Friday, 10 February 2017

How to think about the US government

The first mistake common to most analysis of the US is that the president has any significant power. Let’s clear this up once and for all: he doesn’t. The second mistake is that the US government operates without a political religion. Well, it does.

This dynamic is important because little of the world’s events outside of raw geopolitics make any sense without it. You might think the US government is well-understood, but it absolutely is not. And it’s far easier to understand the political future of the country if you understand the ideology behind it.

What you call “political correctness” is what I call (from a political standpoint) progressivism, or (from a religious standpoint) Unitarianism, or (from a comparative-historical standpoint, by analogy to Japan's state Shinto) state transcendentalism. The idea is inarguably the most successful modern branch of the mainline Protestant tradition. Which happens to be pretty much the most powerful religion on Earth today and for the last century, although it has mutated away most of its theism.

You can say four things about this creed: 1) it was the dominant belief system of New England, 2) it is the primary heir of the Puritan tradition, 3) it is the primary ancestor of the creed ("political correctness") now enforced at the same institutions where it was born and 4) since WWII it has been the state religion not just of the US but of the world at large. Listen to what the Beehive says.

The four ideals of progressivism are: Equality (the universal brotherhood of man), Peace (the futility of violence), Social Justice (the fair distribution of goods) and Community (the leadership of benevolent public servants). They believe these ideals are universal, can be derived from science and logic, no reasonable person can dispute them and – if applied correctly – will lead to an ideal society.

I believe they are arbitrary and inherited from Protestant Christianity. They also serve primarily as a justification for the rule of the progressive establishment in the US and everywhere in the “international community” and are a major cause of corruption, tyranny, poverty and war.

So, in this frame, Hillary Clinton was a religious candidate. Her supporters wanted a more progressive government. Similarly, most Trump supporters wanted a more Christian (traditionalist, salvationist, fundamentalist, etc) government. There are policy implications to this struggle, but at bottom it’s just a good, old-fashioned religious war.

The US state religion (that which is taught in public schools and mainstream universities) is not too different from traditional religion. Its egalitarian and humanistic notes are recognisably Christian. In fact, you might simply call it a form of Christianity following the apparent philosophy of Jesus, while discarding most of the weirder magical and institutional overtones. Progressivism is the logical endpoint of the Protestant tradition.

The doctrine of universal salvation, versus the doctrine of salvation by faith, is the best measure of this divide. It corresponds almost perfectly to the red-state/blue-state thing. Universal salvation leads very quickly to humanism, democracy and state-worship. Salvation by faith leads to snake-handling, gay-bashing and Billy Graham-worship. Both are horrible.

There are still traditional Christians around, but their political power is very small. All of the “born-again” institutions are voluntarily organised and have little or no support from the state. Their entire revenue stream depends on maintaining a high level of commitment from their base. This is why they evangelise – they have to, or they’ll perish.

If you want to really, really boil the thesis down, my point is that Protestantism is leftism and leftism is Protestantism. In looking at the evolution of European Christianity without tethering it to paranormal doctrinal controversies, this pattern is clear.

“Liberalism” in today’s American sense of the word is simply a synonym for Unitarianism (or Nonconformism in the British usage). There is clear historical continuity and hardly any doctrinal change. The reason you don’t see Unitarian churches everywhere is that, in the 20th century, the State became the holy institution of this faith, and the universities and press became its transmitters. It’s the wonderful world of caesaropapism.

But there were mutations needed to make this process work. Liberalism had to deny its Christian character and history because, as an official religion, it needed to declare itself universal and non-sectarian. But, because no one can get elected in the US with only the Unitarian vote, candidates say they’re Christian to avoid offending the large number of voters who have not followed this transition. The whole system follows the path of least resistance.

The history of Western government in the 20th century, unless you count the Nazis, is hardly a story of populism. It is a story of ideas being born in Unitarian universities and pounded into the masses by sheer repetition. So the question is: what about egalitarian post-Christianity in the American mainline Protestant tradition made it so successful in capturing and retaining the Western political system? Was it just a military coincidence, or was it due to some particular adaptive advantage?

Those of us who don’t believe in democracy tend to take it for granted that any creed, culture, tradition or faith which captures the modern political apparatus can and will capture the population. Why should the principle of cuius regio, eius religio have somehow been repealed in the 1960s? History shows us over and over again that intolerance works, and there’s no belief more intolerant than progressivism.


Olivia Pierson said...

Hi Nathan,

Just wanted to pop in and say hello on your wonderful blog.

Totally agree that modern Liberalism (Progressivism, Leftism) is the natural offshoot of Protestantism (Puritanism), without the obvious commitment to God & Church. I've recently been reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin, and of course his incessant focus on "self improvement" and "industry" (work ethic) shines a strong light on his Calvinist/Puritan origins, although he clearly became something of a Deist/Unitarian from a fairly early age, as many of the Founding Fathers did.

Looking around today at how the Left try to foister what they consider to be "self improvement" on everyone around them (with the legendary intolerance that has become utterly militant), they are clearly willing to sacrifice the personal liberty of others to this cause, something the Founding Fathers would never have dreamed of doing - even with their roots firmly planted in Protestantism.

I believe this current virulent strand of Progressivism owes its hysterical madness and intolerance to the success of Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory, steadily being marched in through the culture via universities and all the major government institutions and bureaucracies. Male is female, black is white, up is down, sane is insane, hot is cold, beautiful art is poop and all poop is art. Everything in language and values turned upon its head. Right now I'd settle for a return to some decent, values-based Protestantism over this pure insanity (I say this as an atheist). I'd wager that this is a large reason as to why a secular Deist(nominal Presbyterian with big balls) like Trump got elected.

White Anglo Saxon Protestants built America, the most successful culture in the history of civilisation. It can withstand a lot, even a lot of hypocrisy, but what it cannot withstand is Cultural Marxism, the goal of which is to cause it to commit suicide through multiculturalism and moral relativism.

Good to connect with you.

Thesmith said...

Hi Olivia, nice to meet you too

Totally agree about the universities. They've become an established church in everything but name. These people think of themselves as "freethinkers." Regardless of how free their thought may or may not be, they are identifiable as a member of an intellectual tribe - the American progressive. It may be that this tribe is just right, or it may not be. But it's definitely the political community of the intelligent and thoughtful.

I do however think this characterisation is mistaken. Cladistically - by intellectual descent, teacher-to-student - modern American progressivism is not a secular ideology at all. It is a Christian ideology. "Progressive" originates as an adjective to "Christianity." Modern American progressivism is in fact a Puritan revival, with roots in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th century. There is no serious historical dispute of this identification - you can see it traced over 350 years.

So, for instance, modern "accepted" atheism itself is easily recognised as an extreme version of the Puritan opposition to idolatry in religion. The Puritans hated Christmas for exactly the same reason: they saw it as an idolatrous, superstitious festival. Removing the theological component entirely is simply the natural last step in the Puritanisation of Christianity. From my perspective it gets the right result for the wrong reason. Wouldn't be the first time *that* happened.

The conversion of American Puritanism - whose mainstream always has been, and always will be, whatever young people are taught at Harvard - from a Christian sect into a secular religion (ie, what you think of as the converse of "religion") is a fascinating process. Note the political importance of institutions like the YMCA a hundred years ago. The YMCA was holy when government was unholy. Now that progressivism has captured the the developed world's governments, what is the YMCA? A gym.

Meanwhile, separation of church and state does not apply to progressivism, because it is not "a religion." Because it is atheistic. Nonetheless, its historical roots are in America's most prestigious and powerful clade of Christianity - ie, Massachusetts Protestantism. Also, we only have to go back 60 or 70 years to see this belief system described as not just religious, but fanatically religious.

You won't fail to notice that this is exactly what creationists are trying to do. That is: they take a belief system which is clearly religious in historical origin, and try to disguise it as something (Intelligent Design) that has nothing to do with God - as a way to install their religious doctrines as scientific public policy. Obviously, they haven't fooled you! But that doesn't mean others have not been more successful.

I find it funny to hear "progressive" and "freethinker" equated? You do too, don't you?