They Love You but They’re Going to Brexit

I admit it: I don’t get out much. I live in the USA. I study the history of the USA. I spend my time trying to understand parts of the USA that just don’t make any immediate obvious sense to me—things like creationism and fundamentalism. So my ears perked up when I heard that the new “kingmakers” in the UK were guided by “a mixture of old-time religion and secular nativism.” Based on the flurry of news about them, they certainly sound like US-style religious culture-warriors.


Look familiar?

But I don’t know much about it. Here’s what I’m reading: After Theresa May’s drubbing in the recent election, her Conservative Party has had to partner up with the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP is an odd duck in Europolitics. As one European journalist described them, they don’t fit in in Europe, but “to an American, especially from the deep South, the party would seem much more familiar.”

After a quick look, it does sound eerily similar, but not exactly the same. The DUP are against LGBTQ rights; they are anti-abortion; they are climate-change deniers. Many of its leaders are regular church-goers; many leaders are creationists. Due to the turbulent and violent recent history of Northern Ireland, they also have ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Like many American fundamentalist groups, the DUP was founded by a Presbyterian hard-liner. The Reverend Ian Paisley—in yet another connection to historical American fundamentalism—was motivated by a political and theological anti-Catholicism.

Carl McIntire 1970

Carl McIntire, American Fundamentalist, 1970

Of course, there are big differences. Being anti-Catholic in Ireland is a world away from being anti-Catholic in Texas. Being a “militant” Presbyterian in a warzone is different from being a “militant” Presbyterian in New Jersey.

Yet the connections still seem palpable. According to The Economist, at least, the DUP is motivated by the same sense of usurped proprietary nationalism that fuels American fundamentalist outrage. As that paper put it,

What unites many voters of Protestant heritage, whether religious or not, is a feeling that the tide of history has, in some mysterious and unfair way, turned against them. . . . The DUP speaks to the fears and aspirations of those voters—sometimes in subliminally religious language and sometimes in more secular tones.

Educate me, SAGLRROILYBYGTH: Am I missing something? We hear time and time again that no other post-industrial society fuses together God and society the way American conservatives like to do. From what I can tell, the theocratic dreams and creationist textbooks of the DUP sound awfully similar.

Leave a comment


  1. I’m not sure that I can educate you much, even as a voting Brit.

    To those of us familiar with the squabbling of English politics, namely Tory vs Labour with a sprinkling of LibDem and Green, the politics of Northern Ireland is pretty much overshadowed by the violence and the catholic / protestant rhetoric.

    Extreme politics for us tends to be the ultra nationalist BNP and the slightly more acceptable UKIP, these are parties based on ideals, of which racism would be the main driver, not religion. Overtly religious politics is not the British way, though we all know that Religion is king in Ireland, but their impact on our politics is minimal. The IRA bombings of the 70s and 80s had a far greater impact.

    Giving the DUP a bigger voice and putting them on the front pages of our newpapers has been a bit of a shock to the average person. We were largely ignorant of their ignorance. Now that the light of scrutiny is shining on them, large numbers are deeply unimpressed, that will include the religious. Political policy that is based on religious ideals will be a very hard sell here. Just look at the marriage equality debates of a few years ago, our politicians voted it through while the church pretty much split itself in half arguing with itself about it.

    I still don’t know how many people in Northern Ireland actually support the DUP, but I am very confident that the vast majority in the rest of Britain won’t stand for most of what they do.

    • Dan

       /  June 13, 2017

      Religion is on the wane in Ireland overall, by many indicators, or at least it is changing. The Republic will have its first openly gay and Indian-Irish PM who was raised Catholic. They have gay marriage but not abortion. Poland is similar, but with a politically dominant far right.

      You seem to be saying that Brits don’t take theopolitical grievances from minorities seriously until they are terrorized. Violence that wins concessions reminds aggrieved minorities that terror works.

      Stressing how minorities are small isn’t doing much for an optimistic shine on events either. Of course militant Irish-Catholic and Ulster-Protestant groups are a minority; they always have been. Minorities can win major concessions, and they can start major conflicts. They are willing to do the latter to secure the former. Left and right, religious or non it is power and at least the threat of violence in various forms that allows minorities to exist and gain significant autonomy.

      The Good Friday peace accords are broken by its major non-signatory, the DUP, forming government with the Conservatives. You seem to be responding by emphasizing this militant religious fringe and their Catholic counterparts are minorities. How sure are you that within their ranks, and within the broader centre-right, there are “reasonable people” who will prevent a return to (historically normal English-Irish) politics by other means?

  2. Dan

     /  June 13, 2017

    “no other post-industrial society fuses together God and society the way American conservatives like to do”

    Only European countries and many of their former colonies — except the United States — have national churches and religious parties among which centre-right explicitly Christian parties have been important centrist coalition partners in the post-WW2 era. Apart from tensions over (especially Muslim) immigrants, many European countries have age-old boundary disputes with neighbors they’ve brualized and been brutalized by in living memory. They have internal grievances with ethno-linguistic minorities. They burn their house down ever century or so.

    Real church attendance is about the same percentage of people in Europe and the US. Angel Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union’s first campaign ad this year aims at a base of traditional/religious conservative families with a message of calm — don’t defect to the religious/nationalist right. The camera pans past a cross on the wall in scene of domesticity and gemütlichkeit. I’ve never heard of such a thing from the Democrats, nor seen a Democratic president address an Evangelical Committee within the DNC about “Christian responsibility” in the face of liberal-democratic commitments and a challenged pluralism.

    Yes, the DUP resembles far right wingnuts in the US and everywhere, in terms of their ideology. All European countries have parties approaching this type of fringe except Spain and Portugal. (Spain had, until recently, internal terrorism and authoritarianism issues, while Portugal just got out from under a Catholic fascist dictatorship in the 1970s.) All the parties of the far right are gaining ground, even in the Netherlands and France, where the media has emphasized their short term losses. Poland, Hungary, and Romania went under a while ago, to not much notice or concern.

    What you ought to note that is unique about the DUP (and Sinn Fein) is their connection to paramilitaries funded and armed by groups operating among and essentially as members of the world’s mafias and black markets. Gun-running and drugs pays the bills and gains the necessary access. Latin America is much more affected by this; there are recent stories about the Albanian mafia in Brazil, the Italian mafia in Canada, the Russian mafia everywhere. In January it came out that the CIA ran guns to the IRA during the Troubles to keep them from going to the Russians. In the last few years there have been many stories about ISIS getting guns in Europe from European mafias. This stuff exists, it always has, and when things get less stable, less rule of law-y, militant political and religious factions arm up.

    The US doesn’t have this, to my knowledge. We have the mafias, but they don’t link to political and religious factions. Our militias and paramilitaries are able to arm themselves much more cheaply and legally, or illegally without having to get into drugs or gun running to pay for it. The Black Panthers were a brief exception that was quickly annihilated. I could see it happening in the near future though. Chuck Colson had Christian conservative paramilitaries in a novel he had ghostwritten for him. Similar literature forms a small genre on the religious right. Erik Prince — the brother of our Education secretary and hero of Hillsdale College — embodies this fantasy in reality. The Oath Keepers and similar groups arming up against the “Dhimmi” are a troubling development.

  3. Dan

     /  June 13, 2017

    On Creationism in Europe, it exists and appears to be growing. Russian church and state sources have been supportive of it openly since at least 2010. ICR got into Russia in 1991. Turkey is another recent receptive source. Probably it can be found everywhere. Ken Ham came from Australia; Christopher Hitchens’ brother has been supportive of Intelligent Design. Darby of course was English as well. Creationism is not really an American product nor the only big market for it.

    A common thread seems to be theists coming late into (or otherwise resisting) the modern world and wanting to do it their own way, in line with their own traditions, and without marxist or capitalist materialism dominating. This would also apply to traditionalist reactionary groups in western and central europe as well, just as in the US. They embrace an anti-Darwin narrative, which is often linked to Dostoevsky and his influence through Berdyaev and other Russian Christian intellectuals: Darwin = Atheism = Everything is Permitted = Decade West = Dogs and Cats living together = Chaos.

    There is new academic work on this and concern in the American science and education establishment.

    • Dan

       /  June 13, 2017

      *Decadent West.

      Several years ago Putin put out a reading list for intellectuals and journalists that included a lot of Russian Christian thinkers who have been influential in the west among religious conservatives who oppose atheistic materialism, which is the #1 motive for creationism.


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