Jewish Journal


July 23, 2009

Sex, power and problems at C Street



It’s amazing how bad news for one man can be great news for another. Just ask Jeff Sharlet.

Last summer, Sharlet’s expose on “The Family: the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power” received limited attention. But thanks to recent scandals involving Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Sharlet’s book has shot to the top of Amazon. (It’s ranking yesterday was, when I checked, 14.)

Sharlet has recently spoken about The Family on NPR and in the Las Vegas Sun and written about it for Salon and other publications. He also spoke with me last summer. Here’s an excerpt of that interview:

JJ: Why, if Reagan said back in ‘87 or ‘88 that The Family was working so well because it was private, did you feel you had to expose it?
JS: Because I was the one who stumbled upon it. I didn’t set out to expose it. If Seymour Hersh had stumbled upon it, it would have been much more effective. But he didn’t, so I ended up with it.

JJ: This idea of God-ruled governments, it seems so very un-American.
JS: I agree, although there is a tremendous tension in American history between a democratic impulse and imperial impulse. We forget that at the Constitutional Convention there was a great debate about whether it would be a godless document. There were those who wanted it to be a Christian document and an imperial document, a new nation that would spread the Gospel far and wide. That lost out, but it is the shadow of American democracy.

JJ: The Mafia, Mao, Lenin, Hitler—all these guys are role models, not for what they did but how they did it. How does The Family marry faith with fascism?
JS: Back in the 1930s, a lot of people, not just fascists, thought democracy had run its course and couldn’t compete with fascism and communism, and that a third way was necessary. Some conservative Christians decided that Christianity was the third way. And what they admired about fascism was that fascism operates on this veneer of total and absolute unity. I don’t think they [The Family] are fascist, but they love the fascist myth of absolute unity, and they think that the unity is best achieved through strong men.

The complete Q&A can be read here. An except from the book, which shows how Sharlet, who is Jewish, was invited to live at C Street, is after the jump:

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