A world of fantasy
I recently started reading Louis Hartz's seminal The Liberal Tradition in America, which argues that liberalism (not left-liberalism, Lockean liberalism) has always been the hegenomic political ideology in America, explaining why European conservatism, socialism, fascism, or communism never made any headway. (Among other paradoxes, what American "conservatives" are conserving is liberalism.) I came across this essay about the book in the NYTimes book review with the following delightful passage:
Not all contemporary conservatives are followers of Locke. Adherents of the Christian right, among others, are not likely to be avid readers of Locke's letter on religious toleration (even if Locke justified toleration, not on secular grounds, but on Christian principle). But the fate of today's religious right may well have been foreshadowed by what Hartz called ''the reactionary Enlightenment,'' the effort by Southern thinkers before the Civil War to find a justification for slavery. Because of the lack of a conservative tradition, the opposite of liberalism was fantasy, and so Southern thinkers invented a feudal past of honor and chivalry that never existed.
Similarly, despite the deism of Jefferson and Madison, today's religious right claims that the United States was founded as a Christian republic. Separation of church and state, they contend, is contrary to American ideals -- when it is in fact the perfect expression of them. Like a Southern slaveholder captivated by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, America's Christian conservatives live in a world of their own imagining. Hartz would have understood them perfectly.