Image Credit: above: portrait from The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney by Thomas Cary Johnson, 1903 (Wikimedia)

Remembering R. L. Dabney

Robert Lewis Dabney was an American theologian and seminary professor. He was also a philosopher who wrote extensively on cultural and political issues of the second half of the 19th century. In our own day, when there is much confusion over what defines conservative political theory, we would do well to look to the writings of this conservative stalwart.

Dabney’s writings are helpful for conservatives for two reasons. First, Dabney dealt with the early stages of the progressive movement sweeping through America in the 19th century. He was well-situated to identify the root differences between progressivism and conservatism. Second, Dabney understood the logical outcomes of progressive policies. This helped him to make insightful predictions of where progressive ideas would lead, such as the secularization of public schools and the disintegration of the family.

Dabney was a Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian who grew up in Virginia and moved to Texas for the last 15 years of his life. He grew up in the Old South prior to the Civil War, and he witnessed firsthand the progressivism foisted upon the South during Reconstruction. While Dabney’s postbellum writings took aim at several targets, such as industrial capitalism and public education, he often focused his attention on defending biblical hierarchy in opposition to secular egalitarianism.

Dabney rejected the new egalitarian spirit that...

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