powerful within the GOP, are commonly thought to be just one of several key constituencies that make up the modern Republican Party. Moreover, isn’t the animating philosophy of today’s GOP deeply libertarian—and aren’t libertarians the intellectual descendants of anti-Christian thinkers like Hayek, von Mises, and Rand? Plus, you might point out, Falwell was an evangelical Protestant, and the three finalists for the GOP nomination this year are a Mormon and two Catholics. Can his influence really have been that strong?

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