The Conservative Reformation

The success of a political, social, economic, or religious movement rests on the movement’s ability to utilize the technologies of the day in order to transmit the message of the movement to a large, diverse group of people over a relatively short amount of time. Unless a group of people are able to utilize the media that is available to them, their ideas–no matter how brilliant–will never circulate to the general populace. If a group of brilliant men and women are technological illiterates, they will never have any measurable impact on society.

Consider for a moment the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther during 17th Century. Luther kick-started the heart of a socio-religious movement, not just by preaching his message via sermon, but by utilizing the myriad information mediums of the time. Through hymns, woodcuts, and plays, Luther’s message of reforming the Catholic Church was able to spread through Germany and into the rest of Europe. Luther’s ideas were not new, but he was able to capitalize on populist doubts and concerns over the direction of the Church and the corruption of papal indulgences and then transmit his message to various segments of society using those various forms of mass media.

The difference between Luther’s movement and the precursors to it that were led by John Hus and, before that, John Wyclif were that while both Hus and Wyclif were able to amass a following, they–for whatever reason–didn’t take advantage of technology and spread their movement beyond a stagnant group of supporters. If the printing press had never been invented, Martin Luther’s ideas likely wouldn’t have caught on and he probably would have been burned at the stake as a heretic, as happened to Hus.

Over the past year, Conservatives throughout the United States have launched a Reformation, taking aim at both the ruling Democratic Party and the out-of-power Republicans. The Republicans, who controlled Washington in various aspects from roughly 1994 until 2008, are to blame for many–though nowhere near all–of the problems that are facing America today. Reckless spending, an unwise foreign policy, and an expansion of the size and scope of the federal government all occurred under a Republican President and a Republican Congress. The Republicans deserved to lose in 2006 and 2008, because they had lost their way. Now it appears that the Republican Party is resurgent, as evidenced by recent electoral victories in New Jersey’s and Virginia’s gubernatorial races, and a Special Election for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

About a year ago, a business commentator named Rick Santelli spawned an entire movement with a rant on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange about bailouts and big government. This rant led to a series of protests, demonstrations, and rallies known as the Tea Party movement. But what would this movement have been without technology? It would have been a lot different. Without television or radio, there’d be no Glenn Beck, one of the main movers of this movement into the mainstream. Without the internet, there would be no RedState or any of the other conservative community websites. There would be no YouTube, whose users have posted a ton of speeches from tea party activists across the country.

Whether or not the Tea Party Movement (or the Conservative Reformation) would exist today without our current forms of technology is something that nobody knows. But it’s undeniable that technologies such as television, radio, and the internet have helped make this movement what it is today. And by utilizing several forms of mass media, conservatives have been able to target different segments of the population the same way Luther did in the 1600’s. The Tea Party movement is a large, diverse group that is full of people of all economic group, every race, every creed, and every section of the conservative big tent, and they’ve all been brought together by a common ideal that has been transmitted to the nation at large by technology. Just as the left did during the Bush years with MoveOn.org, the Huffington Post, and the DailyKos, and just as Martin Luther did 400 years ago, conservatives have found new ways to make old ideas fashionable again.

The Conservative Movement has entered the Twenty-First Century.