Thursday, November 17, 2005

Trouble in paradise

A few weeks ago I discussed the growing tension between the intellectual and populist strains of conservatism, and you can see those tensions flare again in this George Will column:

The storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party should particularly ponder the vote last week in Dover, Pa., where all eight members of the school board seeking re-election were defeated. This expressed the community's wholesome exasperation with the board's campaign to insinuate religion, in the guise of ``intelligent design'' theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a required proclamation that evolution ``is not a fact.''

But it is. And President Bush's straddle on that subject -- ``both sides'' should be taught -- although intended to be anodyne, probably was inflammatory, emboldening social conservatives. Dover's insurrection occurred as Kansas' Board of Education, which is controlled by the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people, voted 6-4 to redefine science. The board, opening the way for teaching the supernatural, deleted from the definition of science these words: ``a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena.''

``It does me no injury,'' said Thomas Jefferson, ``for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.'' But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education.

Will is no libertarian, but his sentiments, and those he expresses deeper into his column, also reflect the tension between libertarian and small-government conservatives and Republican officeholders. How long can this fragile coalition last, and what will take its place?


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